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Docks along the Chechessee River
Docks along the Chechessee River
     
Bust of Robert Smalls by Marion Talmage Etheredge, outside Tabernacle Baptist Church, Beaufort
 

Famous People
of Beaufort County, SC


At Right: Robert Smalls (1839-1915),
as portrayed by Marion Talmage
Etheredge. Bust at Tabernacle Baptist Church,
907 Craven Street, Beaufort.
(Photograph by Dennis Adams,
Nov. 2, 2002)

     

 

Famous Beaufortonians
and Residents of Beaufort County

Famous Beaufortonians
and Residents of Beaufort County

(NOTE: This page is a "work in progress" for general informational purposes. Omission of any individual detracts in no way from that person's importance or contributions to the community. Click here for lists of materials about some of "Local Notables.")

Colonel John ("Tuscarora Jack") Barnwell
(died 1724)

Robert
Barnwell
(1761-1814)

Robert Woodward Barnwell
(1801-1882)


Pat

Conroy
(1945 - )

"Tillie" Maude Odell
Doremus
(1870 -1937)

Stephen
Elliott (1771-1830)


Joseph "Joe"
Frazier
(1944 - 2011)


Richard
Fuller
(1804 -1876)

Kate
Gleason
(1865-1933)


Thomas
Heyward, Jr. (1746-1809)


John

Jakes
(1932 -)

James Edwin
McTeer (1903-1979)


Thomas Ezekiel
Miller
(1849-1938)


Maude "Tillie"
Odell
see
"Tillie" Maude
Odell

Doremus.

Robert
Smalls
(1839-1915)

Short biography

Longer biography

 

 


 
J. I.
Washington
(1864-1938)

 

 

Colonel John ("Tuscarora Jack") Barnwell (died 1724): An early settler of the Carolina colony from Ireland, Col. Barnwell led a successful expedition against the Tuscarora Indians to North Carolina in 1711-1712. He later helped drive the warring Yemassee Indians into Florida. Barnwell served on the Indian Commission and participated in the defense of the Colony. His land holdings were on Port Royal and neighboring islands, and he is buried in St. Helena's Episcopal churchyard in downtown Beaufort.

Robert Barnwell (1761-1814): Robert Barnwell was born in Beaufort. His education took place in the town's common schools and with tutors at home. At the age of sixteen, he fought in the Revolutionary War (at the Battle of Johns Island the young Barnwell received seventeen wounds and was left for dead; a servant sought and found Barnwell on the battlefield, and his cousin, Mary Anna Gibbes, the future Mrs. Alexander Garden nursed the wounded man back to health). ). When Charleston fell in 1780, Lieutenant Barnwell went aboard the British prison ship Pack Horse until a prisoner exchange the following year. After the war, Barnwell began his long tenure as president of Beaufort College's board of trustees. He served as member of the Continental Congress in 1788 and 1789 and of the South Carolina convention for the adoption of a Federal Constitution in 1788. Although he served in the Second Congress (1791-1793), Barnwell declined renomination to the Third Congress in 1792. He was speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1795 (during his term of 1795-1797) and president of the South Carolina Senate in 1805 (during his membership in 1805 and 1806). Robert Barnwell died in Beaufort and was buried in the churchyard of St. Helena's Episcopal Church. His son, Robert Woodward Barnwell, served terms in the senates of both the United States and the Confederate States of America.

Robert Woodward Barnwell (1801-1882): Born in Beaufort, Robert Woodward Barnwell was the son of Robert Barnwell. Educated at the Beaufort College and with highest honors at Harvard, Barnwell served as United States Representative from 1829-1833. He became the third president of the South Carolina College in December of 1835 and served until 1841. His later years were spent as a planter in Beaufort, where he involved himself in local issues. He served a brief term in the United States Senate from June to December of 1850. Although he was had opposed California’s admission to the Union, Congressman Barnwell graciously presented the credentials of that state’s first senator, John Charles Fremont (1813-1890). At the convention of seceding Southern states, Barnwell cast the deciding vote for South Carolina to elect Jefferson Davis president of the Confederate States of America. He was a signer of the Confederate constitution. Robert Woodward Barnwell served in the Confederate States Senate from 1861-1865. After the war, Barnwell returned to his devastated properties. He was faculty chairman at the University of South Carolina (1866-1872) and (1872) manager of a private school for girls. In 1877, Governor Wade Hampton appointed Barnwell librarian of the University of South Carolina. Robert Woodward Barnwell died in Columbia, but was buried in the churchyard of St. Helena's Episcopal Church in Beaufort.

Pat Conroy (born in Atlanta, 1945): The son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot, Conroy had lived in 23 different addresses and attended 11 schools before his family was stationed in Beaufort, the place he would come to call home. He graduated from the Citadel (the Military Academy of South Carolina in Charleston) and returned to Beaufort after graduation in 1967 to teach at Beaufort High School. Conroy next accepted a position at the two-room schoolhouse on isolated Daufuskie Island (his The Water Is Wide recounts his experiences there). Lowcountry -- and, most often, Beaufort -- themes dominate Conroy's novels: The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, and Beach Music. Most of his books have become major motion pictures (The Water Is Wide became the film, Conrack), a number of which were filmed on location in Beaufort County.

