Steve williams column draining the swamp for harriet tubman’s railroad opinion southstrandnews.com

Despite the bad rap many historians have given to these courageous leaders of the Republican Party, let the record show that they passed laws mandating free and public education, affordable housing, banking assistance, food and medical assistance, higher education and a host of other things which kept us afloat.

Nevertheless, it’s instructive to know that corruption and greed know no color. Despite the honorable leadership from Joseph Haynes Rainey, W.D. Morgan, William H Jones, and James Bowley and other Georgetonians who fought the good fight for our city and state, they were not perfect people, especially Jones and Bowley.

Perhaps the most celebrated was Rainey, the first black person elected to the U.


S. House of Congress. When Rainey was elected to Congress, William H. Jones replaced him in the South Carolina Senate. At the same time Rainey and Jones held office, James A Bowley occupied the seat of the Georgetown District in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Bowley, a native of Maryland, came to South Carolina in 1867 when he was about 23 years old.

He was one of two children smuggled out of Dorchester County in Maryland with his parents in 1851. His mother Kessiah was Harriet Tubman’s niece, but the two had such a close relationship that they considered themselves sisters. James’ father, John, was a shipbuilder who’d been freed by his owner sometime around 1840.

After learning Kessiah and her children were heading for the auction block, Tubman, who was living in Philadelphia at the time, quickly moved to Baltimore where John was. She and John concocted a plan to save his wife and children. John bravely and successfully bid for his wife and children before he could be properly identified by the officials. By the time the Dorchester County officials realized what had happened, the three slaves, Kessiah, James, and his sister, Araminta, had escaped to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad. Late in 1851 they moved to Canada, fleeing the strict new law passed by Congress, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

They left James in Philadelphia with Tubman to continue his education. In a letter written in 1868, James wrote to Tubman saying, “The trouble that you had undergone for me in my childhood days when you were compelled to work for one dollar a week yet you gave me half of it for my care; I was one of the first passengers from the house of bondage.” Indeed, in 1850 Bowley was one of the first passengers on Tubman’s famed Underground Railroad.

The push to educate James would pay off after the Civil War when he moved to Georgetown quickly establishing himself as an influential figure. He became a trustee of the University of South Carolina helping to integrate this venerable institution and the chair of the prestigious Ways and Means Committee — a prominent body that determines tax codes and other revenue — building actions of the state assembly.

At first, Bowley and Jones worked harmoniously in government, but things quickly changed. Both in their mid-20s, both rich, and both with an impressive amount of supporters disagreed over a congressional candidate that caused a split between them.

On August 15, 1874, Bowley summoned his supporters at the courthouse on Screven and Prince streets to nominate delegates for an upcoming convention. For some reason, Jones directed several of his supporters to attend Bowley’s meeting and disrupt the rally. A fight broke out. Many were injured. Some were arrested. The next day word of the attack by Jones had spread throughout the county. Bowley supporters armed with weapons retaliated by pelting Jones’s house throughout the night. Over 200 bullets were fired into Jones’s townhouse. Three people were seriously wounded. Terrified of the warring factions, Sheriff S.R. Carr, Intendant Congdon, and Rainey notified the Governor to send help right away.

Bowley and twelve of his supporters were placed in jail, but only after Jones supporters threatened to burn the town down if they didn’t receive justice. A U.S. Navy cutter arrived from Charleston along with the state militia. Order was restored but not before Bowley was escorted from the jail to the ship and taken to Charleston.

Still, the mob refused to disperse. Rainey got up to speak to the mob. He started off by assuring the crowd that “no combination of circumstances would ever again place them into slavery.” Nonetheless, he warned, “many of the privileges of freedom might be taken away if the people of the whole country found that the Georgetown black community abuse rights conferred upon them.”

News of the riot spread across the state. Several white newspapers couldn’t resist the temptation to dehumanize the Republican Party in their editorials. One prominent newspaper wrote, “The town was entirely at the mercy and in possession of a mob of mad Negro savages who were shooting at each other with the greatest possible gusto.” Another wrote, “The corrupt Republicans are opportunists who are dimwitted and unworthy of public office.” Yet another tabloid wrote, “The honorable Mr. Bowley is a colored man, and judging from his craniology, physiognomy, and tautology, we fear he will make the Ways and Means very easy” implying Bowley was mentally unfit for the position and would likely be susceptible to bribery – I shudder to think how Fox News would’ve characterized them.