Friday, February 05, 2021 Nic Butler, Ph.D.

James Henry Conyers is not a well-known figure in the history of South Carolina, but his brief experience as the first man of color to enter the U.S. Naval Academy in 1872 places his name on an eternal list of brave individuals who pushed against the traditional racial barriers that marginalized so many talented Americans in the past. Conyers spent the majority of his life in Charleston, but few here remember his legacy. Today we’ll trace the arc of his biography and try to place his family within the broader context of our community’s past.

A few months ago I was contacted by a number of people associated with the United States Naval Academy who sought to find additional biographical information about the first man of African ancestry to enter that institution. By briefly tapping into the resources available through the South Carolina History Room at the Charleston County Public Library, I was able to find a few details rather quickly about a man who was not familiar to me—James Henry Conyers. When asked to burrow a bit deeper into the story, I decided to profile Mr. Conyers during Black History Month and share my findings with the public.


Although I was ignorant of the story of James Henry Conyers until recently, other writers have already traced a brief but important part of his long life. Conyers forms the main subject in the first chapter of a recent book Robert J. Schneller Jr., titled Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality (New York University Press, 2005). Because Mr. Schneller has done an excellent job of describing Conyers’s brief tenure at the Academy in the years 1872 and 1873, I’m going to focus my narrative on the details of his life before and after that dramatic experience. My narrative is largely genealogical in nature, but I think anyone interested in African-American history in general will find his story interesting. I certainly don’t claim to have exhausted the research possibilities for the Conyers family of Charleston, but I hope my brief exposition will prove useful to future researchers.

James Henry Conyers was born in Charleston several years before the beginning of the American Civil War and nearly a decade before the end of slavery (the exact year is a bit fuzzy). Because his mother was a free woman before the war, and because South Carolina law relating to slavery dictated that the condition of the child followed the condition of the mother, we know that James was born free. It seems that James’s father was not free before the Civil War, however, and evidence relating to his antebellum life is practically non-existent. These facts complicate the process of trying to reconstruct the genealogy of this Conyers family, but a few small clues recorded in the early twentieth century point to several possible scenarios.

The 1935 death certificate for James Henry Conyers, for example, contains some important clues and some telling errors. James’s wife, Fannie, provided the information orally to a white clerk who completed the form. After the clerk asked Mrs. Conyers for the name of the funeral home attending to her husband’s body, the clerk wrote “Halleston.” Charlestonians will recognize this name as a misspelling of well-known “Harleston” mortuary business that long served the city’s black community. Similarly, the clerk wrote the surname “Caulder” for the maiden name of James’s mother, Catherine, who was a native of Charleston. Again, this must be a misspelling of the local name “Calder.” Mrs. Conyers told the clerk in 1935 that James’s father was John Peter Conyers, who had been a native of Edisto Island. His name was actually Peter John Conyers, but this is a small mistake, and we have no reason to doubt that Peter was born on Edisto Island. A contrasting clue appears in the 1903 marriage record of Margaret Conyers, a younger sister of James Henry Conyers. When she married in Boston, Massachusetts, in October of that year, she identified her father as Peter J. Conyers and her mother’s maiden name as Catherine “Seybrook” (Seabrook).[1]

Some researchers might interpret the existence of two different maiden names for Catherine Conyers as a problem, but I think this conundrum represents an important clue. White men bearing the surname Calder and the surname Seabrook did own plantations on Edisto Island in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the branches of their respective family trees were deeply intertwined.[2] Edisto Island planter Archibald John Calder, who died in 1804, for example, left all of his land and slaves to his Seabrook relatives and other cousins, and his neighbor, William Seabrook, administered his estate.[3] Similarly, Edisto planter Henry Calder manumitted eight slaves (including four mulatto children) in his 1819 will, and his neighbor and executor, William Seabrook, carried out his instructions in the summer of 1820. Whether or not these events are related to the family of James Henry Conyers is unclear, however, and further research is needed to follow the trail of clues linking the family to Edisto Island and Charleston.[4]

Meanwhile, there were at least two free people of color residing in urban Charleston bearing the surname Conyers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. (If you’re not familiar with the legal distinctions between enslaved people and “free people of color” in early South Carolina, see Episode No. 144: “Defining Charleston’s Free People of Color.”) In 1791, a free man named John Conyers joined the Brown Fellowship Society, a mutual-aid organization formed in Charleston in 1790.[5] A free woman of color named Eliza Conyers was listed in the 1819 Charleston directory as an independent shopkeeper.[6] No further details pertaining to either of these people can be found in other public records of that era, however, so it’s not possible at the present time to link them to James Henry Conyers.