"Tillie" Maude Odell Doremus (1870 -1937): The stage career of Beaufort's best-known actress spanned almost forty years (half of that time was with the Shuberts in New York). Doremus appeared for 400 nights in The Prisoner of Zenda, her first real success. She went on to appear in The Student Prince, Show Boat and Tobacco Road (in the role of Sister Bessie Rice). Maude Odell Doremus was found dead in her dressing room just before the curtain was to go up on a performance of Tobacco Road. The cause of death was a heart attack. According to former Beaufort resident Brent Breedin, Ms. Doremus owned what was then known as the Edward Barnwell House (now the E. G. Dowling residence, 1405 Bay Street in Beaufort), which was bought soon after her death by sheriff James Edwin McTeer.

Stephen Elliott (1771-1830): Noted botanist, writer and co-founder of the quarterly Southern Review, Stephen Elliott was the author of Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Georgia (2 volumes, 1821-24). His efforts helped establish the Medical College of South Carolina, where in 1824, he became the first professor of botany and natural history. He served in the South Carolina State Senate from 1812 until his death of apoplexy in 1830. In the Dictionary of American Biography, Arney R. Childs called Elliott "a man of varied talents and extensive information, he was mild and unassuming in character and deportment."

Joseph "Joe" Frazier (born in Beaufort, 1944 - died in Philadelphia, 2011): Frazier became a professional boxer after winning a heavyweight division gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In 1968, he beat Buster Mathis to win the New York State Athletic Commission world heavyweight championship. Frazier fought Muhammad Ali three times, winning only the the first match. He retired from the ring in 1976 with a career record of thirty-two wins, four losses and one draw.  He lived most of his adult life in Philadelphia, PA, dying there after a short bout with liver cancer on November 7, 2011. For a retrospective of his career, including links to videos of his fights with Ali, click here. (updated 1.20.2011-gmc) His gym was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" list on June 6, 2012. (updated 6.7.2012 - gmc)

Richard Fuller (born in Beaufort 1804, died in Baltimore1876): This influential theologian was born and raised in Beaufort and served as Baptist minister in town for fifteen years. He believed that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible, and the book, Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution (1845), contains the correspondence between Fuller and Francis Wayland, a fellow Baptist minister who held the opposing viewpoint. The conflict between North and South troubled Fuller, who later chose to observe the problem from the midpoint perspective of Baltimore, Maryland. His doctrines were primarily those of humility and tolerance, as exemplified in his Sermons (1860).

Kate Gleason (1865-1933): Businesswoman, commercial promoter, community developer and philanthropist. Born in Rochester, New York, Gleason was the daughter of mechanical designer and businessman, William Gleason. When her father invented a planing machine for beveled gears (eliminating the need for cutting by hand), Kate Gleason got misdirected credit for the design. Despite Ms. Gleason’s lack of technical expertise, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1914) and the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (1913) elected her to membership. Henry Ford is said to have said that the gear planer was "the most remarkable machine work ever done by a woman", although Kate Gleason never claimed to have had a large role in the invention. Gleason’s real contribution was the promotion of her father’s factory from a minor operation to a producer on a national scale. Kate Gleason left the company in 1913 to strike out on a career of her own, rescuing a small machine-tool factory from bankruptcy and rehabilitating the company within slightly more than a year. As president of the First National Bank of Rochester (1917-1919), Gleason was a pioneer in the movement away from cities to the suburbs, fostering the development of several new factories, inexpensive housing of standardized design, and community recreational facilities. In the 1920s, she brought low-cost housing to Beaufort County and started a "writers’ and artists’ colony" resort complex in the area (her sister, Eleanor, continued the project after Kate’s death). Here again, Kate Gleason was ahead of her time, developing beach property, a golf course and clubhouse -- all in her vision of Beaufort County as a center for tourism. Gleason owned the house in downtown Beaufort that would become the Gold Eagle Tavern. She left an estate of $1,400,000, which benefitted medical, educational and other charitable institutions. The Kate Gleason Memorial Park on the premises of Beaufort Memorial Hospital (955 Ribaut Road) is an enduring tribute to her generosity and creativity.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. (1746-1809): A Revolutionary War soldier and politician, Heyward was a member of the Council of Safety in 1775-1776 and of the Continental Congress from 1776-1778 (he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence). In later years, he became a circuit court judge in South Carolina.

