Slaughter at Cainhoy, The Worst Racial Violence in the South Carolina Lowcountry During Reconstruction, Part Two, Conclusion

The wounded were lying in the chapel attached to the residence, and every one of them had not only been horribly mutilated, but they as well as the dead, had been robbed of their clothing. . . . The mattresses were literally soaked in blood.

Part Two, Conclusion, of
Slaughter at Cainhoy
The Worst Racial Violence in the South Carolina Lowcountry During Reconstruction
by Gene Kizer, Jr.
Brick Church, a/k/a White Church, near Cainhoy, SC, site of a bloody political ambush Mon., October 16, 1876.
Brick Church, a/k/a White Church, near Cainhoy, SC, site of a bloody political ambush Mon., October 16, 1876.

THE RECORD OF JOINT MEETINGS in the Charleston area had been good in spite of the Charleston riot of September 6th. There had been a joint meeting at Strawberry Ferry and successful joint meetings "on Johns Island, on Edisto Island and at other points." Nobody was suspecting trouble when a joint meeting was scheduled for "Brick Church, about three miles from Cainhoy, in the parish of St. Thomas and St. Dennis," to take place Monday, October 16, 1876.1

Democrats chartered the steamer Pocosin which left that morning with around 150 men on board including many black Democrats. At the last minute word was sent that Republican leader Bowen wanted to ride, and the steamer waited until he was aboard with 150 black Republicans including "McKinlay, Cyrus Gaillard and other prominent speakers."2

The day was beautiful and the trip very pleasant with Democrats "firing their pistols at such objects in the river as attracted their attention." Little did they know how valuable that ammunition would be a couple hours later. When they arrived, many Democrats were low or out of ammunition, not suspecting any trouble.

Republican Bowen knew their ammunition was low. He "started off in a buggy as soon as he could land, and must have reached the Brick Church half an hour or more before the arrival of the Democrats." Cainhoy villagers "provided wagons and other vehicles to convey" the Democrats to the church. They were very friendly and everybody was having a good time.3

A Mr. William Venning had also gone ahead and when he got there he found "a large body of negroes, well armed with muskets and rifles," and he heard them say that "they would not suffer Delany, a colored Democrat, to address the meeting." Mr. Venning also heard Bowen say to the blacks "hide your guns," which they did.4

The speakers platform was on a small hill. To the left of the platform "was an old brick building (an old kitchen), with only part of the walls standing." The church was 150 feet in front of the platform. There was a small building to the right of the church, used as a vestry.5

Bowen "called the meeting to order," the Eutaw band brought by the Democrats played a "lively air" and the speaking began. Democrat "W. St. Julien Jervey was the first speaker" followed by black Republican W. J. McKinlay "who seemed nervous and excited" and "began a very violent speech." The black Republicans, apparently thinking McKinlay was the black Democrat Delany, gave the signal and the massacre began.6

There were 40 to 50 black Republican muskets hidden in the chimney of the old building to the left of the speakers stand. The whites had found them but not said anything about them under instruction from George Rivers Walker who said:

I am sure that it was part of a plot to make the whites seize these arms as an excuse for bringing on a row; but at the time I advised that the guns be watched but not molested. Suddenly the whites by the old house saw emerging from pines and swamp at the back of the 'stand' detachments of negroes armed with muskets, which they pointed toward us. At the same moment a confusion was raised on account of the supposed Delany taking the stand, this commotion probably being the signal for the detachment to appear.7

The whites did not seize the guns until they saw the detachment of blacks with guns "at full cock." At that point, whites "made a rush for the chimney filled with guns, loaded, as I (George Rivers Walker) am told by all, with powder only." Venning and two others said the first shots were fired by the negroes advancing from the swamp. Walker said he "saw the negroes pouring volleys into these unarmed boys."8

The whites ran toward the vestry by the church sometimes returning fire from "small pocket pistols, but, of course, against volleys of buckshot, slugs and broken pieces of lead fired from muskets, the negroes retiring behind the pines, the pistols were useless." Walker said "I saw Abram Smith, a negro trial justice, on the stand firing at some boys and men who were running away and defenceless."9

The blacks went into the woods to reload which gave the whites a slight breather. Walker said that Bowen was at the vestry and asked for a white volunteer to go with  him to try and persuade the blacks to break off the attack. Walker immediately volunteered. Bowen told him to stop the Democrats from firing while they went, so Walker said "'Democrats, reserve your fire while I go with Mr. Bowen', and they strictly obeyed."10

Walker goes on to say that Bowen, at first, had some success stopping the attack even though he believed Bowen was responsible for setting it up in the first place. The effort was short lived because:

. . . suddenly Cyrus Gaillard, an incendiary negro, pushing Mr. Bowen and myself aside, called out to the negroes, "Mister Bowens, we can't listen to you now. Come on, boys; we've got 'em, now let's kill the sons of b______," and, rushing past us, he incited them to recommence; and I solemnly swear that they fired again on the whites without provocation, and without a shot being first fired by them.11

Walker found himself in trouble when he heard a black say "'Shoot that son of a b_____.'" He jumped behind a tree as the shot went off and ran "tree to tree for 200 yards back to the vestry" with  shots being fired at him constantly.

