“An African American slave owner in the S.C. midlands.”
490 SC Highway 261 – Governor S. D. Miller’s House
City Directories and History: “Originally named April, Ellison (a free black entrepreneur), was the mulatto offspring of a slave woman and one of the Ellison men who owned her near Winnsboro in Fairfield District. In approximately 1802 he began an exceptional fourteen-year apprenticeship with a local cotton-gin maker. While slaves sometimes acquired skills, they typically remained unskilled all their lives. April’s apprenticeship allowed him to learn the craft of gin making, which also required mastering the skills of the blacksmith, machinist, and carpenter along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. As he gained more experience, April visited outlying plantations and did repair work there. During his free time he worked for wages, and by 1816 he had acquired the funds to purchase his freedom. Once free, April relocated to the town of Stateburg in Sumter District. By 1817 he purchased and freed his enslaved wife Matilda and their daughter Eliza Ann. In 1820 April legally changed his name to William. In freedom, the Ellisons had three sons.
The early antebellum decades were auspicious for Ellison, as the expanding “Cotton Kingdom” increased demand for his skills. After purchasing land in Stateburg in the early 1820s, Ellison established a shop and soon manufactured his own brand of cotton gin. While most of his patronage was local, he occasionally shipped the “Ellison Gin” as far west as Mississippi. In addition to gin repair and manufacture, Ellison provided
blacksmith and carpentry services. Slaves were essential to Ellison’s success. He hired them, trained slave apprentices, and by 1820 had become a slave owner. Many of the men were trained artisans, but as Ellison acquired nearby farmland, most of his slaves were employed in cotton production. It has been estimated that by the 1850s, the profits from Ellison’s plantation exceeded those of his shop. In 1860 he owned nearly nine hundred acres of land and sixty-three slaves, which he conservatively valued at $53,000. His estate exceeded the total wealth of the other 328 free blacks in Sumter District by several times, and he was among the top ten percent of all slaveholders and landholders in the district.
Ellison’s ability to avoid offending white racial sensibilities and his demonstrated commitment to planter values through investment in land and slaves afforded him unique opportunities. For example, in 1838 Ellison purchased his family mansion, known as Wisdom Hall, from Stephen Miller, a former congressman and governor of South Carolina. His family worshiped at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, and while other black people were confined to the galleries, the Ellisons sat in their own pew at the rear of the main floor. Ultimately, Ellison could not escape the racial strictures of his society, and even he had to comply with the law requiring free blacks to have white guardians. On the eve of the Civil War, as white suspicion and persecution of free blacks increased, Ellison contemplated emigrating from the South. He died on December 5, 1861.” [Printed in and written by; The South Carolina Encyclopædia – Bernard E. Powers, Jr.]
Also see: Stateburg derives part of its historical significance from its connection with Revolutionary General Thomas Sumter, who founded the town in 1783 and named it in hopes that it would be chosen as the new state capital. It missed this distinction in 1786 by only a few votes. The town was also the site of Revolutionary War activity. Both Generals Cornwallis and Greene camped in the area and Sumter’s home was destroyed by Colonel Tarleton. Although original plans to construct water transportation routes to facilitate trade with other parts of the state never materialized, Stateburg developed into an important South Carolina antebellum residential area. From 1783 to 1800 it was county seat for Claremont County, and until the Civil War, was a thriving town. Listed in the National Register February 24, 1971.
Click here for the Stateburg Historic District information.
“It is fitting to start with the Stephen D. Miller home, spoken of as “The house in the bend of the road.’’1 Formerly on coming up the hill from the Wateree one came to a distinct curve in the road, and just around the curve was the home of Gov. Miller. Whether the Miller house was built by him or antedates his time has not been determined. He bought the acreage from John S. Richardson in 1814, and presumably a portion was used for the site of the residence. He lived their until 1828 when he moved to Plane Hill, Camden, S. C., where he resided during his term as governor (1828- 1830). He moved to Mississippi in 1835 and died there in 1838 at the home of a nephew. He sold his Stateburg home to William Ellison in 1835.2 William Ellison was the son of “Old April’’ Ellison, as he was called, who I am told had been a slave of a Fairfield family. The Ellisons were highly respected colored people whose exemplary conduct, industry, and thrift were recognized by the Stateburg people. They were assigned a pew in the Church of the Holy Cross nearby, which the family regularly attended. Their industry and thrift are indicated by the fact that they built a machine shop where they made wood and metal products, all hand-wrought, which were parts for cotton gins. The building housing the work-shop was known as Ellison’s gin. After having served as a slave himself, Old April lived to see his sons (William, Henry, and Heuben) own slaves themselves. Next on this old part of the road is Borough House so named because it was the only residence in the early village, or borough, of Stateburg when it was first laid out. Later the Ellison place was bought by James G. Simons. He sold it to the late Mrs. Virginia Saunders White (Mrs. Walter C.), former owner of the adjoining place, Borough House, which will be considered next. After Mrs. White’s death, her daughter, Martha White acquired it and is now in the process of restoring the house, which she will name later.”
Information from: Names in South Carolina by C.H. Neuffer, Published by the S.C. Dept. of English, USC
Explore history, houses, and stories across S.C. Your membership provides you with updates on regional topics, information on historic research, preservation, and monthly feature articles. But remember R&R wants to hear from you and assist in preserving your own family genealogy and memorabilia.
Visit the Southern Queries – Forum to receive assistance in answering questions, discuss genealogy, and enjoy exploring preservation topics with other members. Also listed are several history and genealogical researchers for hire.
User comments welcome — post at the bottom of this page.
Do you have information to share and preserve? Family, school, church, or other older photos and stories are welcome. Send them digitally through the “Share Your Story” link, so they too might be posted on Roots and Recall.Please enjoy this structure and all those listed in Roots and Recall. But remember each is private property. So view them from a distance or from a public area such as the sidewalk or public road.
User comments always welcome - please post at the bottom of this page.