Edward Hooker was born in Farmington, Connecticut on April 27, 1785. After graduating from Yale College in 1805 he traveled to South Carolina, planning to settle in the relatively new capitol city of Columbia and work as a lawyer. From his arrival in 1805 until 1808 he kept a diary, recording his views on the people he encountered and their social and political life. Extracts from his diary were published in 1896, edited by J. Franklin Jameson.1

As editor, Jameson notes in his introduction that he “… felt obliged, with much regret, to omit almost entirely the highly interesting portions which exhibit, in minute detail and apparently with much fidelity the social life of South Carolina…”, and “… the diarist’s description of Charleston and Beaufort [were] omitted…”, so that “[i]n the main, the extracts relate to days passed at Columbia.” Given this approach, much that is of potential interest to genealogists and family historians with connections to early 19th century South Carolina is not readily available.

However, in the extracts presented, Hooker writes in some detail about the new town of Columbia2, the lively debates in the State legislature, lawyers and judges in the courts, and the new “… college buildings which are erecting on a pleasant rise of ground about ¼ 0f a mile southeast of the State House”- now the University of South Carolina. If you have ancestry in the Midlands of South Carolina this diary can help you to understand the world they lived in.

Since my family settled in the Upstate of South Carolina, the portion of the diary that I found most interesting was his journey to Cambridge, South Carolina. When Col. John Harris Cruger finally abandoned Fort Ninety Six in the waning months of the Revolutionary War, he burned the fort and the nearby town.3 The town was rebuilt, and in 1785 a preparatory school, the College of Cambridge, was established. The local residents voted to change the name of the town to Cambridge, so for a few years there existed a Cambridge, South Carolina.4

Hooker had been offered a job at Cambridge College, so he “set out for that place this forenoon”, on February 16, 1806. When he arrived, he found that

“…the town of cambridge is nothing more than a snug little village of 15 or 20 houses and stores on the top of a small hill… in the center of it stands and old brick Court House…a little distance down the hill is the jail- both in a neglected state.”

The college was not too impressive to Hooker:

“Just out of the village in a pleasant plain, quite retired from noise, is a two story brick building which was erected for the President’s House of the college; but which is now designed … for the Academy itself. As for the other buildings, they were never anything more than mere log-studies… and they are now in ruins. “

The events that were to spell doom for Cambridge were already obvious to Hooker:

The village has seven stores and three taverns. Its appearance is not at all flourishing; and it is said to have been decaying, ever since the new judiciary arrangement, by which the courts were removed to Abbeville. The present town has been built anew since the war: the old town of Ninety Six (as it used to be called) having been destroyed by the British.”

An interesting event occurred while Hooker was in Cambridge. April 10 was tax day, and in addition to the state taxes, people were finally required to pay a Federal tax, passed during the Adams administration on 14 July, 1798. By the time Hooker witnessed the event, Thomas Jefferson was President, but the people of SC were just getting around to paying the Adams administration tax.

While at Cambridge, Hooker participated in a 4th of July celebration, which be began “…in the Carolina way… by participating in a flowing bowl of Egg- Nogg.” There were military parades, followed by a dinner which was held “… in a little thicket not far from the village, and consisted chiefly of roast beef and pork- cooked over fires that were kindled in a long trench dug in the ground…”– some things have not changed much in SC in the intervening centuries.

While in Cambridge, Hooker traveled for a few days further into the western portion of upstate SC. There he encountered campaigning politicians, militia musters, and an open air service held by a “mountain preacher”.

Hooker was somewhat taken aback by the dress of women in the upstate of SC. They were “mostly without stockings and shoes; while a shirt and petticoat composed their whole dress: but some… had (I suppose, by way of superfluity and set-off) a handkerchief spread over their shoulders and a man’s hat on the head.” He fretted that “…many folks, I am sure, would censure their appearance, as indecent.”

Hooker’s description of an evening as the guest in a local preacher’s home- “…a framed one… one story… comfortable size..”, gives a glimpse into the way of life of many of our ancestors in upstate SC:

“Our dinner was soon served up for us. It consisted of fresh pork and sweet potatoes cut up and set on in a large tin pan, without any bread or sauce, or any accompaniment, except salt. A chest not higher than our knees served for a table: The end of another chest served for a seat for our kind host; while my fellow traveller and myself occupied the only chairs in the room.” Hooker concludes the evening by noting that “after prayers, we retired early to a coarse but comfortable bed, which was furnished with curtains of a coarse sort of gauze.”


1Quotations from Jameson and facts about Edward Hooker are extracted from his introduction to the diary. Reprints of Hooker’s Diary are available from booksellers and the Internet.

2Columbia replaced Charleston as the capitol city of South Carolina in 1786. When Hooker arrived, Columbia was “…not large, being only two miles square…but not more than one third of the streets are … opened; and of those… several have not more than two or three buildings upon them.

3One of the people who accompanied Col. Cruger on the retreat to Charleston was my 4th great grandfather, Peter Pettypool. The last known record of Peter is a Subsistence Abstract, 6 August- 5 October, 1782.

4Cambridge failed to thrive, and eventually ceased to exist. The National Park Service maintains what remains of the town as a part of the Fort Ninety Six historic site.