Regaining its Rightful Place in History
In Abbeville, South Carolina, lies a 1.9 acre tract of land known today as Secession Hill. It is named for the event of November 22, 1860, which took place there. This event forever changed the course of history for the union of states known as the United States and particularly the Southern States of America. For it was there on that date that over 3000 people gathered to hear what have become known as the secession speeches. The South Carolina legislature, which had ratified the US Constitution, believed that if it had agreed to join the union of states, then it could leave that same union if so desired. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the SC Legislature sent word to each district to elect delegates from each for the Secession Convention to be held in Columbia in December of that year. Abbeville is given credit for holding one of the first of these meetings, although similar meetings were held throughout the state that month.
In the 1840’s and 1850’s, South Carolina had made many attempts to no avail to have other Southern States join her in presenting a consolidated Southern response to Northern aggression. Many considered South Carolina “too small to be a republic,” as stated by the unionist lawyer Louis Pettigru of Charleston, and did not want to join the “hotbed” of secession. Although she is the smallest of Southern States, South Carolina is about the size of Ireland, Scotland, and Austria. However, in the War Between the States which followed secession, South Carolina, based on population, gave more men to the cause than any other state and was the only Southern State that had no organized body of troops which fought for the Union.
And so, after the announcement by the SC Legislature calling for the appointment of delegates, posters went up all over the district of Abbeville as in other South Carolina towns. Citizens of Abbeville were called to convene for the election of delegates. On the morning of November 22, around 3000 townspeople met in front of the courthouse in Abbeville before marching to the hill about three blocks away to hear the secession speeches. Cannons were booming, banners were flying, and bands were playing as the entire town and surrounding area turned out for the festive event. Near the old town magazine, a speakers’ stand had been built and it was here that the secession speeches would be given. The crowd moved to that area where Thomas Chiles Perrin chaired the meeting. A nominating committee of twenty-one selected the six delegates to represent Abbeville District to the Secession Convention in Columbia the following month. They were John A. Calhoun (nephew of the late John C. Calhoun), Edward Noble, Thomas C. Perrin, Thomas Thomson, David L. Wardlaw, and John H. Wilson - all lawyers.
When the Secession Convention convened in Columbia, South Carolina, on December 17, 1860, with 169 delegates from all districts, it became apparent that a smallpox outbreak was imminent in the city. All 169 delegates boarded a train for Charleston, South Carolina where the Secession Convention reconvened on December 18. South Carolina delegates layed down their very lives as their ancestors had done in 1776 when they signed the Ordinance of Secession and South Carolina officially left the union on December 20. General David Flavel Jamison, President of the Secession Convention, gave the following charge to the delegates: “To dare, to dare, and again I say to dare.” The vote that day was unanimous with all 169 delegates voting to leave the union. South Carolina was the only state to secede unanimously from the Union.
Over the next one hundred and forty-four years Secession Hill remained in private hands. A house of about 2000 square feet was built circa 1894 and a smaller house built later. The area was over-run with vines, underbrush, and thousands of glass bottles and cans littered the area. Secession Hill was simply a piece of forgotten property and had little or no historical significance to Abbeville. In fact, most residents of the area didn’t really know where Secession Hill was located in the town. Often when asked by visitors where Secession Hill was located, residents might reply that they didn’t know themselves.
In 2001, Robert Hayes moved to Abbeville and opened the “Southern Patriot Shop.” One day in November of 2001, he overheard a conversation between two men in his shop in which one man said he owned the tract of land known as Secession Hill. This man was Jack Mattison of Columbia. Mr. Hayes immediately began discussion and negotiation to purchase that land from Mr. Mattison. The property had been zoned for multi-housing by the city of Abbeville and Mr. Hayes and others feared that it could fall into the hands of a developer and be gone forever.
In April of 2004, Mr. Hayes and the Southern Cultural Centre, Inc. purchased the 1.9 acre tract and began a journey of clearing and preparing the property for Secession Memorial Park. Thousands of man-hours went into the clearing of the two houses, vines, bottles, trees, debris and most of that work was done by Mr. Hayes himself. The grave of an unknown Alabama soldier was located on the property and marked. This soldier had died on a train passing through Abbeville as he was on his way home after the war, and he was buried on Secession Hill. In addition, “Secession Rock” which holds a bronze marker, placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy circa 1950, was moved across the line from the adjoining property and placed at the sight of the platform where the speeches were actually given. No specific date is on the plaque which simply reads “This stone marks the spot where the first secession speeches were made.” An addition to the park is a beautiful sixty-five foot flag pole which adorns the grounds of the Memorial Park.
During the period from 2004-2007 five beautiful oak trees, which had witnessed the secession meeting, were lost due to storms or other reasons. Mr. Hayes harvested the wood and has produced beautiful hand-crafted sculptures and bowls which he sells in his shop. All proceeds go toward the development of the planned Secession Memorial Park. The Southern Cultural Center hopes to have a Wall of Honour on which the names of the 18,666 South Carolina Confederate dead will be inscribed. Individuals may purchase pavers and have the names of their ancestors inscribed on each for later placement in the park. In addition, the original Confederate Monument given to Abbeville by the UDC in 1906 will be given a new home in the Memorial Park. This monument was damaged by fire in 1991. It was taken to Elberton, Georgia, where it was used as a template for the monument now in place on the courthouse square in Abbeville. The original monument, however, will be placed in the Memorial Park in the future. Also, there are plans to erect a monument to honor John C. Calhoun who was born ten miles outside of Abbeville but practiced law there. Contributions to Secession Hill Memorial Park may be made to The Southern Cultural Centre, c/o Robert Hayes, 107 North Main Street, Abbeville, SC 29620.
On November 20, 2010, Secession Hill was officially dedicated as a Memorial Park. A beautiful bronze highway marker was unveiled with several hundred in attendance. Among those attending were the South Carolina Division President Eloise Verdin, the South Carolina Division Third Vice President Carol Leake, and the President of the South Carolina Division Children of the Confederacy, Charlotte Mitchell. Among others attending were descendants of the Signers of the Ordinance of Secession from the Abbeville, Barnwell, and Laurens Districts. The beautiful ceremony included speeches by Robert Hayes, Aubrey Cheek and David Rutledge. Mr. Hayes gave information on how he and the Southern Cultural Centre gained possession of the property. Mr. Cheek, an Abbeville town historian, outlined the historical events of November 22, 1860, while Mr. Rutledge, a descendant of David Jamison, discussed how his family was affected by the act of Secession. General David Flavel Jamison was the one who gave the charge “To Dare” at the South Carolina Secession Convention. His descendant Mr. David Rutledge was there to represent him 150 years later in his moving speech on how this family and many others suffered during the War. The music for the ceremony was provided by Un-Reconstructed of Alabama. After all remarks were made and speeches given, Mr. Rutledge and Miss Mitchell had the distinct honor of unveiling the beautiful new marker. The gratitude of South Carolina is due to Mr. Robert Hayes for his diligence and hard work, for without him Secession Hill would have been lost forever. Secession Hill once again has its rightful place in South Carolina history to be enjoyed for generations to come.