Partner Thomas Jefferson Withers
Redcliffe Plantation, 181 Redcliffe Rd, Beech Island, SC 29842
Hammond Cemetery Beech Island, Aiken County, South Carolina, USA
James Henry Hammond (November 15, 1807 – November 13, 1864) was an attorney, politician and planter from South Carolina. He served as a United States Representative from 1835 to 1836, the 60th Governor of South Carolina from 1842 to 1844, and United States Senator from 1857 to 1860. He was considered one of the major spokesmen in favor of slavery in the years before the American Civil War. Scholar Martin Duberman tells of his long struggle to unearth the sexually explicit 1826 letters of James H. Hammond and Thomas Jefferson Withers, important conservative figures in the pre–Civil War South, in the face of massive opposition from the South Caroliniana Library. The 1826 letters of Thomas Jefferson Withers to James H. Hammond—who both went on to become southern pro-slavery and states’ rights advocates—reveal a forthright eroticism that seems at odds with the chaste youthful bed sharing associated with male romantic friendship. “I feel some inclination to learn whether you yet sleep in your Shirt-tail,” the twenty-two-year-old Withers wrote, “and whether you yet have the extravagant delight of poking and punching a writhing Bedfellow with your long fleshen pole—the exquisite touches of which I have often had the honor of feeling? . . . Sir, you roughen the downy Slumbers of your Bedfellow—by such hostile—furious lunges as you are in the habit of making at him—when he is least prepared for defence against the crushing force of a Battering Ram.”
By birth Hammond was a "commoner" - his father a native New Englander who had gone south to teach school, his mother a native South Carolinian of undistingueshed ancestry. Through his own talent and drive (Hammond graduated near the top of his college class) and then through what is called a "fortunate" marriage, Hammond entered the ranks of the southern planter aristocracy. His wedding to the Charleston heiress Catherine Fitzsimmons was critically important: overnight Hammond became owner of Silver Bluff, a 10.000 acre plantation on the Savannah River worked by 220 slaves - thereby instantly rising into the ranks of the ruling elite.
James Henry Hammond ultimately owned 22 square miles, several plantations and houses, and more than 300 slaves. Through his wife's family, he was a brother-in-law of Wade Hampton II and uncle to his children, including Wade Hampton III. When the senior Hampton learned that Hammond had abused his four Hampton nieces as teenagers, he made the scandal public. It was thought to derail Hammond's career for a time, but he was later elected as US senator. The Hampton family suffered more, as none of the girls married.
In the late 20th century, historians learned that Hammond as a young man had a homosexual relationship with a college friend, Thomas Jefferson Withers, which is attested by two sexually explicit letters sent from Withers to Hammond in 1826. The letters, which are held among the Hammond Papers at the South Carolina Library, were first published by researcher Martin Duberman in 1981; they are notable as rare documentary evidence of same-sex relationships in the antebellum United States.
Hammond's Secret and Sacred Diaries (not published until 1989) reveal that his sexual appetites were varied. He described, without embarrassment, his "familiarities and dalliances" over two years with four teenage nieces, daughters of his sister-in-law Ann Fitzsimmons and her husband Wade Hampton II. He blamed his behavior on what he described as the seductiveness of the "extremely affectionate" young women. The scandal "derailed his political career" for a decade to come after Wade Hampton III publicly accused him in 1843, when Hammond was governor. He was "ostracized by polite society" for some time, but in the late 1850s, he was nonetheless elected by the state legislature as US senator.
Hammond's damage to the girls was far-reaching. Their social prospects were destroyed. Considered to have tarnished social reputations by his behavior, none of the four ever married.
Hammond was also known to have repeatedly raped two female slaves, one of whom may have been his own daughter. He raped the first slave, Sally Johnson, when she was 18 years old. Such behavior was not uncommon among white men of power at the time; their mixed-race children were born into slavery and remained there unless the fathers took action to free them. Later, Hammond raped Sally Johnson's daughter, Louisa, who was a year old baby when he bought her mother; the first rape apparently occurred when Louisa was 12; she also bore several of his children.
His wife left him for a few years, after he repeatedly raped the enslaved girl, taking their own children with her. She later returned to her husband.
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