Racial strife was common in South Carolina as the Reconstruction Era wound down and the Jim Crow Era reestablished the racial structure of the pre-Civil War era
One example of that was in Cainhoy on October 16, 1876. A Republican political rally was to be held at St. Thomas Church located a couple of miles from the Cainhoy village. The Democrats asked for a joint discussion which meant speaking time at the Republican rally. The Republicans agreed if both sides came unarmed. At the time, carrying a pistol did not count as being armed, as that was considered part of man’s daily wardrobe (only a shot gun or rifle was thought of as being “armed” in the South). Many of the Blacks who were attending were leery of the white Democrats. White violence against Blacks was occurring commonly across the state so many black Republicans brought shotguns and muskets, which they hid in the nearby woods and in a dilapidated shed near the stage.
A boat called the Pocosin steamed up the Cooper River from Charleston with approximately 150 white Democrats and 24 Republicans and a band of musicians. The trip up the river was uneventful as both sides amused themselves by using their pistols to shoot at targets along the bank. By the time the boat arrived, a crowd of around 500, the majority of whom were black, had gathered at the church.
Dr. Martin R. Delany was the first to speak for the Democrats. He was a black gentleman who was born in Pennsylvania, served as field officer with the rank of Major in the Union Army, studied medicine at Harvard, was a physician in Charleston and was backing the Democratic candidate for Governor, Wade Hampton III. Many of the Black Republicans were unhappy and started yelling at Delany and beating drums. Several walked away from the stage and refused to listen, calling him a “de dammed nigger Democrat.” Delany was threatened by the men and women in the audience. He walked off the stage and declined to speak to those still gathered there. Delany complained that “he had been to Europe and Africa and in the presence of nobility of many countries, and he had never been as insulted as he was that by people of his own race.” The next Democratic speaker was another Black gentleman named W.J. McKinlay who was a teacher, Charleston’s recorder of deeds and who served on the Constitutional Convention of 1868. He had just started to speak when a shot was fired.
Several young white men found the guns that were hidden in the shed by the Black Republicans and walked out of the building with them. The whites were spotted, and several Blacks yelled a warning as one of the guns accidently discharged. As Blacks dashed into the woods to retrieve their weapons, the whites would fire their additional guns. One of those shots killed an elderly Black man named John Lachicotte. Armed Black men chased the fleeing Democratic whites down the road shooting at them as they ran. George Walker, a Democrat and Sheriff Bowen a Republican tried approaching those shooting to stave off a full-scale riot. Walker was shot in the leg. The fleeing whites retreated to the boat leaving those that were seriously wounded, the dead and the dying, behind. Five white men were killed, between 15-50 injured; 3 of those were black democrats and 1 black man died during the Cainhoy Riot.
Later that evening, the Pocosin returned to Cainhoy with the Palmetto Guard Rifle Club to enforce the peace. No further outbreaks occurred. The 18th United States Infantry arrived several days later, sent the Rifle Club home, and would stay in Cainhoy until after the November election.
The Cainhoy Riot occurred while Daniel Island’s George Cunningham was Mayor of Charleston. LEARN MORE ABOUT CUNNINGHAM HERE.
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