After Slavery: Cainhoy Riot

Map created by Mary Battle, Beth Gniewek, and Bradley Blankmeyer, 2013-2014.

The Cainhoy Riot

On October 16, 1876, Republican Chairman and Charleston County Sheriff Christopher Columbus Bowen agreed to a political meeting in the St. Thomas Church near the village of Cainhoy, South Carolina at the request of a number of white Democrats. Bowen asked that everyone come unarmed (at this time "unarmed" translated to just pistols, no heavy guns such as rifles or shot guns). Predominantly black Republicans were wary of white Democrats who had instigated violence and killed or wounded black freedmen at earlier political meetings in Hamburg and Ellenton, so they generally disregarded Bowen's request. Dr. Martin R. Delany, a prominent African American leader who supported the Democratic nominee for governor, former Confederate general Wade Hampton, came to speak at the event, which enraged black Republicans. When his speech began, many Republicans walked away or beat drums. As Delany finished, shots rang out. Scholars currently dispute over whether Republicans or Democrats fired the first shots, but the white Democrats were ultimately outnumbered and did not bring heavy guns, so they had to flee. Six white men and one black man were killed in the riot that followed, and sixteen men were wounded. It was the only conflict during the 1876 gubernatorial campaign where more white Democrats were killed than black Republicans. Though the larger campaign of intimidation launched by General Wade Hampton's "Red Shirts" against Republicans ultimately overshadowed the Cainhoy riot, the conflict still took on a legendary status in black and white communities as a symbol of black defiance as Reconstruction came to an end.


Edgar, Walter. South Carolina: A History. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Foner, Eric. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Frazier, Herb. Behind God's Back: Gullah Memories Cainhoy, Wando, Huger, Daniel Island, St. Thomas Island South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina: Evening Post Publishing Company, 2011. 


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