Orginal Publication Date
Explorations in Sights and Sounds
In an overgrown cemetery in the old village of Stateburg, South Carolina, a hundred miles north of Charleston lies the body of William Ellison (1790-1860), patriarch of a remarkable clan of free blacks whose achievements belie the myth of the Old South as a society of wealthy white masters and poor black slaves. Born a slave and perhaps the son of his master, Ellison early learned to make cotton gins and at age twentysix purchased his freedom and went into business in Stateburg. Riding the crest of the cotton boom, in 1835 he bought the handsome home of former governor Stephen D. Miller and by 1851 had also become a large cotton planter owning 800 acres of land and sixty-three slaves, more than any other free black except in Louisiana. He moved on an equal footing with white planters, eventually coming down from the "colored" balcony of Holy Cross Episcopal Church to sit with them.
Copyright, ©EES, The National Association for Ethnic Studies, 1986