James Henry Hammond was born on November 15, 1807. But wait a minute, let’s back up and look at his parents.
The descendents of the Hammond family settled in Massachusetts back in 1634. It wasn’t until 1802, that a representative of the Hammond family came to Charleston, South Carolina. His name was Elisha Hammond. When he landed Elisha was “sick, and a stranger to everybody,” with “few clothes and but one single quarter of a dollar” in his pocket. Elisha was a graduate of Dartmouth College. In a short time, Elisha became a teacher at the Methodist Academy of Mount Bethel near Newberry, South Carolina. Several years before, Elisha’s Father had tried to get Elisha to go to college and become a Methodist preacher. But Elisha wouldn’t do that. He thought law and being an attorney was the best way to wealth.
In 1806, Elijah married Catherine Fox Spann, who he had met in Colombia. Elijah and Catherine had their first baby, a son, on November 15, 1807 and they named him James Henry Hammond. James was born at Stony Battery, near Newberry, South Carolina. There were four children in all– James Henry, Caroline Augusta, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and John Fox. When James Henry was 16 years old, he had been prepared for college by his father; he entered the junior class at South Carolina College. He graduated fourth in a class of 33, in December of 1825. In 1828, at the age of 21, Hammond became a lawyer, achieving his father’s ambition.
In 1828 Elisha moved to Macon, Georgia to head its local Academy. Elisha suddenly died on July 9, 1829, apparently of yellow fever.
In 1830, James Henry Hammond met Catherine Elizabeth Fitzsimons, a 16-year-old Charleston heiress. Her father, who had money, had died five years before. In 1831 James asked Catherine to marry him. When Hammond proposed marriage, her family objected on the grounds that Catherine was too young and that Hammond was obviously a fortune hunter. Catherine’s family asked Hammond to renounce her dower. Outraged, he refused to do so, and continued to press his suit ardently with Catherine, who in turn, pressured her family to allow her to marry him. Her mother finally consented, and the wedding took place in June of 1831. Hammond claimed that “a finer, more high-minded and devoted woman never lived.” Catherine, the bride, was 17 years old. James Henry, the groom, was 24 years old. Through the wedding, James Henry received a plantation of about 7500 acres in Barnwell District at Silver Bluff on the Savanna River, 147 slaves, and much farm equipment. Hammond also gained connections with the prominent Hampton family, for Catherine’s older sister Ann was the wife of Wade Hampton II.
After the wedding, James Henry and Catherine moved to Silver Bluff Plantation. James Henry went on to become a planter and Catherine to bear him five sons, in the next five years. They were: James Henry (always known as Harry}, Christopher Fitzsimmons, Edward Spann, William Cashel, and Charles Julius.
Now James Henry had a different outlook on women. He believed a woman’s job was to have children and raise them. He may have said some nice things about Catherine, but he probably never loved her. James Henry’s actions, and his view on marriage and women, make one doubt that he had any deep feelings for her or that he had the capability to develop a loving relationship with a member of the opposite sex.
James Henry was successful in cultivating several thousand acres. “Hammond claimed that when he married Catherine, her property and been so badly managed, that it had produced an annual income of only $600, and that he had increased it to 21,000 dollars.”
Despite his move from Columbia to Silver Bluff Plantation his political interests continued. In 1834, he ran for Congress, and won. Before the close of the first session of Congress, Hammond’s ulcerous stomach, which he complained of throughout his adult life, began to trouble him. He blamed it on life in Washington, so he resigned. Physicians advised him to travel so he decided upon an extended tour abroad. In late July 1836 James Henry, Catherine, and their 4 year-old son, Harry, sailed for Europe. Most of their time was spent in England, France, and Italy. During their travels the Hammonds purchased many art works, sculptures as well as paintings. The Hammonds returned to Silver Bluff in August of 1837.
James Henry threw himself into the process of making the plantation work. He soon grew impatient with his thin Barnwell land and the low cotton prices of 1837. In the spring of 1838, he took a month’s journey on horseback through Georgia and Florida in search of cheap and fertile land. What he found is that, “good land was high and cheap land poor.” He rode back to Silver Bluff and began to drain and ditch in an effort to improve what he already had. James Henry Hammond scored his success, when low prices compelled planters to increase production to make a profit. Having married Catherine for her wealth, he proceeded to exploit her property to the fullest, hauling enormous amounts of mock up from the Savannah River to enrich the land he was cultivating. Hammond shipped his cotton through Augusta, to his factory in Savannah. He never used the new Charleston Hamburg Railroad, which started in 1833.
In 1839 he let his friends in the state legislature know that he was available to run for governor of South Carolina. Expecting to win the election, Hammond built a fine townhouse in Columbia, but he did not win the election. James Henry returned to his plantation house, Silverton, at Silver Bluff.