Catherine Conyers, the mother of James Henry Conyers, was allegedly born in Charleston sometime in the mid-1820s. The identity of her parents is currently unknown, but she might have been the daughter or granddaughter of Eliza Conyers, the free shopkeeper, or perhaps the daughter of one of the mulatto girls—Mary and Polly—emancipated by Henry Calder and William Seabrook in 1820. Regardless of her identity, we know that the mother of Catherine Conyers was legally free at the time of Catherine’s birth, as a state law of December 1820 prohibited emancipation except by act of the state legislature.

It is possible that Catherine’s mother, whatever her name, moved from Edisto Island to Charleston and married a free man named Conyers. If such a union took place in the early 1820s, it is possible that Catherine’s family maintained ties to both urban Charleston and rural Edisto. This hypothetical scenario is supported by the Federal Census of 1850, in which a 24-year-old free woman of color named Catherine Conyers appears with two young children—four-year-old Mary and one-year-old Sarah—on Edisto Island in the immediate neighborhood of plantations owned William Seabrook, Governor Whitemarsh Seabrook, and physician Benjamin Seabrook. The father of Catherine’s children does not appear in the 1850 census, however, and I believe he was still enslaved at that time.[7]

Considering all of these facts, I suspect that Catherine Conyers was born and raised in Charleston, but moved back and forth between city and country during much of her early life. A number of schooners and steamboats regularly traversed the thirty miles of inland waterways between Charleston and Edisto Island, so the journey was not difficult or expensive (see Episode No. 107). While visiting or residing on Edisto Island in the mid-1840s, I suspect she met and married an enslaved man named Peter, who was born around the year 1818 and whose family might have been owned by members of the Calder and/or Seabrook families. Catherine bore several children before the end of slavery, each of whom followed their mother’s condition and were legally free. Mary, who was four years old in the census of 1850, does not appear in later family records. She was followed by Sarah (born around 1849 or 1850), Eugenia (born around 1854), James Henry (born around 1856), Margaret (born around 1859), and Catherine (born around 1860).

James Henry Conyers and his siblings probably grew up in urban Charleston, but there is no public record confirming their residence within the city before the Civil War. Their mother, Catherine, appears in several records created during that era, however, especially the surviving “capitation tax” ledgers.[8] During her lifetime, she and all able-bodied free people of color between the ages of fifteen and fifty residing within the city were required by law to pay an annual head or poll tax, commonly called the “capitation tax.” The extant ledgers of this annual tax, which survive from the late 1810s to 1864, include no one named Conyers until 1851, when Catherine Conyers, a free mulatto seamstress, first appears. She and her free children apparently lived in a succession of rented quarters, but the capitation tax records between 1855 and the early 1860s consistently place her on Society Street, near Anson Street.

The husband of Catherine Conyers, and the father of James Henry, does not appear in any of the capitation tax records or other public records of this era. Furthermore, I have not been able to find this Conyers family in the Federal Census of 1860, but that fact isn’t especially surprising. Charleston’s City Council considered the 1860 census to be so deficient and inaccurate that they hired an agent in 1861 to compile a more robust census of the city. In that alternate census, Catherine Conyers once again appears as a resident of Society Street in Charleston.[9] By 1864, when the southern part of the city was being shelled by Union artillery on James and Morris Islands, Catherine followed all her neighbors and moved to Charleston’s northern wards. The surviving capitation tax ledger of 1864 places Catherine Conyers at 13 Henrietta Street, where she and her children probably witnessed the demise of slavery when Union troops occupied the city on February 18th, 1865 (see Episode No. 163).

