Nash, William Beverly

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Nash, William Beverly

c. 1822
January 19, 1888

Virginia-born slave and later politician William Nash, commonly known as Beverly, was brought at age thirteen to Columbia, South Carolina. Little is known of his early life except that before the Civil War he worked at Hunt's Hotel in Columbia and apparently held many jobs there, including work as a bootblack, porter, and waiter. At the hotel he learned to read; through his master, local politician W. C. Preston, and the clientele of the hotel, he was exposed to politics. In addition, it is possible that Nash may have been able to earn enough from tips or from doing extra work for money to buy his freedom. In his hotel work Nash acquired a veneer of gentility and social grace that would be advantageous in his political career.

During Reconstruction Nash was a grocer and became active in the Republican Party. In 1865 he represented Columbia in the South Carolina all-black convention convened to overturn the repressive black codes. He gained statewide prominence in 1866 when he criticized the Freedmen's Bureau's policy toward inland South Carolina and its alleged favoritism of the coastal regions. In 1867 he gained his first official political appointment when he was named a magistrate for Columbia. Nash was also a delegate to the National Freedmen's Convention in 1867 in Washington, D.C., where he campaigned for a universal male suffrage plan without property or literacy qualifications. In 1868 he was elected to the state senate. To achieve a more equitable land distribution, he proposed that large plantations be taxed heavily, which would force landowners to sell property in parcels, thereby creating small farms that blacks and poor whites could afford. He also favored a law mandating schooling for all children. Essentially moderate in his policies, Nash opposed confiscation of the land of former Confederates, arguing that that power did not belong to the state.

Even though he was a Republican, Nash socialized and conducted business deals with prominent South Carolinians, many of them white Democrats. He made wide use of his contacts both in honorable and questionable transactions. In 1869 he and an associate bribed the land commissioner to resign so that an African American could take his post. Three years later, when railroad barons proposed that the state purchase a half-completed railroad, Nash accepted a $5,000 bribe in return for an affirmative vote in the South Carolina Senate. The following year, Nash and two friends bought a brickyard and Nash persuaded the state senate to buy bricks from the yard for a new penitentiary. In 1877, as Reconstruction was ending and southern blacks were forced from positions of power, insurgent white Democrats threatened to expose his role in government graft. Nash resigned his position, paying back the money he had misappropriated. He continued his business, particularly real estate, but never again held public office. He died in Columbia in 1888.

See also Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands; Politics in the United States


Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Williamson, Joel. After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, 18611877. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.

alana j. erickson (1996)