Saturday, December 13, 2014

Not the Meanest, By No Means the Best

“If I was ever a student, it was of law.”

As Charles Edward Broyles continued reminiscing about his earlier days back at the South Carolina home of his parents, let’s take a few moments to sketch in some details. As Charles himself mentioned in his journal, he grew up in Anderson County, part of the “upstate” region of South Carolina.

Although the O. R. Broyles family lived near what is now the town of Pendleton, from the time Charles was eleven years of age until just a few years after his marriage to Lucy Johnson, his parents actually lived on a plantation which they called Ashtabula. Now known as the Ashtabula Historic House, it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, and is preserved as a museum by the Pendleton Historic Foundation. (If you are ever driving through the area, stop by, tour the place and think of me.)

As seen by the public now, the “large clapboard mansion” was not the original building on the property. The Pendleton Historic Foundation website provides a house history, detailing the property’s 1790 origin with a brick building which served as a tavern and stagecoach stop on the road from Pendleton to Pickensville and Greenville. A previous owner of the property began building the clapboard house in 1828, but died before being able to complete it. His children finished the building project, then advertised it as “the most beautiful farm in the up-country,” according to the Historic Foundation. The property was sold in 1837 to Dr. O. R. Broyles.

Ozey Broyles, described as “an agriculturalist and inventor,” devised a form of sub-surface plow and realized a good deal of success in his farming endeavors. It was reported in the Pendleton Farmers’ Society that by 1843, his land was producing a record harvest in rice.

It was in the midst of this time that Ozey’s older sons were working their way through the early years of their education. A few passages from Charles’ journal give a flavor of what those early studies were like.
My first schooling was on the Beaver Dam S. C. old field style…. From boyhood I took in a large field of fun and frolic, and while not the meanest boy in school was by no means the best. I was full of fun, and always kept the little ones crying and the girls sighing.

I procured a good English Education, prepared myself for college and the law. I was not eighteen years old having been born at Anderson Co. South Carolina on the twenty sixth day of March 1826.

Charles’ biography at this point seems somewhat confusing about the timeline of his college studies. He mentioned attending “the S. C. college,” which, at that time, was what the University of South Carolina was called. However, he mentioned its location as Pendleton, not the centrally-located campus in Columbia, where the state assembly had deliberately intended it to be.
I then went to Pendleton S. C. and entered the S. C. college. At this place I completed a course of studies and left it in the fall of 1845.

Whatever that “course of studies” at this other location might have been, his narrative later mentions Columbia—though whether that is meant to indicate more schooling at the college, or possibly an oblique way to indicate he was admitted to the bar at the state’s capital, I can’t tell.
At the end of two more studies I was admitted at Columbia S.C. and my professional rostrum was higher that day to look from than it has ever been since.

Yet, in the midst of those earnest studies, he encountered an unexpected personal difficulty, the telling of which somewhat confuses me as to the timeline of his academic progress. No matter what the order, though, you can sense the intense regard he had for the focus of his studies, despite his physical set-backs.
I was cut off one year by sickness. A spell of Typhoid fever that so crippled my limbs that I did not walk for years and I [feel] the effects to this day. I left College in 1845 and in 1846 commenced the study of Blackston [renowned British jurist, Sir William Blackstone]. With this abstruse work the greatest of all books, I wrestled for two years diligently. Only to find out by this that it would be laid on the shelf as a spark would be seen from the mighty volume of the day’s Luminary. So many books have been written on the law, that I even I would not attempt...but rather incline to the opinion that if hundreds were destroyed and the old laws left in force and the rulings of good sense made our guide the world would be better off than we are [now]. Suffice it to say. The heart leaped with joy as I gazed  upon the beauties of legal planes wealth and character that stood before me. I entered the study with more than ordinary zeal. The fact is if I was ever a student it was of law.

Above: undated black and white photograph of the south front and west side of Ashtabula near Pendleton in Anderson County, South Carolina, once the property of the O. R. Broyles family from 1837 through 1851; courtesy the United States Library of Congress; in the public domain. A more recent color photograph, presenting the other side of the main building, may be viewed here.


  1. Oh Jacqi, I can't read about Ashtabula without recalling the scene in "A League of Their Own" when Dottie isn't interested in trying out for the baseball team, and the scout (played by Jon Lovitz) says, "Hey, no skin off my Ashtabula." Sorry to be so off-topic in my comment to your blog. LOL

    I like Charles' self-awareness about the kind of student he was - not the meanest. And if he thought there were too many law books then, what would he think today? Heaven forbid we try to live by common sense today.

    1. No problem, Wendy. A community is a tapestry, too. That's what makes it fun. It's crazy, sometimes, what can pop into mind from a prompt--but sometimes that's the stuff that makes memories stick, too. I certainly will think of Ashtabula a little bit differently, now, too ;)

  2. "...rather incline to the opinion that if hundreds were destroyed and the old laws left in force and the rulings of good sense made our guide..."

    There is a lot to be said for "simpler the better" and that includes the legal and tax codes!!! I like how this dude thinks!!

    1. He does seem to have an appealing simple and straightforward way about him, doesn't he? Apparently, in later life, a lot of people seemed to like how he thought.

  3. Oh I love the porches on that house :).

    1. I'm rather partial to those, as well, Far Side. You must have taken a peek at the more recent photographs on the museum site. They are certainly more flattering to the property than the old black and white from the archived collection at the Library of Congress.


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