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Benjamin Harper Massey papers, 1845-1910

Benjamin Harper Massey was a Fort Mill, S.C., farmer whose troubles during Reconstruction led him into Democratic party politics. He campaigned for the "straightout" ticket in 1876 and helped Wade Hampton overthrow Republican rule in the state. He represented York County in the S.C. House of Representatives, served on the state penitentiary board, and maintained active memberships in the statewide agricultural societies.

Farming, in fact, was Massey's favorite occupation. When he married the daughter of Colonel James C. Haile, a leading citizen of Kershaw County (S.C.), Haile complained of the burden he had taken on in teaching his Waxhaw son-in-law how to farm. Within a year the chagrined Haile confessed that he had actually become Massey's pupil.

A new accession of over 400 manuscripts has turned the Massey holdings in the South Caroliniana Library into a significant collection. The new material is largely political and financial and contains some items of great interest.

On 9 Mar. 1866, Massey's aunt M. E. Gilmore penned a letter indicative of the times, "I do not want the town property, I am willing to take the furniture, but I do not want the house, I want the Land, for I want to get a way from Chester [S.C.] and have no more business with T. Gilmore…. The reason I want the land I am afraid Gilmore will squander evry thing in a few years and if I have land I know I can make a living for I can get plenty of my negro's to work it for me and I will not starve - and I have been near enough starvation to know that liveing in a big house with nothing to eat don't pay very well. I want him to take the house and give me the land."

In 1876, the picture started to change. "In a political point of view," L. B. Stephenson wrote from Flat Rock in Kershaw County (S.C.), on 20 Nov. 1876, "it is as you say we have great reason to rejoice the Election of Tilden, Hampton and a majority in the Legislature is glory enough for one time. The Democratic ticket in this County was defeated as the Election now stands, but if such Elections as was in this County holds good, then to hold an Election in this County is a farce and of no avail. It is supposed that about 500 more votes were Cast in this County than were voters. You will learn from the Charleston papers the course that is being taken in regard to the Election in this County, And you need not be surprised to hear that the Democratic ticket is Elected in this County by a majority of 600 or 800. I am not ambitious to go to the Legislature, but I am not disposed to stand idle and see the Democratic party swindled out of its rights, though I am taking no part in the protest. Judge Leitner is at the helm."

Six days later, Massey set aside Sunday afternoon, 26 Nov. 1876, to write his son from Hendrix House in Columbia, S.C. "The Board of State canvassers are now in Jail," he reported, "for contempt of court. I heard the sentence pronounced on them by the Chief Justice, that they each pay a fine of $1500 and remain in Jail until released by this court how long they will remain in Jail we cannot tell. The Supreme court has ordered certificates of Election to be issued to the Dem[ocratic] members-elect from Edgefield and Laurens which we think secures their seats to them. If such should prove to be the case we will have a majority of four in the House of Representatives which will give us the control of the House, hence we will elect our Officer in the House and also declare Gen. Hampton the Governor and inaugurate him as such as soon as possible. We are hopeful but not Sanguine. They are fighting hard and will put everything possible in our way. Everything depends on Tuesday next, the very moment the clock strikes 12, the house will be called to order and a motion made for such a man to take the chair, each side will endeavor to have his man in the chair, if we get ours in all will be right with us, but if they get theirs in the chair and he refuses to recognize and swear in the Edgefield and Laurens Delegations, then we expect to retire from the House to another Room and claim that we are the Lawful House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina. Then we will most probably have two legislatures and two Governors. But at this time it is impossible to say what will occur. Our leaders urge the people to be quiet by all means and bide our time, it is hard to tell what a day or an hour may bring forth. We may be in Revolution and shedding Blood like Rivers of water before another Sabbath day. But God forbid that such may occur. We hear many rumors but things are to all appearances quiet now. I have just been in consultation with Gen. Butler and he asks me to say to the people to be quiet and stay away from Columbia at least for a few days.”

"We held a caucus last night to lay out a plan of action, and we meet again tomorrow at 11 o'clock for further consultation. We intend to do everything in our power to have Gen. Hampton inaugurated as Governor of South Carolina and by the help of God we will do it or die. But don't infer from this assertion that we intend to fight the United States troops for we believe that a majority of them are with us. It is believed by some that the State House will be surrounded by Bayonets on next Tuesday and no person be permitted to go in that has not a Certificate of Election from the Board of State canvassers, which would deprive us of Edgefield and Laurens. If such should be the case none of the Democratic members will go in to be qualified. Consequently there would be no quorum and nothing could be done.”

Massey's constituents in Fort Mill, S.C., told him they anxiously awaited the end of the "Columbia muddle," and on 12 Dec. 1876 he reported the latest news to Captain T. J. Cureton. His letter was, in fact sent from the Carolina Hall on Sumter Street in downtown Columbia, S.C., where the "Wallace House" was meeting, but he wrote it on the stationery of the Senate Chamber with the S.C. State House engraved on the letterhead. "The action of Grant," he wrote, "has stiffened up that party very much and they are more defiant now than ever. Our leaders express themselves as still hopeful, but I must admit that matters look gloomy to me. We are holding on hoping to accomplish something. We balloted for U.S. Senate today but did not elect, merely went through the form to kill time. I have not heard from the Rump House but suppose they are balloting for Senator also. Our Robertson trick seems to be played out. The Rump speaks of adjourning on Friday week. I understand they are debating that question today. If they adjourn, we will do so too. I can't say when Hampton will be inaugurated governor. No one seems to know. I will stop writing until night when I may be able to give you more. 7 o'clock P.M. The Radical House and Senate elected Corbin to the U.S. Senate."

Massey's papers also contain examples of printed ballots for York County, S.C., from the 1876, 1878, and 1888 elections. Some have election returns penciled in the margins.

Most of Massey's later political correspondence concerns job, election strategy, and candidates for state offices under the Hampton administration. The collection includes letters from Robert Moorman Sims, Isaac Donnom Witherspoon, James Franklin, Iredell Jones, William D. Trantham, J. Rufus Bratton, John Doby Kennedy, and John James Hemphill.

His most interesting documents from this period relate to his work as a director of the state penitentiary. On 16 December 1881, attorney Newman K. Perry wrote, "I noticed that you are authorized by the General Assembly to purchase lands adjacent to the institution you have in charge. Would respectfully call your attention that a tract of land containing 700 acres more or less, opposite the Penitentiary, in the County of Lexington, [S.C.], including five small islands in the centre of the river, can be purchased at a low figure. Would like you to communicate with me on the subject before purchasing elsewhere, and would take pleasure in showing you the land the subject matter of this communication."

Correspondence and papers from Thomas J. Lipscomb, superintendent of the penitentiary, document its management during the 1880s. At the request of the penitentiary board, Lipscomb sent them correspondence with the firm of Pope and Haskell in regard to penalty fees collected for escapes of convicts. In 1881, the board requested a statement of the number of convicts broken down to show leasing of convict labor. In March 1882, prison department heads compiled inventories for their sections and submitted them to Lipscomb. The guard in charge of the armory listed the firearms and ammunition on hand. The prison physician reported, "Some of the instruments are almost worthless from long continued use and abuse. Many of the medicines are worthless from age and improper. Some of them were obtained from the Laboratory of the [South Carolina] College." The largest drug supply in his inventory was forty gallons of whiskey for medicinal purposes.

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