Judge Thomas Jefferson Withers
Thomas Jefferson Withers was born in 1804, in Ebenezer, near Rock Hill, York County, South Carolina. He was among the nine children of Randolph Withers of Virginia and Sarah Bailey Withers of Virginia, (daughter of Captain Thomas Bailey, Revolutionary War hero) who were both buried in Ebenezer, South Carolina.
In 1825, Thomas graduated from South Carolina College and in 1828, he was admitted to the bar. From 1828-1830, he was editor of the Telescope, an important newspaper published in Columbia, South Carolina. He then became close friends with Stephen D. Miller, who was running for Governor.
In 1829, he was appointed by Governor Miller to travel by stage coach to Washington, DC to present to Congress a memorial adopted by the Legislature of South Carolina protesting against the Tariff Act of 1828.
He married Elizabeth Tunstall Boykin, in 1831. She was a daughter of Burwell Boykin and Mary Whitaker, and sister of Steven D. Miller’s wife, thus Thomas J. Withers became the uncle of Governor Miller’s children. They moved to Camden, South Carolina where he opened a law practice. His office was a one-room wooden building, the last on the west side of Broad Street, south of the old Court House. In 1832, he was elected Solicitor of the Circuit and re-elected several times.
Elizabeth and Judge Withers’ first four children Mary, Amelia, Sarah, and Burwell died in infancy of scarlet fever from 1832 to 1838. Governor Miller also died in 1838, and the Withers became guardian of his two daughters Mary Boykin Miller, and Catherine Boykin Miller.
Judge Withers and Elizabeth had four surviving children:
- Mary Miller Withers, who married William Lenox Kirkland, Jr. in 1859;
- Thomas J.Withers, Jr., born in 1841, died in 1858 in a horse racing accident;
- William Randolph Withers (Tanny) was born in 1846; and
- Katherine, born in 1845, died of typhoid fever in July, 1865.
- Judge Withers suffered a stroke which caused him to resign as Solicitor.
He then served as an elected Common Law Judge on the Court of Appeals from 1845-1866
In 1860, he was a delegate from Kershaw County to the Convention of the 0rdinance of Secession, where he signed the Secession Ordinance. By the Secession Convention he was chosen as a delegate from South Carolina to the Convention at Montgomery, Alabama, which organized the Confederacy of Southern States. When this Convention became a provisional Congress of the Confederacy, Withers was chosen one of the two Senators from South Carolina (the other was C. G. Memminger). Before the close of the Montgomery Convention he returned to Camden, resigned his position as Senator in the Confederate Congress, resumed his duties as Judge.
The following description of Judge Withers is from “Reminiscences of Public Men,” by Governor B. F. Perry.
“Judge Withers was a man of distinguished talent and ability. His intellect was as keen and bright as a Damascus blade, and he wielded it on all occasions, in public and in private, most effectually. Every word that fell from his lips in conversation, on the Bench, or in public speaking, had a telling effect. No one was ever left in doubt as to his meaning when he discussed any question. He had moral courage in a high degree, and cared not whom he pleased or offended. He was very sarcastic and bitter in his denunciations of men and measures. No one ever possessed less of the demagogue than Judge Withers. No one ever more conscientiously did what he thought was right, regardless of consequences. He was in bad health all his life, and somewhat misanthropic. He never courted popularity, and scorned the base means which others resorted to for this purpose. The high public offices which he filled were conferred on him for his talents, ability and honesty, and not on account of any personal popularity which he possessed. There was a spice of malice in his composition which delighted in wreaking itself on unworthy men and measures. He was as open as the day, and if he disliked anyone, he showed it in a manner not to be mistaken. Frankness was his character.
“The Judge told me of a piece of malice and passion on his part, which I did not think altogether right. He was going from Camden to Sumter Court in an old sulky. It was late in the evening and raining very hard, the weather, too, was quite chilly, and he thought he would stop for the night at the next house. He drove up, and the gentleman, who was pacing back and forth in a long piazza, took no notice of him till he asked if he could get to stay all night with him. The gentleman replied promptly hat he did not keep a public house, and continued his promenade. This cold, inhospitable reception nettled the judge, and he said to the gentleman, “I did not mistake your residence, sir, for a hotel, but I thought your kindness and humanity would prompt you to give shelter in such weather as this, to a wet and suffering fellow-creature like myself. If there had been a public house anywhere on the road, I should not have called on you.” By this time the gentleman ascertained who he was, and very politely asked him to alight, and said he would be happy to have the pleasure of his company for the night. “No”, said the judge, “I will drive in the night through the rain to Sumter Court House before I will take shelter with such a man as you are,” and he drove off. “This fellow”, said the judge, “was a wealthy man, and a shining light in the Presbyterian Church. He afterwards became a candidate for the Legislature, and I took great pleasure in telling about his inhospitable conduct, which damaged his election considerably, and he was defeated.”
“Judge Withers married the sister-in-law of Governor Miller, a Miss Boykin, who owned a valuable plantation in Kershaw District, and a large number of slaves. His treatment of the slaves, and management of the plantation was so kind, indulgent and humane that it displeased some of his neighbors, who said it was a bad example in the neighborhood, and demoralized the slaves on the other plantations. This determined the Judge, as he told himself, to sell out and invest the proceeds in bank stocks and bonds and mortgages. With all of his temper and irritability, Judge Withers was a very kind-hearted gentleman, and most indulgent and affectionate in all the relations of life. His house servants did pretty much as they pleased, and he did not pretend to watch over them. On one occasion he told me that his carriage-driver, in whom he had placed great confidence, was caught in a theft, and he thought it was a good opportunity of having a general confession of all his roguery and rascality. He asked the fellow if he had not been stealing his corn and fodder and selling it. The [man] declared that so far from having done so, he did, on one or two occasions, when the judge was short of fodder, steal a few bundles of one of the neighbors to feed his horses with!”
Judge Withers was described as average height, delicate slim build, with Grecian face and features. He used snuff and a red bandana handkerchief to sneeze into.
The War Between the States destroyed most of his estate. He died on November 7, 1865 after “a brief illness.”[divider]
We hope that you have learned a little about one of our Confederate heroes. If you have any extra information that would add in educating the public please leave a comment below. All contributions are appreciated.
Today the South Carolina Division Honors these great men and sons, of the great State of South Carolina and in their memory are erecting a monument for future generations to remember their commitment and sacrifice of risking all for the freedom of this State.[divider]
The Signers of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession Monument
The South Carolina Division will erect an impressive monument to the memory of these patriots in the Charleston area during the Sesquicentennial. Your help is needed, and you can be part of this major project. There are several ways for camps, individuals, and businesses to memorialize a signer, an ancestor, a camp namesake, a camp, a family or an individual.
Artist rendition of the South Carolina Secession Signers Monument to be placed in Charleston, SC.
If you would like to help honor the brave men that led the people of South Carolina to independence for a second time, you can see how here at http://www.scsignersmonument.com