Whites tried to make a stand at the vestry but "the rain of shot was too hot to be met with half a dozen pistols at a two hundred yard range" so they retreated to Cainhoy.12 The boat took some of the wounded and "the boys and unarmed men" back to Charleston while 40 men stayed behind in Cainhoy to protect the women and children, many of whom apparently had to be rounded up. They spent a terrifying night "encamped around the residence" of the Rev. E. C. Logan:13

. . . When not on picket duty we were nursing the wounded, the night was very cold and the previous day being warm we were all without overcoats, and when morning and reinforcements came we thanked our God for protecting us from the 300 armed demons who we momentarily expected to attack us; . . .14

Another account said:

The wounded were lying in the chapel attached to the residence, and every one of them had not only been horribly mutilated, but they as well as the dead, had been robbed of their clothing. . . . The mattresses were literally soaked in blood.15

Another of the victims, a kindly old man in  his seventies named William E. Simmons, "an old, crippled and silver-haired white man"16 who had come out just to visit some friends and look at some property he had once owned got trapped in the vestry and was shot through the windows then:

. . . the devils must have dragged him out, chopped him with an axe, broke, by beating, almost all his bones, then shot him while lying on the ground with a musket, for we found below him on the sill to the vestry door and in the ground the holes made by the buckshot. As we picked him up the broken bones grated together, though he was at the time twelve hours dead.17

The only black Republican casualty was John Lachicotte, an old black man killed. No black Republicans had been wounded.18

Mr. Thomas Whitaker, mentioned earlier, who had been shot in the stomach at close range with buckshot then hacked so that big slices of flesh were missing from his body, dictated these last words to his mother. They were written as he was dying next to Rev. E. C. Logan "at whose residence the unfortunate man breathed his last:"

My Dear Mother -- I am very seriously wounded. They took off my shoes and cursed me for a d____d Democrat, saying that I came here to raise a row. I told them I did no such thing; that I only came here to hear the speaking. I send you my love. I wish I could come to see you, and I will do so if I am ever able. I am trying to put my trust in the Lord, and I hope to be forgiven my sins and meet you in heaven. Thomas Whitaker.19

Sworn statements began appearing in the newspaper two days after the massacre such as the following:

State of South Carolina,

Charleston County,

Personally appeared J. C. Boyce, who being first duly sworn, testified as follows: I saw the first shot fired at the Brick Church, St. Thomas and St. Dennis, on the 16th of October, 1876. I am positive it was fired by the negroes. No gun was seized by the Butler Guards until the negroes with cocked muskets were advancing on the whites.

Sworn to before me this 16th day of October, 1876. George Rivers Walker, Notary Public.

Mr. William S. Venning, Jr. testified under oath in a sworn statement that he had arrived before the Democrats. Here is part of his testimony:

. . . Bowen had arrived in advance of them (the Democrats). The negroes had almost all arrived, and were mostly armed with muskets. I heard the negroes say: If Delany speaks we'll have a row and take him down. C. C. Bowen said distinctly in my hearing: "Conceal your muskets." They (the negroes) at once did so until the row began, when they jerked them out and began firing on the whites, who were mostly unarmed, and those who were armed only with pocket pistols. I saw the row begin. The negroes suddenly ran for their arms and began charging the whites with muskets at full cock before a shot was fired. And I solemnly state that it is my firm belief that they fired first. I was in a position to see the contrary had it occurred, and I am sure the negroes fired first; but even were I wrong, no white man fired until the negroes were advancing on them with muskets presented as aforesaid. W. S. Venning. Sworn to before me this 16th day of October, A.D. 1876. George Rivers Walker, Notary Public.20

A man named James Jeffords, Cainhoy resident, told a News and Courier reporter that "as far back as ten days ago a negro named George Brady told him that he did not want to see any of his (Mr. Jefford's) family hurt, and that there would be trouble when this meeting (Cainhoy) took place." Mr. Jeffords came to Charleston and tried to "see some of the Democratic executive committee but failed to find them."21

There were several slightly different accounts of the way it started. A Mr. C. C. Leslie, in his statement, said "several women (Republican) who had been guarding the guns in a house near by rushed towards the house and the Republicans gave a yell and rushed for the guns also." This set off "a general stampede" and "the negroes rushed in every direction, picked up guns from the bushes, and began a sharp musketry fire upon the Democrats."22

Black Democrat J. R. Jenkins, whose life had been saved by white Democrats when Jenkins was turned over to federal troops during the King Street riot five weeks earlier, testified that he "heard a colored man cry, 'look out! look out!' and rush forward and fire a pistol into the air."

