One hundred twenty manuscripts, 1875-1888 and undated, papers of York County (S.C.) Democratic politician Benjamin Harper Massey (1819-1888) have expanded the Massey collection to nearly six hundred manuscripts. The new material adds even more political material dealing with the end of Reconstruction and Wade Hampton’s administration as governor. Much of it consists of correspondence from job seekers wanting Massey’s support for political appointments or elective office.
During the pivotal election of 1876 when Democrats were fighting for control of the state, L.B. Stephenson wrote Massey from Flat Rock, N.C., “Politics are at high water mark and every effort will be made to carry the election in this County [Kershaw], but to do so will require very hard work and a good deal of intimidating. We will have to overcome a majority of 500 or 600. Some few negroes are joining the Democratic party and a great many would but they are afraid of other negroes who threaten them very strong.”
Ten years later, South Carolina Democrats were still celebrating the Hampton revolution, as indicated by a letter, 8 October 1886, from J.S. Verner of Walhalla (Oconee County, S.C.). Verner and Massey were discussing a planned reunion for members of the “Wallace House,” which was to occur on the tenth of November.
Apparently Massey’s work as a legislator involved oversight of the Columbia Canal along the Congaree and Broad Rivers. On 29 March 1882, Thomas B. Lee, the engineer on the project, reported: “I have completed the field work of the survey for the proposed canal and have been during this week and am now, engaged making an estimate of the cost of the work. I have directed my attention first to the selection of a proper place for the dam. I find the best place to be just above the upper lock. This place is best because the whole cost of the improvement will be materially less than to build lower down.... I am informed by Col. Lipscomb Supt S.C.P [Thomas J. Lipscomb, superintendent of the state penitentiary] that there are hands that can be placed on the work at any time....The plans are not determined on and there is little or no work within one mile of the Penitentiary that can be done without interferring with the present canal.”
During the 1884 national election, John James Hemphill of Chester, S.C., ran for his second term as U.S. Congressman. On 3 November, he wrote Massey to discuss election strategy: “I am informed that some of the registration certificates in your County do not designate the residence but only the township of the voter. Notwithstanding this the man cant vote if he has changed his residence since the last election although he may be in the same township. A change of residence necessitates a change of certificate. Please see that this class of voters is challenged. We are going to have a hard fight & will need all the votes possible.”
During the 1886 election, some aspirants for office sensed that Congressman Hemphill might be vulnerable in his bid for a third term. “The impression here seems to be that Hemphill will not get the nomination,” wrote James C. Coit of Cheraw, S.C. “The papers say he will have opposition from York and I hear the people of Lancaster are not pleased with his course upon the silver question. I am opposed to his views on that question and would be opposed to the election of anyone who favors any measure tending to contract the currency. In my opinion the increasing poverty of our people and the general depression of business is mainly due to the contraction of the currency, and the legislation of Congress in the establishment of the National Banking System.” Predictions of Hemphill’s defeat proved premature, however, and he went on to serve three additional terms in Congress.
Some letters reflect contemporary attitudes toward alcohol consumption. On 14 September 1886, C.M. Green of Blacksburg (Cherokee County, S.C.), explained that among his other qualifications for the South Carolina House of Representatives, “I will say to you that I have not touched a drop of whiskey in six or seven years, and am resolved never to use it any more.”
Unfortunately his sobriety did not secure him a place in the York County delegation. In 1887, W.A. Fewell of Rock Hill, S.C., wrote Massey: “Through some of my friends much to my surprise sorrow and shame I learn that I grossly insulted you at the picnic in Ebenezer yesterday [4 July 1887] while under the influence of cursed whiskey. I remember not one word I said and write beseeching you to pardon me for anything I may have said.”
The accession also includes a small cache of letters, 1887-1888, from Monsignor D.J. Quigley, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, soliciting Massey’s aid to administer the estate of Quigley’s brother-in-law, Patrick J. Murray. According to a power of attorney dated 17 September 1887, the Murray estate contained a town lot in Fort Mill, S.C., and 433 acres on nearby Sugar Creek. In a letter of 26 September, Quigley alluded to boyhood associations in the Fort Mill area: “I would like to get my gun shot bag and powder horn. They are all in that room and are my property....These are the relics of my youth and for that reason I would wish again to possess them.” On 18 May 1888, Quigley mentioned that he had lately returned from a trip to Europe, and on 4 December (just three weeks before Massey’s death), he reported, “I have been repairing my residence which was considerably injured by the Earthquake [of 31 August 1886].”