Articles of Agreement between Robert Butler and Thomas Green Clemson from 1874. Source: Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.
Generation 2 (1866-1874):
Sharecroppers, Tenant Farmers, & Domestics
In the years immediately following the Civil War, also known as the Reconstruction Era, formerly enslaved individuals and families signed sharecropping contracts, known as Articles of Agreement, agreeing to labor on the Fort Hill Plantation for Duff Green Calhoun and Thomas Green Clemson. Many had been forcibly kept illiterate during enslavement and thus could only mark an X next to their names instead of signing their full names. At least eighty-two people signed these contracts, and sixteen children were listed as “half-hands” or “boys.” These sharecroppers were subject to all the stipulations of the agreements, which governed their freedom to leave the property, their behavior while on the premises, and the terms of their compensation for working the land. They took on the roles formerly performed by the enslaved community at Fort Hill, working the fields from sunrise to sunset. The contract stipulated that they would receive a share of the crop and monetary compensation. The contracts also called for immediate dismissal if they violated the terms of the contract. Because many formerly enslaved individuals found themselves in desperate financial situation, they often had no choice but to accept the terms of the agreement offered to them by Duff Calhoun and Thomas Green Clemson—an agreement which heavily favored the landowner and put these families in a cycle of debt and fines that trapped them for years after the Civil War ended.
Excerpt of 1867 Articles of Agreement. Source: Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.
Sharecroppers X marks from 1867 Articles of Agreement. Source: Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.
The sharecroppers’ day-to-day lives remain relatively unknown, aside from a few individuals about whom Call My Name has gleaned more information about from the archive. The story of one of these individuals, Cato Sherman, is remarkable due to an extraordinary event that occurred later in his life after he stopped sharecropping at Fort Hill. Sherman’s name appears on two sharecropping contracts, 1867 and 1868. Sherman then became a well digger in nearby Central, SC. In 1887—just two years before Clemson College was founded and about 20 years after Sherman’s signed his last labor agreement with Thomas Green Clemson—Cato Sherman’s daughter, Lula Sherman, was raped by a local white resident named Manse Waldrop. Only fourteen years old at the time, Lula died from her injuries. In response to this horrifying crime, Cato Sherman, several other Black residents, and a white resident in the community, “forcibly removed Waldrop from police custody, shot Waldrop in the head, and hung him from a tree.”¹ The local and state response to this retaliatory murder was somewhat surprising, given the social and political realities of post-Reconstruction South Carolina. Cato Sherman and three others were charged with murder but later acquitted, but two Black men were found guilty and sentenced to death. In response to the death penalty, many Southerners, both Black and white, petitioned South Carolina’s Governor John P. Richardson to pardon the men, arguing that all men who were guilty of rape, regardless of race, were subject to lynching, and that no one could blame Cato Sherman and his compatriots for acting in the same manner as a white man whose daughter had been similarly murdered. These arguments won out, and the governor eventually pardoned the defendants who had been sentenced to death. Cato Sherman’s story illustrates the complicated relationship between Black people and the criminal justice system, a complex and often unfair relationship that still exists today.
Emmaly Williams was another sharecropper who signed a contract with her X mark agreeing to labor for Thomas Green Clemson in 1871. She also appears to have signed the agreement on her children’s behalf, marking an X over her own name next to those of Wallis Williams and Laura Williams.
While little else is known about Emmaly Williams and her children, she was likely resigned to labor under these conditions to provide for her family. Sharecropping arose in the area as an explicit extension of the conditions of slavery, and Emmaly Williams likely had no other choice than to accept these terms or be unable to provide for her children. The sad reality of sharecropping contracts, however, was the way in which they siphoned away most of the products and profits of the laborers’ work away to the owner and created a cyclical system of debt and peonage, or work without pay.
Sharecroppers X marks from 1871 Articles of Agreement. Source: Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.
Another woman who labored within the sharecropping system at Fort Hill was Mary Cannon. In the 1870 US Census, she worked as a housekeeper in Pickens, SC. However, she signed a sharecropping contract in 1871, like Emmaly Williams, and labored for Thomas Green Clemson for at least a year. Her lived experience likely reflects many of the same financial stresses and hardships as many other Black people who signed sharecropping agreements that were indicative of the powerful institutional and social structures aligned against people of color. Mary Cannon and her husband Stephen were also active members of Abel Baptist Church during this time, and her grave is located at the Abel Baptist Church cemetery in Pickens County. The gravestone records her birth date as “unknown” and her date of death as May 18, 1912.
Sharecropping was an attempt to keep Black men and women trapped in a cycle of debt and dependency that mimicked the conditions of slavery. Duff Green Calhoun and Thomas Green Clemson’s sharecropping contracts reveal many of the quotidian realities of the power dynamic that existed between families like the Calhouns and Clemsons, who remained influential despite losing the Civil War, and the families of the formerly enslaved who had been given nominal freedom during the Reconstruction era but very little authority or opportunity. Call My Name seeks to uncover the people and lives who lie behind the names, and in this case, the X marks as well.
If you have information about anyone in Generation 2, please reach out to us through the Contact page on this website.
- Hill, Karlos. “Resisting Lynching: Black Grassroots Responses to Lynching in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, 1883-1938,” PhD Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, 2009, 55.
- “Mary cannon (Unknown–1912) – Find A Grave…” Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com/memorial/67037820/mary-cannon.
- Thomas Green Clemson Papers, Mss 2, Box 5, Folder 5, Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.
Bruce Baker, “Lynch Law Reversed: The Rape of Lula Sherman, the Lynching of Manse Waldrop, and the Debate Over Lynching in the 1880s,” American Nineteenth Century History 6 (2005): 273–93.
“The Law and the Lynchers: A Dispassionate Discussion of a Difficult Subject.” The Pickens Sentinel, 26 Jan. 1888, 1.
Megginson, W. J. African American Life in South Carolina’s Upper Piedmont, 1780-1900. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
“Sharecropping.” History.com. A+E Networks, 2010. www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping.
“Sharecropping.” PBS.org. Public Broadcasting Service. www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/sharecropping/.