Born in Halifax County, Va., Wade Hampton was a descendant of a Jamestown settler of 1630. Prior to the American Revolution, his parents decided to seek their fortune on the frontier of South Carolina. There, except for Wade and three of his brothers, the family was massacred by Indians in 1776.
During the early years of the Revolution, Hampton was reluctant to declare his allegiance to either the Revolutionaries or the English crown. But after he began selling provisions to the American troops, he accepted a commission from the patriots and established a notable military reputation.
Shortly after the Revolution, Hampton purchased a sizable block of land near Columbia, the new capital of South Carolina. He cultivated tobacco and grains. By 1790 he owned 86 slaves and worked over 1, 000 acres of land. After the invention of the cotton gin, he turned to cotton production. In 1799 he reportedly harvested nearly $90, 000 worth of cotton. He is generally credited with being one of the first planters in South Carolina to demonstrate that large-scale production of cotton could be profitable. He also had extensive landholdings in Mississippi and Louisiana, where over 3, 000 slaves produced cotton and sugarcane.
In the Southern tradition of public service, Hampton was active in South Carolina politics, serving as a delegate to the state assembly and as a member of the convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. He represented South Carolina twice in the U.S. Congress. In addition, he was a justice of the peace and served briefly as sheriff.
At the threat of war with England, Hampton again became active in the Army. When the War of 1812 broke out, he was placed under the command of Gen. James Wilkinson as a brigadier general. But bad feelings erupted, and after the campaign against Montreal, Wilkinson held Hampton responsible for the defeat. Although Hampton was exonerated by the War Department, he resigned his commission and returned to South Carolina. At his death in 1835, he was reputed to be the wealthiest planter in the United States.
There is no full-length biography of Hampton. Extensive references to his careers in the Army and public service can be found in the work about his noted descendant written by Manly Wade Wellman, Giant in Gray: A Biography of Wade Hampton of South Carolina (1949). For references to Hampton's career as a planter see Ulrich B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (1929). A brief but accurate sketch of Hampton's life, written for public schools, is in Helen Kohn Hennig, Great South Carolinians (2 vols., 1940). □
Wade Hampton III
Wade Hampton III
Wade Hampton III was descended from a prominent South Carolina family. Born on March 28, 1818, in Charleston, he graduated from South Carolina College. He took up law studies briefly but abandoned them for the life of a planter and became a typical antebellum Southern aristocrat, with large land-holdings, many slaves, and several terms in his state's legislature.
With the coming of the Civil War in 1861, Hampton raised and commanded the elite "Hampton's Legion." Although he was wounded in action several times, his valor and determination brought him steady promotion. By 1865 he was a lieutenant general. By war's end he was commanding all cavalry in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Hampton was an expert horseman and renowned for his physical strength. An associate described him as "six feet in height, broad-shouldered, deep chested, … with legs which, if he chose to close them in a grip, could make a horse groan with pain."
After the war Hampton encouraged Southerners to accept their defeat graciously. He set an example for better race relations by constructing a school and a church for emancipated slaves. He also led in advocating civil and political rights for freed slaves.
Hampton spent the Reconstruction period on his Mississippi plantation, meanwhile serving as vice president of the Carolina Life Insurance Company. In 1876 he ran for governor of South Carolina against the incumbent, Daniel Chamberlain, a Maine carpetbagger (a Northerner seeking private gain under the Reconstruction). Whites banded together behind Hampton and simultaneously wooed and coerced African American votes. More ballots were cast than there were voters; each side claimed victory and installed rival legislatures. The intervention of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 finally enabled Hampton to begin his 2-year term in office.
Hampton was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1878 and served for 13 uneventful years. From 1893 to 1897 he was U.S. commissioner of railroads. He died on April 11, 1902, in Columbia.
Historian Douglas Freeman wrote of Hampton: "To strangers he was reserved though always courteous, the gentleman as surely as the aristocrat; with his friends he was candid, cordial and free of any suggestion of the Grand Seigneur."
Manly Wade Wellman, Giant in Gray: A Biography of Wade Hampton of South Carolina (1949), the best study of Hampton, lacks balance. Hampton's wartime exploits are fully discussed in Edward L. Wells, Hampton and His Cavalry in '64 (1899), and Douglas S. Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command (1942-1944). For Hampton's postwar career see Francis B. Simkins, The Tillman Movement in South Carolina (1926), and William W. Ball, The State That Forgot: South Carolina's Surrender to Democracy (1932). □