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Built around a765, the Elizabeth Hext House's simple wooden frame sits on a high tabby foundation
Elizabeth Hext House,
"The Point," Downtown Beaufort

Members of the
U. S. House of Representatives
and the
U. S. Senate
Connections to Beaufort County, SC

(In Order of Date of Birth)

See also:
Famous People of Beaufort County, SC

  • Robert Barnwell (1761-1814): Federalist. Continental Congress 1789; U. S. House of Representatives 1791-93.
    Robert Barnwell was born in Beaufort. His education took place in the town's common schools and with tutors at home. At the age of sixteen, he fought in the Revolutionary War (at the Battle of Johns Island the young Barnwell received seventeen wounds and was left for dead; a servant sought and found Barnwell on the battlefield, and his cousin, Mary Anna Gibbes, the future Mrs. Alexander Garden, nursed the wounded man back to health). ). When Charleston fell in 1780, Lieutenant Barnwell went aboard the British prison ship Pack Horse until a prisoner exchange the following year. After the war, Barnwell began his long tenure as president of Beaufort College's board of trustees. He served as member of the Continental Congress in 1788 and 1789 and of the South Carolina convention for the adoption of a Federal Constitution in 1788. Although he served in the Second Congress (1791-1793), Barnwell declined renomination to the Third Congress in 1792. He was speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1795 (during his term of 1795-1797) and president of the South Carolina Senate in 1805 (during his membership in 1805 and 1806). Robert Barnwell died in Beaufort and was buried in the churchyard of St. Helena's Episcopal Church. His son, Robert Woodward Barnwell, served terms in the senates of both the United States and the Confederate States of America.
  • William John Grayson (1788 - 1863) Whig. U S House of Representatives,
    1833 - 1837.

    Born in Beaufort, SC November 12, 1788 (also reported as November 2). He graduated in classical studies from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1809. He married Sarah Matilda Somersall on January 6, 1814. Between 1815-1822, Grayson pursued a teaching career at Beaufort College and Savannah Academy. After studying law he was admitted to the bar in 1822 and opened a practice in Beaufort. He served as a representative from the St. Helena District in the state house from 1813-1815 during parts of the 20th and 21st sessions. Grayson was returned to the General Assembly for the 25th and 26th sessions from 1822-1825. From 1826-1831, he served as a State Senator in the 27th, 28th and 29th sessions of the General Assembly. He resigned during the 29th session to take the position of Commissioner in Equity for Beaufort District, which postion he held until 1833.
    A leader in the States Rights and Free Trade Party, and a strong supporter of nullification, William John Grayson was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Whig from the Beaufort - Colleton District, serving from 1833-1837 in the 23rd and 24th Congresses. After failing in his reelection bid he became Collector of Customs in Charleston from 1841-1853.
    Despite his stand on states rights and nullification, Grayson was a strong Unionist, while also supporting slavery. His opposition to secession forced him out of political office in the 1850s. He turned to literature to promote his beliefs. His best known work is the treatise, "The Hireling and the Slave" (1854). An excerpt from that work sums up Grayson's premise:

    "What more can be required of Slavery, in reference to the negro, than has been
    done? It has made him, from a savage, an orderly and efficient labourer. It
    supports him in comfort and peace. It restrains his vices. It improves his mind,
    morals and manners. It instructs him in Christian knowledge."

    Grayson died on October 4, 1863 in Newberry, South Carolina, where he and his wife had sought refuge during the war. He is buried in Magnolina Cemetery, Charleston, SC.
  • Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) Democrat. US Senate 1850 - 1852.
    Born in Beaufort, SC on December 21, 1800, the future senator was born Robert Barnwell Smith, the eighth child of James Smith and Marianna Gough. Robert and his brothers changed their surname to Rhett in 1837 to commemorate their ancestor Colonel William Rhett (1666-1723). Robert Barnwell Rhett was admitted to the bar and began to practice law in 1821. At various times he owned land in Georgetown, Charleston, Colleton and Beaufort Districts. On February 21, 1827 he married Elizabeth Washington Burnet with whom he sired eleven children. She died in 1852. For his second wife Rhett married Catherine Ann Herbert Dent on April 25, 1854. This marriage produced three more children.

