Chapter I. The Greggs.
WHAT is now Chesterfield County in the State of South Carolina was formerly a part of the Cheraw precinct, a region including nearly the whole of seven other counties in the state. The name of this precinct was derived from the Indian occupants, who were called in the earliest accounts of explorers in that region, Saras or Saraws, and afterwards Charrows, Charraws and Cheraws. This last-mentioned name survived in the principal town upon the Great Pedee River, the chief natural feature of the region. The county, however, derived its name from the Earl of Chesterfield, and was until the beginning of the eighteenth century known as the Cheraw District.
The precinct was from an early period a notable region in a state which has been one of the most famous of the original thirteen. There are traditions of Indian wars waged within its borders before the advent of the white men; and more authentic accounts [1/2] of strife in the seventeenth century between the Indians and the colonists advancing from the coast. It was the scene of no important battles in the Revolutionary War, but it contributed of its resources in men and treasure to that conflict. Subsequently it contributed to the progress of a great commonwealth; and still later to the cause of the Confederacy in the great Civil War, when it lay in the track of the contending armies and was marked by ruin and devastation.
The portion of the precinct now known as Chesterfield County was first colonized by Welsh settlers from Pennsylvania and Delaware in 1735 or 1736. These were followed by immigrants from across the Atlantic, the Scotch-Irish predominating; and settlers from lower down in the "Province" began to arrive in gradually increasing numbers, until the rich alluvial lands and valleys of what are now the adjoining counties of Chesterfield, Marlboro and Darlington, were peopled by men whose descendants were destined to become important factors in the development of the great Carolinian commonwealth.
In the time of Cromwell a family bearing the name of Gregg emigrated from the north of Scotland to [2/3] Londonderry, Ireland. [In the "Memorial Sermon" preached by the Rev. A. B. Rogers, before the Annual Council of the Diocese of Texas, in Christ Church, Houston, May 12, 1894, it is declared that the family were McGregors, and that Gregg is but the shortened form of Gregor, and that "the American descendants of those Scotch-Irish McGregors have always borne a strong likeness, both mental and physical, to their famous ancestors. They are easily leading men."] Early in the eighteenth century, three brothers of this family, David, Andrew and John Gregg, removed from Londonderry, with their families, to America. David and Andrew settled in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania respectively. The objective point of John Gregg was South Carolina; and in July, 1752, this John Gregg petitioned the Council of the "Province" for a grant of land. He stated that his family consisted of himself and wife, one Dutch servant and five negroes. No grant had previously been made to him, and he was desirous of obtaining two plots of five hundred acres each. In answer to his petition he obtained a grant of one thousand three hundred acres in the Cheraw precinct.
John Gregg's eldest child, James, born in South Carolina, married Mary Wilson, by whom he had six children. He was a captain in the Revolution and rendered efficient service in the cause of liberty. He was subjected to the persecutions of the Tories and was forced to conceal himself in a swamp and to sleep in a hollow log, being fed by his family whom he occasionally visited under cover of darkness. His house was eventually burned and his property [3/4] destroyed by the British. After the close of the war he devoted himself to the practice of law and was a member of the state legislature. He is described as "more than six feet in height, straight, and scrupulously exact in his dress. His features betokened great firmness. His eyes were blue, his nose large and his teeth good. He delighted in order and his books and papers and every matter of which he had charge, was in its proper place, and his life was regulated by rule, being also one of undeviating honesty and purity."
The sixth child of James Gregg, David, married Athalinda Brocky. David Gregg was a man of affluence, who had a large plantation near Society Hill in Darlington County, adjoining Chesterfield. He was a man of great executive ability, and besides the care of his plantation, successfully conducted extensive shad fisheries along the Pedee River. He was especially known for his extraordinary physical courage, for his unswerving integrity and for his eccentricities. Stories illustrating his integrity and his eccentricity are still told in the neighborhood of Society Hill. He was accustomed to ship his cotton by a river freighter named Coker. Looking over Mr. Coker's expense account one day, he discovered a charge made for insurance. This Mr. Gregg refused at first to pay, saying that he did not believe in [4/5] insurance. He finally paid it, but warned the freighter never to insure his cotton again as he did not intend to pay for it. Some years later one of Mr. Coker's boats burned, and with it a large shipment of Mr. Gregg's cotton. Mr. Coker received in due time indemnity from the insurance company for the whole cargo, having had the entire cargo insured. He consequently called Mr. Gregg into his office one day, and, as he began to count out some money, he said:--
"I have some money of yours, Mr. Gregg. It's the insurance money for that cotton of yours that was burned."