In December of 1842, James Henry Hammond was elected governor of South Carolina, defeating R.F.W. Allston in a close vote of 83 to 76. During his time as governor, James Henry Hammond contributed two big things. He reorganized the state militia, and he oversaw the establishment of the Citadel in Charleston as the state’s military Academy.
In 1846 Hammond’s political career came to an abrupt halt. His friends had brought his name before the Legislature as a candidate for the United States Senate. His candidacy was blocked by opposition of his wife’s brother-in-law, Wade Hampton II, who was also the father of four daughters. Ann, his wife was dead, but his daughters as teenagers were frequent visitors to their Aunt Catherine’s house, wife of James Henry. The Hampton girls’ ages ranged from 13 to 17. It was well documented that James Henry had a roving eye. The girls apparently did not object to frolicking with their uncle, the governor, but the frolics soon went beyond the innocent, for Hammond later wrote of all four simultaneously covering him with kisses while he enjoyed with them every intimacy, but the ultimate. After two years, the oldest niece, at long last, outraged by something James Henry had done, ran to her aunt and the tale was out. In 1844, Hammond left Columbia, following his term as governor.
Finally, in 1846, when James Henry was being considered for the Senate, Wade Hampton, who kept the matter a private family affair until this time, stopped Hammond’s candidacy with the threat of unleashing the scandal. Catherine Hammond did stand by her man this whole time. In 1849 Catherine presented James Henry with a daughter, Elizabeth, their eighth and last child. However, in December of 1850, Catherine did leave James Henry, because of his affair with his slave, Louisa. Mrs. Hammond had told John Henry to give up his slave, but he wouldn’t. She packed up the kids and went to stay with her parents in Augusta, in the Hill area. A year and a half later, Mrs. Hammond and the children still had not returned home. The blame of course was not his, “I trace it all to the horrible connection, which Satan seduced me into forming with the vulgar Fitzsimmons family, whose low Irish descent and hypocrisy can only be compared with their low-Irish pride, selfishness and utter want of refinement and tone.”
In 1852 Catherine Hammond and the children had not returned. John Henry’s slave, Louisa, was out of the house. Louisa was given to Mrs. Fitzsimmons as her personal maid. Louisa arrived at the Fitzsimmons house in Charleston November of 1852. Catherine had been gone a little over two years.
In the spring of 1855, James Henry Hammond found what he wanted and purchased a house and some 400 acres at Beech Island, a community in May of 1857 Senator Andrew Pickens Butler died. Hammonds told Simms that he did not want the office, for South Carolina had “committed a great and wanton outrage upon me.” But Hammond was the most acceptable candidate. On the third ballot, the legislator elected him to the Senate and he accepted. The “outsider” once in the Senate, made a speech on March 4, 1858, for which he is still remembered. It contained John Henry’s thesis about the “mudsills of society” and the phrase “cotton is king.” He defended slavery by observing that all civilizations had a class of servants to do the menial duties. The North had its working class, the South its slaves; these workers who preformed the drudgery of life, provided the foundations, or mudsills, upon which great societies developed. And there could be no civil war, for “you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it, Cotton is king.” Hammond never wavered in his support of slavery. He expressed his views in speeches.
He had two banquets in his honor, held after the adjournment of Congress in 1858. The first was on July 22 at Beech Island. He received only passing notice. But the second speech given on October 29, 1858, at Barnwell Courthouse, received national coverage and was very well received in northern newspapers.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860, Hammond resigned from the Senate.
In December 1860, South Carolina succeeded from the union and Hammond returned to Redcliffe Plantation. The house when completed in 1859 came to designate the new residents as well as the land. When the war came in April of 1861, Hammond gave the Confederacy his full financial support. By 1860 half of his estate consisted of Confederate bonds. Deeply troubled by the fall of Atlanta on September 1, 1864 and expecting Sherman to march across Georgia to the sea, Hammond willed himself to die. “This war,” he then said, “will terminate suddenly within six months. I do not care to look behind the veil enough that everything I have worked for, the labors of my life will all be upset.” On the day before his death, while lying on a couch in the library at Redcliffe, he called Stan to his side and told him that he wished to be buried in the woods on the highest ground, where there would be a view of Augusta, and the Sand Hills, but mind . . . if we are subjected, run a plow over my grave.”
Hammond died on November 13, 1864, two days before his 57th birthday.
Written by Mark Woodard
The Hammonds of Redcliffe; by Bleser, Carol; Copyright 1981; Published by Oxford University Press.
James Henry Hammond and the Old South, A Design for Mastery; by Drew Gilpin Faust; copyright 1985; LSU Press.