South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XLVII
SOCIAL CLASSES AND CUSTOMS, 1830-1860

THOUGH the foibles, gifts, and graces of South Carolina society have constantly appeared in our narrative, we may here bring together more systematically some features of social life. The homes of the wealthy were often spacious, comfortable, and stately, with due ventilation for the climate, but were rarely ornate. Millford, the Clarendon County mansion1 built by Governor John L. Manning in the 1850's at enormous cost, the finest country house in the State, was so exceptional as to earn the nickname "Manning's Folly." Designed with dignity, elegance, and propriety, it is almost as much palace as home. Its parlor and drawing room can be thrown into one by almost concealed sliding doors, and occupy an entire side of the ground floor, with walls consisting of the finest plate glass mirrors from Paris. The semicircular stair tower is divided from the great hallway by a wall of glass. As generally with great houses, grounds designed with skillful landscape gardening heighten the effect.

Of the pre-war Georgetown District, Richard Lathers wrote long afterward, "The entire property of the average planter at the time I started-in business was hardly equal to the annual income of the Northern millionaire of today; but on this relatively modest sum he dispensed a liberal and refined hospitality which challenged the admiration of all visitors to the South." A rice plantation of 200 Negroes, worth $150,000 to $200,000, supported a family of five to ten persons in comparative luxury. "I knew very few planters," he continued, "whose annual expenditure exceeded $15,000; it was generally under $10,000." Spending a season in New York, Saratoga, or Newport was confined to the richer planters.

The Basis of the Ruling Class. --South Carolina pre-Revolutionary aristocracy was essentially the indigenous growth of natural talents pushing to the top. The emergence of contempt for trade shortly before the Revolution marked the hardening of the landed gentry into a superior class. The pre-Revolutionary distinguished families occupied the highest social level. The new men--Hamptons, Mannings, Kershaws, Richardsons, Pickenses, etc., whose character and force won distinction in the

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1
Now by a change of boundary in Sumter County.

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