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Nathaniel Allen Papers, 1885-1886
    A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2009

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Four letters, 4 Oct. 1885–9 Sept. 1886 and undated, of Nat[haniel] Allen, principal of the Kingstree Female Seminary (Williamsburg County, S.C.), are of particular note for the content of two that were penned in 1886 on school letterhead.

That of 19 August 1886 reports that Allen and his family were well despite some sickness in the area, mostly of a bilious nature. "One striking physical peculiarity of all this region is, that while the general face of the country is low and level there are innumerable depressions or basins, with no natural outlet for drainage," he wrote. "Except for short periods in winter, they are ordinarily without water, and, where cleared, are arable in summer and frequently produce well. The continued and excessive rains of this year have been too much for the ordinary absorption and evaporation to carry off the surface water. Consequently many of them have become stagnant pools, infecting the air with poison. Since the rains have been less frequent and these ponds have commenced to dry up, some of them have become so offensive as to attract the buzzards, by the perishing and putrefying animal organ¬isms." Along with news of crop conditions, the letter requests white winter seed oats since Allen did not like the variety planted locally.

The second letter, addressed to his sister on 9 September 1886, refers to Charles¬ton, S.C., and "the unprecedented catastrophe that has befallen the city and adjacent villages." It warns that, while she might think the details of what she had read about the earthquake in a local newspaper he had sent her "much magnified through the medium of alarmed fears and excited imagination," the reality was "even worse than the most seemingly extravagant account" and "the worst can hardly be told." The Charlestonians, he pronounced, "are a brave and proud people, heroic in their devotion to their city and state, and would obscure rather than magnify their misfortunes."

Allen had not yet visited the city but intimated that every eyewitness account reported the devastation greater than chronicled in newspapers. "I suppose there is not a building in the city left uninjured, while a large majority of the brick buildings that have been left standing will need to be condemned as unsafe, and torn down. Think of a population of more than 60,000 thus, in less than five minutes, rendered homeless, and many of them at the same time deprived of the means of subsistence, while more than 100 lives have been lost, and many others mangled and maimed, to say nothing of the demoralization and paralysis consequent upon fear and constant anxious suspense, and you have a picture of real suffering and distress that requires no effort of the imagination to heighten its coloring."

Aftershocks were still being felt, the letter reports. "Fissures were formed in the earth over an area of more than 20 miles around the city, and many in this county; but these have now all closed so that no mud and water are ejected from them. Some depressions over small areas occurred in various places. Some of these fissures and depressions are only a few miles from us. Judging from the effects, I conclude that the shocks here have been about as severe as at any other point equally distant (60 miles) from Charleston, and the effect upon the community has been greater and more universal that any other event I have ever witnessed. While apprehension is gradually giving place to a feeling of less uneasiness, there is anything other than a feeling of security and confidence in the situation."

His own residence had been damaged more appreciably than Allen first thought. "The walls show the cracks more plainly, while the brick columns supporting the roof of the piazza in front are split nearly half their length, and the steps, both front and rear, have settled away from the house. However, I feel no apprehension for the stability of the building; and while we continue to occupy the school-room as a sleeping apartment it is because there is less danger from injury by falling plastering in the event of another shock of sufficient intensity to produce such results."

Despite the devastation, the writer remained hopeful that, if "this seeming calamity [could but] serve to teach us our helplessness, make us sensible of our dependence, and drive us for refuge to the Source of all comfort and consolation, the only Power that is able to protect and save, into what a blessing would it be converted!" "And see," he continued, "what a work is already being accomplished towards the unifying of the nation by the spontaneous expressions of sympathy, and the generous outpourings of substantial aid that are flowing in from all quarters of the land and from every phase of political, social and religious society!"

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