The Carolina Herald and Newsletter
Official Publication of the South Carolina Genealogical Society
Vol. XXXVIII No. 2 (April, May, June 2010)
The Sixth Hamburg Mechanic's Festival
Mechanic's Societies were reasonably popular in the first half of the 19th Century. Their purpose was to advance the status and standard of living enjoyed by artisans, craftsmen and builders. Members of a local Society typically built a library for the improvement of their skills, sponsored insurance to protect their families, and raised well deserved public awareness for their contributions. A surviving example is the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, founded in 1785, which still maintains an active library and school on 44th Street. A Charleston Mechanic Society was chartered in 1798 1.
Mechanics as a class were particularly beleaguered in the South, where labor came at a discount. Henry Shultz, the founder and autocrat of Hamburg, South Carolina, may have recognized this neglect when he got behind a Mechanic's Society in his town. But he had a larger objective than to pump the mechanical arts - he had his entire town to pump. By lumping mechanics and tradesmen together, he enlisted the male population in what amounted to an annual Hamburg pep rally.
The Town of Hamburg was a 'We Try Harder' competitor planted directly across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia in 1821. Farm wagons met waterborne transport at this fall line trading point. Cotton sales put cash in hand, easily spent in the stores for supplies to carry home. Hamburg became a busy and thriving commercial center.
Hamburg's promoter Shultz had baggage, the failure of the Bridge Company of Augusta. When that went bust during the Panic of 1819, it had issued $450,000 in so-called Bridge Bills 2, and somehow Shultz ended up holding the bag for them. The wounded Shultz spent the rest of his life chipping away at the loss. His creditors may have been grateful for his manly stand, but most people in his position would have 'left for Texas.'
As is well known, the Hamburg project was built in defiance of Augusta, a well established and diversified city. A dogfight was debatable strategy when newly planted lands to the west offered brilliant prospects, and Augusta eventually responded in kind to Hamburg's cheaper - faster - better line of attack.
Shultz's development plan was daring as well. It is typical to reserve a few choice bits, selling the rest in order to balance cash flow and pay off the investment. Dionysius Oliver who founded Petersburg, Georgia steadily sold all his lots (although some went to his son) 3. But Shultz made Hamburg to be his, working with large backers having a share in the whole, who would depend on Shultz to keep it all going. With very few exceptions, he jealously kept his lots to himself, built his own houses, stores, and warehouses, and collected the rents 4. This plan could not stand much adversity, and already by the end of 1824 his assets (including his famous cannons) were listed for sale by the Sheriff of Edgefield District 5. Shultz put up 300 lots for auction in January, 1825 (only a fraction of which were bought and fully paid for) and over 200 lots in March, 1826 6. Buyers smelt blood, and the sales gave Shultz little more than another year. In 1827 he staved off a June 4 Sheriff's sale for the Leigh Tract, half of Hamburg, by himself placing the top bid with six months to pay 7.
While staying alive by financial sleight of hand, Shultz remained a promoter of the highest order. From the start, he had moved heaven and earth to foster Hamburg. He worked relentlessly to improve the town, and its access via connecting roads and bridges. Even in those days, one could hardly farm without a loan, and Shultz tried repeatedly to establish a bank 8. Finally, he wanted a sense of corporate identity, which led to the Mechanic's Society.
Evidently the Society was active for several years, before seeking an official sanction that would give prestige and perhaps a source of income. A petition to the legislature asked for a Society 'for the encouragement and improvement of the Mechanical Arts, to better support and maintain the Widows and Orphans of the poor deceased Members that may belong to the society, and other liberal and benevolent objects.' 9.
Continuing, 'Your Petitioners further shew, that they are desirous of erecting a suitable Hall for their meetings - for which they have not the adequate funds - they therefore pray your Honorable Body to grant them an act for a Lottery, in the sum of Forty Thousand Dollars - which with the usual discount of fifteen percent will yield a sum sufficient to their purposes. And to this end and for the purpose of managing the same, that Henry Shultz, C. C. Mayson, Benjamin F. Whitner, John McBryde and Wm Robertson Jr. [be] appointed commissioners therefore. And your petitioners will ever pray etc -
The Hamburg Mechanic's Society 10 was accordingly chartered in 1824 11, but since the lottery was disapproved 12 the petitioners had to remain satisfied with prestige.