He says "upon this signal the Republicans rushed for the kitchen nearby and for the swamp, and in a few moments they returned with guns in their hands and the firing began. Jenkins said "before the firing commenced Bowen went around among the negroes whispering," and "that he had been with the negroes nearly an hour before the Democrats came up."23

It was also reported by several witnesses that during the fight, Bowen disappeared among the blacks who were firing from the swamp.

In the final count, five whites had been murdered and mutilated, and 15 to 50 wounded, many seriously. Among the wounded were three black Democrats. Only one black Republican was killed and none were wounded.24 The boy who had his right eye torn out, Walter Graddick, "recovered but was maimed for life."25

None of the offenders, even the well-known Cyrus Gaillard, were ever brought to justice because it would have been Bowen's responsibility to do so.

Bowen told Republican Governor Chamberlain that the whites had started the fight by shooting the old black Republican, Lachicotte. That was refuted in several sworn statements of witnesses who maintained Lachicotte was not shot until the fighting had been going on a while and he was shot in retaliation for him shooting a Democrat.

To sum things up, Bowen rode on the Pocosin with the Democrats and observed them wasting most of their ammunition amusing themselves. Upon arriving at Cainhoy, Bowen went straight to Brick Church and was seen among the blacks who had muskets, whispering to them and telling them to hide their muskets.

Guns that had been hidden by black Republicans in the kitchen to the left of the speakers platform were discovered by white Democrats but the whites suspected it was a trick so nothing had been done about them until whites spotted a "militia like" group of blacks moving out of the swamp behind the speakers platform with muskets cocked.

At that point the whites rushed to get those guns but they were apparently a trick all along. They were loaded with powder but no projectile, so it was as if they were loaded with blanks. Several people reported later that the guns had been loaded with powder only so were worthless in a fight.

It is likely, based on sworn testimony, that the blacks moving out of the swamp with muskets had done so on a signal, which was supposed to be the black Democrat Delany speaking.

However, black Republican McKinley was mistaken for Delany and things started as McKinley began speaking.

At the same time, one account has black women running out of the kitchen and shouting that the whites have found the guns and that starting it.

Another account has a brown-skinned Republican firing a shot in the air and that starting it.

No matter what, it seems certain that Delany was the signal for the black women to run out of the kitchen, or for the brown-skinned Republican to fire a shot to alert the black militia to come out of the swamp and start the attack.

In responding to Bowen's statement that the whites killing Lachicotte started everything, a Dr. Thomas S. Grimke, in a sworn statement on the 19th of October, 1876, said that:

. . . Lachicotte "was not killed until long after the attack began, I should say ten minutes at least, though in order to be strictly certain and exact I will and do assert that heavy firing had been going on for some time before he fell."26

Neither the King Street Riot of September 6, 1876, the Cainhoy Massacre five weeks later or federal troops pouring into South Carolina during the presidential campaign could deter white and black Democrats from electing former Confederate General Wade Hampton their governor.

The News and Courier, which was SO much more honest and honorable than its descendant, today's woke race-obsessed Post and Courier, editorialized the day after Cainhoy that "The Democrats know that they can carry the colored people with them, if they get a chance to talk to them; . . ."27

The News and Courier was right. Not only did the Democrats "carry the colored people with them" in 1876, Democratic policies put in place by Gov. Hampton persuaded large numbers of blacks to vote Democratic two years later.

Reconstruction in South Carolina ended when federal troops were removed in April 1877.28 It is too bad that the damage caused by almost a decade of Republican violence, race hatred and corruption by carpetbaggers and scalawags in South Carolina and across the South, caused a backlash against blacks within a decade that lasted until the 1960s.

That is the real legacy of Reconstruction.


1 "Bloody Work at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 17, 1876.

2 "The Crime at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Wednesday, October 18, 1876.

3 "Bloody Work at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 17, 1876.

4 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876.

5 "Bloody Work at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 17, 1876.

6 Ibid.

7 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 "The Crime at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Wednesday, October 18, 1876.

14 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876.

15 "The Crime at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Wednesday, October 18, 1876.

16 Ibid.

17 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876.

18 Melinda Meek Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction: The 1876 Riots in Charleston and Cainhoy," South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 86, No. 2, (April, 1985), 108-109.

19 "The Crime at Cainhoy," News and Courier, Wednesday, October 18, 1876.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction," 108-109.

25 Alfred B. Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, South Carolina's Deliverance in 1876 (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, Publishers, 1935), 272.

26 News and Courier, Friday, October 20, 1876, editorial page.

27 News and Courier, Tuesday, October 17, 1876.

28 Louis B. Wright, South Carolina, A Bicentennial History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1976), 15.

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  1. “Reconstruction” was probably the biggest misnomer in the English language until the word “progressive”. Nothing was ever reconstructed and certainly no progress has ever been made.
    Thanks for another wonderful article! It’s like being in school again. I didn’t know this stuff!

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