John Jakes (1932 -): Among Jakes's best-known novels are those in his "Kent Chronicles" (the ten-novel "American Bicentennial" series), which includes the titles The Bastard, The Furies and The Lawless. His "North and South" Civil War series (North and South, Love and War and Heaven and Hell) was enormously popular and was the basis of a television mini-series (like his earlier "Kent Chronicles"). According to Martin H. Greenberg and Walter Herrscher, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, call Jakes "a natural storyteller" with "attention to detail, careful plotting, epic sweep and -- where required -- strong historical research." Born in Chicago, John Jakes is a longtime resident of Hilton Head Island, where he has been a staunch advocate of public libraries -- both local and nationwide.

James Edwin McTeer (1903-1979): McTeer began his 37-year term as Beaufort County Sheriff in 1926, the nation's youngest sheriff at age 22. He was a self-proclaimed witch doctor whose best-known nemesis during his law enforcement career was "root doctor" Doctor Buzzard (Stepheney Robinson), who eventually admitted that McTeer's voodoo powers were greater than his own. The Sheriff's books -- High Sheriff of the Lowcountry; 50 Years as a Lowcountry Witch Doctor; Beaufort, Now and Then; and Adventure in the Woods and Waters of the Lowcountry -- reflect the words inscribed on the bridge that now bears his name: "legendary lawman, author, spellbinder and raconteur." Sheriff McTeer bought what was then known as the Edward Barnwell House (now the E. G. Dowling residence, 1405 Bay Street in Beaufort), once owned by Beaufort actress "Tillie" Maude Odell Doremus.

Thomas Ezekiel Miller (1849-1938): Born in Ferrebeeville, S. C. of free black parents, Miller attended schools for free African-Americans in Charleston (although these schools were prohibited by law). He studied for the bar in Columbia, S. C. after his graduation from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (1872). It was in the course of his law studies that Miller’s involvement in the Beaufort County Republican Party began. His first public office was that of Beaufort school commissioner (1872), and in 1874 he was elected as representative to the state General Assembly. Miller served in the U. S. House (having successfully contested the election of William Elliott) from 1890-1891, and his term was plagued by contests from the opposing Democrats. When he returned to Beaufort, he served again in the South Carolina House of Representatives (1894-1896). Miller joined with Robert Smalls in the state constitutional convention of 1895, failing to block legislation that would disfranchise black citizens. At this same convention, Miller expressed his support for women’s suffrage. More successful was Miller’s efforts to found a state-supported college for African-Americans, the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College in Orangeburg, now known as South Carolina State College. Miller became the college’s first president in 1896 and served until 1911-- forced into resignation by Governor Coleman Blease. He died in Charleston, where his epitaph reads, "Not having loved the white man less, but having felt the Negro needed more."

Maude "Tillie" Odell (actress), see "Tillie" Maude Odell Doremus.

Robert Smalls (1839-1915): Born in Beaufort, Robert Smalls was brought to Charleston by his owner in 1851. There Smalls hired himself out in his own time as a harbor foreman and stevedore and had saved $700 at the outbreak of the Civil War, with which sum he intended to buy freedom for himself, his wife and his daughter. The Confederacy employed Smalls as a pilot on the ship, The Planter. On May 12, 1862, he confiscated the vessel and delivered it and its cargo of artillery to the Union blockade fleet. Smalls received a reward of $1,500 for the capture, with which funds he later bought land and a partnership in a store (with black politician Richard H. Gleaves). Smalls was appointed pilot and later became a captain in the United States Navy. In 1862, he spoke to Northern audiences about the Port Royal Experiment in Beaufort, the forerunner of the policy of Reconstruction that would soon control the South. An incident involving Robert Smalls brought about the integration of Philadelphia’s public transportation in 1864: citizens protested Smalls’s eviction from a streetcar in that city. After the Civil War, he was elected to the State House of Representatives (1868-1870) and the State Senate (1870-1875), finally serving for five terms (1875-1879 and 1882-1887) in the United States House of Representatives. He had hired tutors after the war to acquire his education, and in 1870 owned $6,000 in real estate (and $1,000 in personal property). Smalls joined with Thomas Ezekiel Miller in the state constitutional convention of 1895, failing to block legislation that would disfranchise black citizens. Robert Smalls was a director of a black-owned railroad (Enterprise Railroad) and publisher of the Beaufort Standard newspaper. Smalls's last public office was that of customs collector (1889-1912), when Beaufort was still an active port. Robert Smalls made his most-remembered statement on November 1, 1895: "My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life."

J. I. Washington (1864-1938): See obituary notice.

Sources for the biographies:

  • Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress, 1774-1961. United States Government Printing Office, 1961.
  • Breedin, Brent. Conversation in Beaufort, SC, on August 27, 2001.
  • Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Volume 43. Gale Research Inc., 1994.
  • Dictionary of American Biography, edited by Allen Johnson. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928.
  • Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford W. And Michael R. Winston .W. W. Norton, 1982.
  • Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction by Eric Foner. Oxford University Press, 1993; The Story of an American Family by Stephen B. Barnwell. Marquette, 1969.
  • James, Edward T. (Editor). Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Famous "Guests"

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For related information, see:

Members of the U. S. House of Representatives and the
U. S. Senate Connected to Beaufort County

 
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