Monthly meetings with regalia, rituals, camaraderie and self help would have been well enough, but the concept became inflated beyond recognition with the annual Mechanic's Festivals. These were held each July 2nd, the anniversary of Hamburg's founding. Previous celebrations had passed unnoticed by the Augusta Chronicle, but in 1827 respect had perhaps surpassed contempt - then jealousy - and the sixth annual Festival was reported in great detail. The Chronicle story reveals Hamburg at the pinnacle of its early success, while foreshadowing the imminent financial collapse of its founder.
From the Augusta Chronicle, 7 July 1827:
'Mr. Joshua Mercer, as President, took the head of the table, and was supported by Mr. Henry Spiers and Captain Alexander Boyd, as Vice Presidents. On the right and left of the Presidents were various insignia of the Mechanics' Society, the badges and sashes of which were worn by the members on this occasion - and over his head waved the flag of the society inscribed with the appropriate motto, Nil desperandum. An elegant Band of Music belonging to the Town played on the occasion.'
Thirteen official toasts were recorded in the following vein.
'1. The Day we celebrate - It gave birth to Hamburg; it is sacred to "Mechanics and Artists", and it witnesses the strength of Hamburg in the providence and unanimity of many of her friends. Tune, "Hail Columbia." One gun.
'2. Henry Shultz - The Founder of Hamburg. His firm, independent and manly course, tempered with prudence and talents, enables him, this day, triumphantly to behold his favorite offspring still prosperous and successful; and in him we behold a man, who, for its subsequent prosperity is prepared to risk, and if necessary to sacrifice, his all. Tune, "See the conquering hero comes." One gun.
'3. Mechanics and artists - The Journeymen of the Architect of the Universe - They are instructed to mould and beautify the rough material created to their hands, agreeably to his design, imprinted on the Tressel board of human intellect. When the Genius of Enterprise wields the implements of our art, "Lo the desert smiles." Tune, "Anacreon in Heaven." One gun.
'8. Ingratitude [a sore topic with Shultz] - It chills the ardent aspiration of the virtuous and highminded, and throws a deadly blight over the fairest prospects of industry and merit; be it found in individuals or in States, the "basest of all crimes will meet with its reward." Tune, "Niel Gow's Lament." One gun.
In his turn, U. S. Congressman George McDuffie arose with a 'powerful and impressive' speech on the familiar theme of 'Bargain and Corruption' in the 1824 Presidential election. This was Andrew Jackson's game, to claim the prize in 1828 on account of robbery in 1824, and South Carolina eagerly looked forward to the crowning of its native son. McDuffie's oratory was famously vehement, both verbally and physically, and the Augusta Chronicle was undoubtedly correct when regretting the faint resemblance of its report to the reality.
Further official toasts congratulated governors, congressmen, and legislatures for their wisdom in supporting the Hamburg project, no small matter since Shultz had leaned heavily on State support. Volunteer toasts were offered by the following citizens and friends on topics including Hamburg and its citizens (7), Andrew Jackson (6), George McDuffie (3), Liberty (3), and Shultz (2).
As amply demonstrated by the enthusiasm at this Sixth Mechanic's Festival, and at the Fourth of July dinner held two days later, Shultz had successfully held his town together, and only a few dollars separated Hamburg from its defiant forward march. But Shultz's survival dance came to a staggering halt: by 6 August 1827, Shultz and Alexander Boyd were in Edgefield jail. They had tortured a young man named James Martin to confess the theft of a travelerís trunk, and after several days of suffering, Martin died 16. After a sensational trial, Shultz was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to six months confinement 17.
On 4 December 1827, while Shultz served his time, the Leigh Tract was 'put up and struck off in the time a man could walk fifty yards' to Charleston creditors 18. Half of Hamburg was gone, although one more blowout auction would be required to untangle the chain of ownership for each lot, and discharge all claims and obligations for good 19.