Before we continue with our chronological narrative, let’s pause for a moment to consider the implications of the end of slavery on the Conyers family. Later records indicate that Peter John Conyers emerged from the Civil War as an illiterate man who worked for the next thirty-five years as a waiter, steward, and butler within a succession of white-owned businesses. He never practiced a skilled trade of any kind, nor did he earn a living as a day laborer performing menial tasks. Considering his absence from surviving public records of the antebellum era, his lack of a skilled trade, and his illiteracy, it seems unlikely that Peter was a free man before the end of the war. We can conclude, therefore, that he was likely enslaved on his native Edisto Island, and probably worked as a house servant in close contact with his white owners rather than as a field slave.

If we accept the hypothesis that Peter was enslaved on Edisto Island in the years before 1865, then we must conclude he probably did not have an opportunity to assert a surname of his own choosing prior to his emancipation. He became Peter John Conyers after the Civil War, but his reasons for articulating that name are now unknown. I suspect that he drew the name Conyers not from those who had held him in bondage, but from his wife, who had been born free. In other words, I believe that Catherine Conyers was born with that surname, and her husband, Peter, adopted the surname already used by his wife and their free children after his emancipation in 1865. This hypothesis might explain the twentieth-century confusion over the maiden name of Catherine Conyers. The traditional European concept of a “maiden name” describes a name-changing practice that one cannot apply uniformly to the formerly-enslaved people who commenced new lives in freedom in the aftermath of the American Civil War. People like Peter Conyers formed a large community in which their own traditional patterns of identity formation were suppressed for multiple generations, and their post-war naming decisions did not always conform to a predominantly white, European pattern.

The details of the Conyers family nomenclature certainly merit further investigation, but we’ll return to the narrative of their experiences in the 1860s. Owing to a paucity of documentation, the trials and tribulations of the Conyers family during the first few years after the Civil War are rather hazy. I suspect, however, that James Henry and his siblings might have been among the many hundreds of African-American “school children” who participated in the “Freedmen’s Jubilee” of March 21st, 1865, an elaborate spectacle and parade through the streets of Charleston to commemorate the end of slavery. None of the family members appear in the published city directories of the late 1860s, but I’ll mention one document created in June of 1870 that offers a valuable snapshot of their lives. On June 6th of that year, Sarah Conyers, aged nineteen (at least), opened an account with the bank established by the Freedmen’s Bureau of the United States Government. She described her parents as Peter and Katherine Conyers, and her younger siblings were James, Eugenia, Margaret, and Katherine. They all lived under the same roof at an unknown address in Morris Street.[10]

In the autumn of 1865, the New-York based American Missionary Association opened a school in Charleston for African-American children in a rented building on St. Philip Street. James Henry Conyers, aged about ten years old, and his sisters were probably among the school’s initial one thousand students, but enrollment data from its early days has not survived. In the spring of 1866, the school removed to Military Hall on the south side of Wentworth Street, which also served as the headquarters for the local branch of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Renamed in honor of the assistant commissioner of the bureau, the Saxton School held a grand “public examination” in the spring of 1867 to celebrate the conclusion of its academic year. The audience in attendance on the afternoon of April 18th included a panoply of dignitaries, both black and white, representing local military, civil, and religious leaders who were eager to witness the first fruits of freedmen’s education. To accommodate the large crowd, the exercises were held at Centenary A.M.E. Church, opposite Military Hall, on the north side of Wentworth Street.

The Saxton School presentation commenced with the pupils singing the anthem “Let every heart rejoice” and other choral selections. After the singing, the principal, Francis Cardozo, led a series of “critical examinations” to showcase the talents of a number of bright young boys and girls. A newspaper reporter in the audience noted that the principal quizzed a succession of individuals in matters of arithmetic, geography, history, literary dialogues, “and other exercises of a similar character, the details of which are too numerous to mention.” Cornelia Vanderhorst and Sarah Wilson, for example, excelled at drawing maps from memory, “and the performances of James Conyers, a lad of thirteen [or eleven-ish], in arithmetic, comprising examples in compound, complex and improper fractions, exhibited remarkable proficiency, and indicated an undeniable possession of talent.” “Altogether,” said the reporter, “the examination reflected great credit upon teachers and scholars, and presented gratifying evidences of what may be accomplished in the education and advancement of the colored race.” James Conyers took home the medal for “First Class Boys,” while his older sister, Eugenia Conyers, received the “First Class” medal for girls.[11]

