South Carolina: The Missing Ordinance of Secession

This piece copied from its original page at The South Carolina Archives and History Center.

You may have never known this, Ano.

The Missing Ordinance of Secession

Front of the Ordinance of Secession
To see an enlarged graphic

Ordinance of Secession - back
Back of the Ordinance of Secession
To see detail from the back

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Legends and Myths of South Carolina

South Carolina Archives Home Page

Periodically, the Governor’s office or the State Archives receives mail or calls from individuals claiming to have possession of the Ordinance of Secession and offering to return the document to the state. Fortunately, the original Ordinance has been in state custody since December 20, 1860, the night it was signed in Charleston, South Carolina. The original document has a notation on the reverse certifying that the Secretary of State, Isaac H. Means, had taken possession of the document from the President of the Secession Convention, David F. Jamison. The Ordinance was transferred to Columbia and kept in the office of the Secretary of State. It was spirited away by Secretary of State William R. Huntt, Means’ successor, when General William T. Sherman threatened Columbia in February 1865. The document returned to Columbia at the end of hostilities after several weeks in which Huntt and his wife safeguarded valuable state papers and evaded Union cavalry roaming the upstate. In 1901, the Ordinance still hung in a frame in the secretary of state’s office and had been re-inked due to fading. Four years later, the document was transferred to the newly created Historical Commission, which eventually became the Department of Archives and History. The original Ordinance remains secure in the department’s new facility in Columbia.

The confusion over the whereabouts of the original Ordinance stems from the existence of lithographic copies of the original made several months after the original was signed. Two hundred copies made by the Charleston printing firm Evans and Cogswell, which even reproduced the inkblots made by the signers, were purchased and distributed to the convention delegates in April 1861. It took only 7 months for the first copy to fall into enemy hands. In November 1861, US naval forces captured Port Royal Harbor and among the trophies of war was one of the Evans and Cogswell copies. This copy was framed and hung at the Navy Department in Washington, DC, although naval officials knew they did not have the original ordinance.

Additional copies were captured at the end of the war during the fall of Columbia and Charleston. Daniel McWorkman found a copy on the wall of the State House in Columbia in February 1865 and took it home to Iowa. In 1966, the mayor of Keokuk, Iowa offered to return it to then Governor Robert E. McNair. It was eventually given to the SC State Museum in 1990. On March 3, 1865, several members of Company G, 102 US Colored Troops discovered one of the lithographs, which they titled the “Scroll of Treason,” at Soldier’s Retreat, a plantation across the Ashley River from Drayton Hall. The soldiers thought the plantation belonged to South Carolina’s secretary of state and assumed they had the original ordinance. Lieutenant George A. Southworth, the detachment commander, soon returned to his hometown, Leoni, Michigan, with the prize. He copyrighted his own lithographic copy, which was reproduced and distributed throughout the North. These copies have also been mistaken for the original. A recent exhibit at the Department of Archives and History displayed the original Ordinance alongside an Evans and Cogswell lithograph and a Michigan lithograph of the “Scroll of Treason”.

Information on other facsimiles of the Ordinance and a history of the document can be found in Relic of the Lost Cause: The Story of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession by Dr. Charles H. Lesser (Columbia: SCDAH, 1996). This booklet is available from the Department of Archives and History.

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