In January 1828, Shultz sold his assets to a pair of Savannah investors in a preemptive attempt to clear his debts. Nevertheless he was arrested and confined in Edgefield jail at the suit of one of his Charleston creditors, and forced to render them a schedule of his assets in March. After continued revisions his schedule was finally accepted in October, 1828 20. To get above the clamor of competing creditors, his assigned everything to a state treasurer, but resolution stretched well into the next decade.
Through 1829, the dispossessed Shultz continued to dun his Leigh Tract tenants for rent. He resorted to 'distraint', which meant taking possession of livestock, tools or goods until the renter made up the disputed payments 21. He was indicted for Assault and Battery, and Forcible Entry and Detainer, and riots broke out 22.
In 1830, the State of South Carolina repossessed the remaining half of Hamburg 23. By 1835 Shultz regained some control, albeit with continued embarrassments from title defects and a general air of suspicion 24. Precisely as Andrew Jackson left office, the national economy collapsed in the Panic of 1837.
Hamburg recovered and became measurably prosperous, reaching a population of 2,500 in the 1840s 25. In 1848 the Augusta Canal captured upriver pole boat traffic, but Hamburg withstood the blow 26. With the expansion of railroads in the 1850s, Hamburg's position at the head of navigation became superfluous as cotton buyers eagerly fanned out through the upcountry 27. Standing on its own without the aid of geography, Hamburg declined, becoming a ghost town by the time of the War 28. Shultz himself died in poverty and intestate on October 13, 1851 29. Hamburg gained a second life when repopulated by freedmen after the War, but as everyone will surely agree, that is another story.
Shultz's name suffered from his financial embarrassments, and he acquired a reputation for sacrificing partners to stay afloat 30. His genius was damaged by his inability to overlook an injury, revenge proving a poor mix with business. Nevertheless his leadership engaged the affection of many loyal friends. He was willing to be the agent of a rising tide in which many could profit. The Mechanic's Society and its Festival illustrates his peculiar combination of industry and flamboyance 31. Perhaps it helped hold the town with him in his time of adversity, and made his collapse all the more notorious and spectacular.
NOTES (see REFERENCES below).
1 SCSAL: v8-200.
2 Cordle: 81.
3 Coulter: 34.
4 There is only one recorded absolute sale of a town lot from July 1821 to December 1824. Edgefield County Deed Book: 40/527. Hamburg boasted 78 buildings of all types after just its first year of existence. Augusta Chronicle: 26 November 1821, 'To the Public in General'.
5 Savannah Republican: 5 January 1825, 'Going! Going! Going!'.
6 Augusta Chronicle: 12 January 1825 'An opening for Enterprize' and 15 March 1826, 'Equity between Men'.
7 Augusta Chronicle: 30 May 1827 advertisement; ECLP: "First Bill" in Stoney & Magrath vs Shultz, 4 Oct 1830.
8 Cordle: 90.
9 SCDAH: Petition N.D. 5708.
10 The name appears in a variety of ways, such as 'Mechanic's Society of the Town of Hamburgh' in the enabling legislation. 'Hamburg Mechanic's Society' is the style asked for in the original petition.
11 SCSAL: v8-336.
12 SCDAH: GA Reports 1824 #77.
13 Lubbock: pages 2 and 6. Savannah Republican: 25 Mar 1825, 'Visit of Lafayette to Edisto and Beaufort'.
14 Augusta Chronicle: 12 Sept 1827 'Whatever is, is right'.
15 ECLP: A.H. Pemberton to James Terry, Commissioner in Equity of Edgefield District, 13 June 1832.
16 Augusta Chronicle: 8 August 1827.
17 Edgefield District Minutes of General Sessions: Fall Session 1827, 'The Sentence of the court is that, you be imprisioned until the first day of the next Term of this Court; and that you then be branded on the Brawn of the Left Thumb with the letter M.' Shultz must have received Benefit of Clergy, as prescribed by state law. Brevard: v1-69, SCSAL v2-455. There is no evidence that he received the brand.