Peter and Catherine must have been very proud of their star children in the spring of 1867, as they were two years later during a similar exercise. After receiving a large donation from a Pittsburgh benefactor, the Saxton School moved to a new facility on the south side of Bull Street in 1868 and was renamed the Avery Institute. Here June 24th, 1869, the staff and students assembled in the school’s chapel for their annual closing exercises. As was customary in that era, the large audience of “friends and patrons” witnessed a long “exhibition” highlighting the talents of a series of star pupils. The twenty-sixth item on the day’s program was a “declamation” by James Conyers, aged around thirteen or fourteen, on the subject of “France.” Whether he spoke about that nation’s history or language is unknown, but this 1869 event demonstrates that young James possessed some knowledge of Gallic culture before he entered the U.S. Naval Academy.[12]

On June 29th, 1870, a Federal Census enumerator visited the Conyers household in Morris Street (Charleston’s Ward No. 6) and interviewed the inhabitants. Peter, the head of household, was a fiftyish-year-old waiter who could neither read nor write. Forty-something-year-old Catherine worked as a seamstress, and was able to read but not write. Sarah, aged nineteen, and Virginia (really Eugenia), aged sixteen, were literate and both identified as “mantua makers,” which indicated that they possessed more skill than a typical seamstress and could cut fabric to make bespoke patterns and garments. Son James, aged thirteen, and daughters Margaret, aged ten or eleven, and Catherine, aged nine, were all attending school in Charleston. Also present in the household was a seventy-year-old mystery woman named Louisa Ransier. The connection between the Conyers and Ransier families is currently unknown, but the presence of the elder Ms. Ransier might have played a role in James’s nomination to the Naval Academy.

At some point around 1871, James Henry Conyers, aged fifteen or sixteen, moved to Columbia, South Carolina’s state capital. The rationale behind this move is unknown, but he might have served as a young clerk for one of two men he likely met in Charleston. The first, Alonzo Jacob Ransier (1834–1882), won the 1870 election to serve as South Carolina’s first black lieutenant governor. Mr. Ransier’s family background is obscure, but he might have been the son of the mysterious Louisa Ransier present in the Conyers family household in the census of 1870. The second man was Francis Lewis Cardozo, the former principal of the Avery Institute who had shared the stage with James Henry Conyers during the school exhibition of April 1867. Mr. Cardozo had been elected Secretary of State for South Carolina in 1868, and he held that office for four years.

Although the precise details are now lost, it appears that either Mr. Ransier or Mr. Cardozo, or perhaps both of them, mentioned the talents of James Henry Conyers to their colleague in Washington, an English-born man of African descent named Robert B. Elliott (1842–1884), who was elected in 1870 to represent South Carolina’s third district in the U.S. Congress. In June 1872, Representative Elliott exercised his Congressional right to nominate a young man to the United States Naval Academy, and submitted the name of James Henry Conyers.

James traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, in September 1872 and was greeted by Commodore John L. Worden, superintendent of the Naval Academy. As the first person of African descent to enter the Academy, James immediately garnered attention from the staff, students, and the community at large. Newspaper stories of his matriculation spread across the nation, and the people of Charleston must have read the same with great interest. Days after James’s arrive in Annapolis, the Charleston Daily News published a brief story about the home-town candidate. “He was born in South Carolina, October 4, 1855,” said the newspaper of the boy who was likely born on October 24th, 1855 or 1856. He was then described as a young man “of good form, has a complexion about browned coffee color, with the usual curly hair of his race, and stands about five feet three inches. He was received very kindly by Commodore Worden, who told him, if admitted, he must treat all with politeness, and the same would be shown to him.”[13] James passed the entrance examinations and in October commenced classes with his fellow “cadet midshipmen.”