    Barnwell was first elected to the State House of Representatives from St. Bartholomew's Parish (Colleton County) in 1826. He served in the 27th - 30th sessions from 1826 - 1833. He resigned in 1833 after he was elected to the office of State Attorney General on November 29, 1832, which office he held until 1837. Rhett resigned the Attorney General's office when elected to the US House of Representatives for the 25th Congress. He held this position from 1837-1849, serving in the 25th - 30th Congresses. He was elected in 1850 to fill the seat in the US Senate vacated by the death of John C. Calhoun. He resigned from the Senate on May 7,1852.                                                                                                                              

    Rhett was an active disunionist who passionately defended state interests and the property rights of slaveholders. In 1844 he started the "Bluffton Movement" calling for separate state secession to oppose federal tariff policies. He was a delegate to the Nashville Convention in 1850. Rhett's strongly held beliefs earned him the title "Father of Secession". Despite his role in leading the rally for secession, he failed to obtain a position in Jefferson Davis's administration. He became an ardent critic of the Confederate government and Davis's conduct of the war effort often using the Charleston Mercury newspaper he owned to vent his personal political vitriol.
    Rhett died on September 14, 1876 in Louisiana. He is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. - updated 12.17.2014 gmc
  • Robert Woodward Barnwell (1801-1882): U. S. House of Representatives 1829-1833; U. S. Senate 1850.
    Born in Beaufort, Robert Woodward Barnwell was the son of Robert Barnwell. Educated at the Beaufort College and with highest honors at Harvard, Barnwell served as United States Representative from 1829-1833. He became the third president of the South Carolina College in December of 1835 and served until 1841. His later years were spent as a planter in Beaufort, where he involved himself in local issues. He served a brief term in the United States Senate from June to December of 1850. Although he was had opposed California’s admission to the Union, Congressman Barnwell graciously presented the credentials of that state’s first senator, John Charles Fremont (1813-1890). At the convention of seceding Southern states, Barnwell cast the deciding vote for South Carolina to elect Jefferson Davis president of the Confederate States of America. He was a signer of the Confederate constitution. Robert Woodward Barnwell served in the Confederate States Senate from 1861-1865. After the war, Barnwell returned to his devastated properties. He was faculty chairman at the University of South Carolina (1866-1872) and (1872) manager of a private school for girls. In 1877, Governor Wade Hampton appointed Barnwell librarian of the University of South Carolina. Robert Woodward Barnwell died in Columbia, but was buried in the churchyard of St. Helena's Episcopal Church in Beaufort.
  • William Ferguson Colcock (1804-1889). Democrat. U. S. House of Representatives 1849-1853.
    Colcock as born in Beaufort, but attended Hulburt's School in Charleston. A law student at the University of South Carolina, he started his practice and his activities as a planter in Coosawhatchie (then Beaufort County, but presently Jasper County) after upon admission to the bar in 1825. From 1831-1848, he was a member of the South Carolina State House of Representatives and was elected to the Thirty-first and Thirty-second United States Congresses (1849-1853). William Ferguson Colcock subsequently served a a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution (1850-1853); as port collector in Charleston (1853-1865, under the Confederate government after the fall of Fort Sumter); after which offices he began his law practice again in McPhersonville (then Beaufort County, but presently Hampton County).
  • Michael Patrick O'Connor (1831-1881). Democrat. U. S. House of Representatives 1879-1881.
    O'Connor was born in Beaufort and attended the town's public schools. He began his law practice in Charleston after admission to the bar in 1850. From 1858-1866, he was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and, in the Civil War, served as a lieutenant in the Confederate Lafayette Infantry. O'Connor was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the Forty-fourth (1874) and Forty-fifth United States Congresses, but was elected to the Forty-sixth Congress (1879-1881). He died in Charleston County as member-elect to the Forty-seventh Congress, succeeded by Edmund W. M. Mackey (who had contested O'Connor's recent election).
  • William Elliott (1838-1907). Democrat. U. S. House of Representatives 1887-1890, 1891-1893, 1895-1896, 1897-1903.