18 SCL: Finley-Henderson Family Papers P8563, 'The 4th December 1827 Sale of Hamburg by the Sheriff'.
19 Minutes of Equity Court of Edgefield District: Record of Reports of the Commissioners 1832-1834, typescript pages 49-68.
20 SCDAH: GA Misc. Comm. 1828 #18, Schedules of Henry Shultz. Edgefield District Minutes of the Court of Common Pleas, October 13, 1828.
21 ECLP: 'Second Bill' in Stoney & Magrath vs Shultz, 8 Oct 1830.
22 Edgefield District Minutes of General Sessions: Spring Session 1829, The State vs Joseph I Kennedy, Briston Charles, John Kimbrell et al, Riot & Assault, and the State in the matter of Henry Shultz to keep the peace. Fall Session 1829, The State vs. Henry Shultz, 3 indictments (found Not Guilty). Spring Session, 1830, State vs James Tatom, John Sale, Alexander Boyd, Jos. J. Kennedy, Wm. N. Bernard, Thomas A. Cobb, Bristow Charters, John Kimbrell, John L. Pamphlin, Lester Richards, & Robert McDonald, Riot & Assault & Battery.
23 Edgefield County Deed Book: 44/376-379. SCDAH: GA Misc. Comm. 1830 #4, Report of the Solicitor of the Western Circuit concerning the Town of Hamburg.
24 SCDAH: GA Misc. Comm. ND #392, Report of the Commissioners on the matters between the State and Henry Shultz, page 5.
25 Haskel: 257.
26 Chapman: 237. William Sibley recalled 70,000 bales per year reached the town of Hamburg, 60,000 via wagon, without stating the year. Cashin: 98 quotes from the Phillips report that 140,000 bales passed through the Augusta Canal from February 1847 to September, 1854, making an average 18,600 bales per annum from both states. Edgefield Advertiser: 22 August 1849, 'Hamburg - Her Prospects' states 65,000 to 70,000 bales received per year, with perhaps 10,000 already lost to the Canal. Edgefield Advertiser: 8 Jun 1852, 'Hamburg and the Plank Road' opines that Rail Roads might effect what the Canal certainly did not, the downfall of Hamburg.
27 Ford: 239.
28 Chapman: 20.
29 Edgefield Advertiser, 16 October 1851, 'Death of Henry Schultz' [sic].
30 For example, to repay a loan, Shultz sold lots to Amory Sibley, but later claimed the sales were only mortgages. Edgefield Cases in Equity, Microfilm Reel 23909, Equity Roll 479.
31 A second report on the Sixth Festival, via the Providence, RI 'Literary Cadet', stated that there were hardly three hundred in attendance, of whom only fifty could be called respectable, and that some went so far as to drink liquor during Mr. McDuffie's hour-and-a-quarter speech. It is doubtful that any public interest was served by this report, true or not. Augusta Chronicle: 18 August 1827.
ECLP: Edgefield County Archives Loose Papers Collection.
SCDAH: South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
SCSAL: South Carolina Statutes at Large (1837-1842), ten volumes edited by Cooper and McCord.
SCL: South Caroliniana Library.
Brevard, Joseph (1814). Alphabetical digest of the Public Statute Law of South Carolina, three volumes.
Cashin, Edward J. (2002). The Brightest Arm of the Savannah - The Augusta Canal 1845-2000.
Chapman, John A. (1897). History of Edgefield County, South Carolina.
Cordle, Charles G. (1940). Henry Shultz and the founding of Hamburg, South Carolina. Studies in Georgia History and Government.
Coulter, Ellis Merton (1965). Old Petersburg and The Broad River Valley of Georgia.
Ford, Lacy K., Jr. (1988). Origins of Southern Radicalism.
Haskel, Daniel (1843). Descriptive and Statistical Gazetteer of the United States of America.
Lubbock, Francis Richard (1900). Six Decades in Texas.
1835 Hamburg Plat
Henry Shultz and Hamburg, SC Home Page