Photograph of University of South Carolina historical plaque

Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801–1865:

The Foundations of the University of South Carolina

Students & Slavery

Wealthy slaveholding families sent their sons to South Carolina College to gain a liberal education. Young men could enter the college as early as fourteen years old. They took what we would now call placement tests, and depending on their prior education they could enter as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors. The first graduate of the college, Anderson Crenshaw, completed his education in two years.

South Carolina College students studied Greek, Latin, philosophy, and history. Other subjects, like chemistry, law, and political economy, came and went with the professors who taught them. In 1835 there was a push by some board members to include modern languages, engineering, and agriculture. Trustee and South Carolina College alumnus William Harper argued that “The object of College education is not to advance the student in any particular profession, but to give him that liberal knowledge of general intelligence which is equally valuable in every profession.”

The state legislature had established the college to educate the next generation of South Carolina leadership. They chose Columbia as the location for South Carolina College partially because it was the state capital and partially as a nod to upcountry concerns about lowcountry dominance in politics and culture. Educating upcountry and lowcountry young men together was regarded as a way to ease in-state sectional tensions.