Hamburg's Black History

Mr. Wayne O'Bryant, member First Providence Baptist Church, has taken on the task of telling Hamburg's postwar story. I have heard him speak on the subject and can say that he will do it proud. His book may come out before the end of 2010. In the meantime I present these impressions only as food for thought. Two links on this page require registration on the Augusta Chronicle newspaper site.

Aside from the bloody explosion in 1876, the postwar history of Hamburg, South Carolina has been a muffled smolder. Hamburg's contemporary neighbors ignored or derided the town and its citizens in terms I cannot repeat here. Nevertheless Hamburg provided refuge and opportunity in a time of great need.

I have the impression that Hamburg, from its early days, was friendly to all. Henry Shultz himself most likely raised a mixed race family, as suggested in Isabel Vandervelde's History of Aiken County. In the 1840 US Census of Edgefield County, the 'Henry Shoults' household included six free colored persons, including a woman aged 36-54 and the others of age under 24. In the 1850 Census, Henry's household includes one other person, a black female named Meriah Shultz age 30.

While successful as a commercial center, Hamburg failed to attract a balance of homebuilding families. As the wagon trade declined, Hamburg lost any reason to exist, and became a ghost town by the time of the Civil War. Available space and perhaps a friendly past led Hamburg to revive as a haven for freed slaves having a desire to make their own way. As described by Isabel Vandervelde, a government was established under men including Prince Rivers and Samuel J. Lee. Creation of Aiken County as a separate entity enlarged the opportunity for this community to prosper (or fail) on its own terms. Unfortunately, Hamburg's strategic geographic position did not allow this experiment to be overlooked. In July 1876, opposing viewpoints violently disrupted the idea of social independence, and turned Hamburg's civic life onto a course of decline.

The contemporary written record consistently belittles the town of Hamburg. Of course this had been the case even in Hamburg's early glory, which was literally taken from Augusta mouths. The post war tone towards Hamburg's new government was mocking, but after 1876 this government could be safely ignored. Cock, wildcat and bulldog fights occupied newspaper (and Executive) interest in the 1890's. Finally in the 1900's, Hamburg's infrequent news related the burning down of yet another prominent old building. Nevertheless it carried on as an industrial area including brickyards, railroad switching yards, and barge loading docks.

Augusta finally committed to the construction of a levee against Savannah River floods, but Hamburg remained defenseless. With dry land across the river or atop the bluff, occupation of Old Hamburg became pointless and remaining citizens were relocated after the disastrous double flood of 1929. Hamburg churches and families remain today, including the Carpentersville community, and the First Providence Baptist Church. Practically nothing visible remains of the old Town of Hamburg, South Carolina.

Popular accounts of the Hamburg Massacre have been quite biased - a proof of the saying, that the winners write the history. The winners overlooked the idea that SEVEN men died on the night of 8 July, 1876, all seven of whom believed they were working to improve their lives. Until recently, the Attorney General's Report was the only accessible account that could be considered decently impartial.

A popular book describing the Hamburg Massacre from "the other side" was released by Viking Books in January, 2008. The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky strikes me as a reconstruction Profiles in Courage. It tells the story of 8 July based on the exhaustive and graphic evidence given before the Senate investigation committee in Columbia, SC.

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