"I thought I told you not to insure my cotton," said Mr. Gregg.
"Yes," replied Mr. Coker, "but under my contract with the insurance company I had to insure the entire cargo, so the company has paid me the whole of it."
"Well it's not my money," was Mr. Gregg's ultimatum, "and I won't have it."
The old gentleman was a Baptist, and on one occasion at the Baptist church in Society Hill, the preacher made some statement with which Mr. Gregg disagreed. He arose, walked forward to the pulpit, and wrote with a piece of chalk on the front of it, "That is a lie!" and stalked out of the building. On [5/6] another occasion, being engaged in a trade of some importance which would have been of great advantage to him, he suddenly broke it off, because in the argument that arose, the other party contended that the world was flat and not round. Mr. Gregg declared that he would have no dealings with such a fool.
To David Gregg and his wife, at their residence near Society Hill, were born three daughters, and on the eighth of October, 1819, a son, to whom was given the name of Alexander, after Alexander Sparks, an intimate friend of the proud father. Alexander Gregg grew to the age of thirteen or fourteen at Society Hill, which was a small business and trading point upon the Pedee River in the vicinity of a large number of well-to-do planters, whose comfortable houses in the Southern style bordered upon radiating highways for several miles. In the year 1832 or 1833 the boy was sent to an academy at Winnsboro, South Carolina, about one hundred miles from home, and there began his life in the world. At that early age he was noted for his conscientiousness. He was nevertheless high-spirited and among the traditions of his life at Winnsboro Academy is one of an encounter with the bully of the school, none other than the son of his namesake, Alexander Sparks. Young Gregg was not the aggressor, and young William [6/7] Sparks was completely beaten, lost his prestige at the school and bore throughout life a scar inflicted by his schoolmate. He attained to some distinction in public life, and was sometime Consul to Venice.
Young Alexander Gregg not only advanced in his studies but acquired a taste for study and an ambition for a college career. In this he encountered the opposition of his father, who was inclined to look upon the liberal education attainable in those days as unfitting a man for practical business. The boy's mother took a different view of the matter and felt that the life of a young man of such promise as her son should not be narrowed to the business of assisting in the management of a plantation. In the end the mother prevailed and at the age of sixteen, Alexander Gregg was matriculated at South Carolina College, in Columbia, the capital of the state.
This college, which has recently celebrated its centennial and has been advanced to the status of a university under the name of the University of South Carolina, was at that time one of the best in the South. Scholars of prominence were upon its faculty, and it had already contributed a large number of graduates to positions of note in the Southern states. Throughout his college life, young Gregg was noted for his diligence, sincerity and common sense, and developed remarkable qualities of [7/8] leadership. It is related that in his last year at the College, he alone sided with the faculty in a matter which arose between the faculty and the student-body over the question of discipline, and in consequence thereof he received the thanks of the faculty. His courage on this occasion, so far from making him unpopular among his fellow-students, had the effect of making him an acknowledged leader among them.
He graduated on the 3rd day of December, 1838, with the highest honors of his class, though but nineteen years of age. Commencement day was a great occasion in those days in South Carolina. It was a winter function and was attended by many prominent men from all over the state. The programme of this commencement is before the present writer. It is a large broadside, and gives the names of several members of the graduating class who afterwards attained to some distinction. It provided for a procession to form in front of the State House under the direction of James W. Cantey, Marshal of the Day, to be composed of the students, faculty, Governor and Trustees; officers and students of the Theological Seminary; the reverend clergy; officers of the state, civil and military; and citizens generally; "The House of Representatives with the Speaker attended by their officers; the Senate with [8/9] the President, attended by its officers; the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor."
"When the Procession arrives at the College," the programme directs, "it shall open to the right and left, and form two lines fronting each other, between which the rear shall march forward to the chapel, the lines joining as the rear advances, and entering in inverted order."
Alexander Gregg is named on the programme as first in order of merit and to read an essay on "Dr. Paley's System of Utility," and to pronounce the Salutatory Address. The Latin Salutatory is now before the present writer, written in a very clear and exact hand.
The character of the commencement exercises is further indicated by the titles of the other essays presented and read on that occasion: "The Importance of Methodical and Elementary Education"; "Country and City Life"; "Varieties of Intellectual Character"; "Thomas Gray as a Poet"; "The Education of the Senses"; "Criticism of an Ancient English Ballad"; "The Variety of Soil, Climate and Genius of Men as an Elementary Principle in Human Civilization"; "Influence of Imagination on Human Happiness"; "Revocation of the Edict of Nantes"; and Valedictory Address.