    Born in Beaufort, Elliott attended Beaufort College and Harvard University. After his law studies at the University of Virginia, he was admitted to the bar in Charleston (1861). William Elliott joined the Confederate Army as lieutenant at the beginning of the Civil War, and had earned the rank of lieutenant colonel by the end of the conflict. He returned to Beaufort to practice law after the war. From 1866-1867, he was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, serving as intendant of Beaufort in 1866. Although his bid (1884) for election to the Forty-ninth United States Congress failed, he served in the the Fiftieth and Fifty-first Congresses (1887-1890), until succeeded by Thomas Ezekiel Miller, who contested Elliott's election. Elliott returned to Congress for the Fifty-second (1891-1893), Fifty-fourth (1895-1896, ending in a successful contest by George W. Murray), Fifty-fifth, Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Congresses (1897-1903). President Theodore Roosevelt appointed William Elliott to the post of commissioner for marking of Confederate graves in the Northern states. Elliott served until his death in Beaufort; he was buried in the St. Helena's Episcopal Churchyard.
  • Robert Smalls (1839-1915): Republican. U. S. House of Representatives 1875-1879 and 1882-1887 (five terms).
    Born in Beaufort, Robert Smalls was brought to Charleston by his owner in 1851. There Smalls hired himself out in his own time as a harbor foreman and stevedore and had saved $700 at the outbreak of the Civil War, with which sum he intended to buy freedom for himself, his wife and his daughter. The Confederacy employed Smalls as a pilot on the ship, The Planter. On May 12, 1862, he confiscated the vessel and delivered it and its cargo of artillery to the Union blockade fleet. Smalls received a reward of $1,500 for the capture, with which funds he later bought land and a partnership in a store (with black politician Richard H. Gleaves). Smalls was appointed pilot and later became a captain in the United States Navy. In 1862, he spoke to Northern audiences about the Port Royal Experiment in Beaufort, the forerunner of the policy of Reconstruction that would soon control the South. An incident involving Robert Smalls brought about the integration of Philadelphia’s public transportation in 1864: citizens protested Smalls’s eviction from a streetcar in that city. After the Civil War, he was elected to the State House of Representatives (1868-1870) and the State Senate (1870-1875), finally serving for five terms (1875-1879 and 1882-1887) in the United States House of Representatives. He had hired tutors after the war to acquire his education, and in 1870 owned $6,000 in real estate (and $1,000 in personal property). Smalls joined with Thomas Ezekiel Miller in the state constitutional convention of 1895, failing to block legislation that would disenfranchise black citizens. Robert Smalls was a director of a black-owned railroad (Enterprise Railroad) and publisher of the Beaufort Standard newspaper. Smalls's last public office was that of customs collector (1889-1912), when Beaufort was still an active port. Robert Smalls made his most-remembered statement on November 1, 1895: "My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life."
  • Thomas Ezekiel Miller (1849-1938). Republican. U. S. House of Representatives 1890-1891.
    Born in Ferrebeeville, S. C. of free black parents, Miller attended schools for free African-Americans in Charleston (although these schools were prohibited by law). He studied for the bar in Columbia, S. C. after his graduation from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (1872). It was in the course of his law studies that Miller’s involvement in the Beaufort County Republican Party began. His first public office was that of Beaufort school commissioner (1872), and in 1874 he was elected as representative to the state General Assembly. Miller served in the U. S. House (having successfully contested the election of William Elliott) from 1890-1891, and his term was plagued by contests from the opposing Democrats. When he returned to Beaufort, he served again in the South Carolina House of Representatives (1894-1896). Miller joined with Robert Smalls in the state constitutional convention of 1895, failing to block legislation that would disenfranchise black citizens. At this same convention, Miller expressed his support for women’s suffrage. More successful was Miller’s efforts to found a state-supported college for African-Americans, the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College in Orangeburg, now known as South Carolina State College. Miller became the college’s first president in 1896 and served until 1911-- forced into resignation by Governor Coleman Blease. He died in Charleston, where his epitaph reads, "Not having loved the white man less, but having felt the Negro needed more."


Bailey, N. Louis. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776-1985. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1986.

Barnwell, Stephen B. The Story of an American Family. Marquette, 1969.

Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress, 1774-1961. United States Government Printing Office, 1961.

Foner, Eric. Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Johnson, Allen [Editor]. Dictionary of American Biography . Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928.

Treese, Joel. List of names, dates and party affiliation courtesy of theBiography Editor of Congressional Quarterly (electronic mail message of March 24, 1998).

Winston, Rayford W. and Michael R. Winston. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. W. W. Norton, 1982.

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