Friday, July 22, 2011
Whitemarsh Benjamin Seabrook (1793-1855)
Today's article centers on one Whitemarsh Benjamin Seabrook, certainly one of the oddest named Governors in U.S. history, and also one of the most obscure I've had to research. For over ten years Seabrook remained one of the few oddly named politicians that was "faceless", and I was almost sure that this wonderfully named South Carolina Governor would remain without a face to place with his name. In an addendum to the preceding, fortune has smiled down upon me once again, for the discovery of the above painting marks the first time I've seen a portrait of Governor Seabrook. Like Arphaxed Loomis before him, Seabrook was one of a few politicians on the list that I was sure I'd never see a picture of. The painting in question was discovered via Google books in a 1987 work by author Larry Trise, entitled Proslavery: A History of the Defence of Slavery in America.
Whitemarsh B. Seabrook was born on June 30, 1793 at the Seabrook family plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, a son of Benjamin Whitemarsh and Elizabeth Margaret Meggett Seabrook. Seabrook's year of birth is variously given as either 1792, 1793, 1794 or 1795, but the majority of the sources I've found mention the correct year as being 1793. During his adolescence he attended the College of New Jersey, graduating in 1812. Soon after completing his education Seabrook began the practice of law but eventually turned his attention to agricultural interests in his native state. He married in February 1815 to Ms. Margaret Wilkinson Hamilton (1795-1839) and the couple later became the parents to several children, including Benjamin Whitemarsh (1819-1820), Mary Hamilton (1822-1854), Julia Emma (1824-1904), Susan Septima (1826-1908), Paul Hamilton (1827-1862), Margaret Ann (1829-1831) and Edward Wilkinson (died in infancy in 1836.)
As a plantation owner, Seabrook had a large cotton crop on Edisto Island, and most of the sources mention him stress his involvement in the Southern cotton trade. He served as President of the South Carolina Agricultural Society from 1839-1845, and during his time in that office wrote A History of the Cotton Plant, a work that became a standard agricultural textbook at Clemson University and was even translated into several languages!
While Seabrook maintained an involvement in agricultural pursuits, he was also active in politics. At age 21 he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives for the first of many terms. From there he won election to the state senate and in 1834 was named Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, serving under Governor (and later U.S. Senator) George McDuffie (1790-1851). In 1848 the South Carolina General Assembly elected Seabrook as Governor, and during his tenure stressed the vital importance of education. He was instrumental in the foundation of a Teacher's Association in South Carolina, although it became defunct not long after he left office.
Seabrook's one term as Governor concluded in 1850 and he returned to his Edisto Island plantation. One of his last public services was as a delegate to the Southern Rights Convention of 1852. He died in Beaufort, South Carolina on April 16, 1855 and was subsequently buried in the Gun Bluff Plantation Cemetery on the grounds of his home on Edisto Island.