Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Pineville, a historic refuge— A Planter Thrives

Originally published September 28, 2007

Henry William Ravenel Photo from South Caroliniana Library

Henry William Ravenel Photo from South Caroliniana Library

Henry William Ravenel thrived as gentleman planter in Pineville before the Civil War destroyed his society and his livelihood. As a scientist, he survived the Civil War and Reconstruction and made a major contribution to botany in America.

He was a fourth generation Huguenot born in 1814 to Dr. Henry Ravenel and his wife, Catherine Stevens. Two years later, the family moved from Woodville Plantation to Pineville. When his mother died in 1816, Henry William was sent to live with his grandfather, René Ravenel, in Charleston.

Tamara Miner Haygood has written an excellent biography— Henry William Ravenel, 1814-1887: South Carolina Scientist in the Civil War Era. The following analysis is based on her book.

Dr. Henry Ravenel’s second wife died a few years later, and he married a third time to Elizabeth Porcher of Ophir Plantation in Pineville. Henry William’s grandparents died in 1822 and 1826, and he returned to his father’s household in his recently inherited Pooshee Plantation in Pineville.

Young Ravenel grew up listening to stories told by aging soldiers, who had fought with Gen. Francis Marion, and family slaves, who recalled African adventures with snakes, elephants, and lions. He spent his childhood walking the rice and cotton fields and wading through the Santee swamplands.

He entered Pineville Academy in 1820. The headmaster was Jacob Gillett, a graduate of Dartmouth. Henry William’s first teacher was John Service. He studied grammar, reading, arithmetic, geometry, Latin, Greek, geography, but not science. It is likely, however, he was familiar with the works of Thomas Walter, a Pineville scientist who had published Flora Caroliniana, a Latin catalogue of local plants, in 1788. Walter’s grave and arboretum were near Henry William’s home.

Ravenel graduated from Pineville Academy in 1828 and went to Columbia to study under James M. Daniels, a former teacher at the academy. A year later he enrolled at South Carolina College. He was 15 years old, the minimum age for enrollment.

His professors included Thomas Cooper, Thomas Park, Robert Henry, Henry Nott, and Robert W. Gibbes. Two of his classmates were James H. Hammond, future governor of South Carolina, and J. Marion Sims, a future pioneer in gynecology.

Ravenel joined the Clariosophic Society, a debating club. He joined other students, all male, in late nights at Lyons’ Saloon but refrained from the occasional protests and town-gown riots. Every summer, he returned to Pineville where he socialized with his friends and relatives.

After graduating in 1832, Henry William Ravenel retired to Pineville to study for entry into medical school. However, his father gave him the 600-acre Northampton plantation formerly owned by William Moultrie, complete with slaves and equipment, and 18-year-old Henry William instantly became a gentleman planter.

He joined the St. John’s Hunting Club, an all-male social organization, and the similar St. Stephen’s Jockey Club. In 1823, he was among the founding members of the Pineville Police Association, which was organized to protect the citizens from possible slave uprisings like the Denmark Vesey Affair that had just happened in Charleston.

Ravenel and Elizabeth Gaillard Snowden were married by Rev. Christopher Gadsden in 1835 in Charleston. They lived at Northampton but spent winters at his father’s Pooshee Plantation with his six step-siblings. Because of the Pineville Fever of 1834, they built a summer home at Pinopolis.

Henry William Ravenel had become a full-fledged member of the planter society centered around Pineville. He had the connections, the knowledge, and the aptitude needed to compete in the global marketplace. With careful management of his rice and cotton, he became wealthy.

But, he was not satisfied. And war clouds were gathering.

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