On the flyleaf of one of his nautical textbooks, Cadet Midshipman Conyers inscribed his name in florid script and penned a well-known quotation from a famous commander of the War of 1812: “Don’t give up the ship!” It was as if the young man was reminding himself of the need to persevere in the fase of overwhelming adversity.[14] During the final weeks of 1872 and into the spring of 1873, physical and psychological adversity is exactly what Cadet Conyers experienced. In a series of episodes spread over many months, he was cursed, tormented, teased, ignored, shunned, pushed, kicked, and punched by a number of other cadet midshipmen. Although the Academy’s staff and administration denounced the traditions of hazing, the harassment James experienced went beyond fraternal indoctrination. It was fueled by the discriminatory and racist beliefs held by many of his peers. James’s academic performance suffered as a result of the demoralizing abuse, and he scored poorly on his annual examinations in the late spring of 1873.

In June of 1873, the Naval Academy’s Academic Board found James Henry Conyers to be “badly deficient in algebra, geometry, and French, and determined that he held “no aptitude” for naval service and “no promise” of improvement. Rather than dismiss him from the Academy immediately, Superintendent Worden offered to let James re-sit the exams in the fall. After suffering further post-exam abuse from his peers, Conyers came home to South Carolina during the summer of 1873 and ostensibly studied the subjects in question. He returned to Annapolis in September and re-took the annual examinations on October 1st. Unfortunately, his work did not demonstrate sufficient improvement, and he resigned his place at the Academy to avoid the embarrassment of being formally dismissed.[15]

James’s movements and activities immediately after his return from Annapolis are unknown. He might have lived in Columbia for a while, and apparently learned to make and repair shoes. He appeared for the first time in the Charleston city directory in early 1877, working as a shoemaker and residing with his parents at 80 Smith Street.[16] Later that same year, James and his father, Peter, exercised their constitutional right to suffrage and cast their ballots in the city’s municipal elections of November 1877.[17] Soon afterwards, the family moved to Marion Street, where their presence was recorded by a census enumerator. It’s worth noting that the Federal Census of 1880 identified Peter Conyers as a sixty-two-year-old literate man, which might imply that James and his sisters shared some of their classroom education with their father.

Twenty-four-year old James Henry Conyers was still working as a shoemaker in August 1881 when he married eighteen-year-old Frances (“Fannie") Elizabeth Steele at the house they shared in Mazyck (now Logan) Street. Their marriage certificate described James as a man of “brown” complexion, while Fannie was described as “fair.”[18] During the waning years of the nineteenth century, James and Fannie Conyers raised a large family in urban Charleston. Eight of their ten children survived to adulthood—John, James Jr., Ethel, Sadie, Carrie, Margaret, Edwin, and Ruth. Numerous grandchildren appeared in the early years of the twentieth century. Following the trend of millions of African Americans of that era, several members of the Conyers family moved north and west to escape the pervasive racism that constrained their lives in Charleston. As a result of their respective migrations, descendants of James Henry Conyers are now spread across the United States.

Throughout the rest of the 1880s, the published city directories show that James pursued several different occupations and his growing family boarded at a series of different addresses. There were four other black men in Charleston named James Conyers, so it takes a bit of effort to differentiate James Henry from the others listed in the annual city directories. In 1890, however, James began working as a ship caulker on the various wharfs of Charleston and pursued this trade until his death forty-five years later. On his death certificate in 1935, his widow, Fannie, reported that he had been working at the “dry dock.” This was likely a reference to the Charleston Dry Dock & Machine Company, which in 1919 took over Pregnall’s Shipyard at the southeast end of Calhoun Street (now the site of the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center and a small public park).

Catherine Conyers died of “paralysis” on July 24th, 1895 at the age of seventy-two. Her older husband, Peter John Conyers, died of “senile debility” on July 6th, 1900, at the age of eighty-two years and five months. Both were buried at the cemetery of the Morris Street Baptist Church, near the house where they had resided immediately after the Civil War. According to the published city directories, Peter was employed during the last decade of his life as a waiter at the South Carolina Military Academy, better known as “the Citadel.”[19]

In 1916, nearly twenty years before his own death, James Conyers and his wife saved enough money to purchase their own home at No. 29 Doughty Street. This was a modest but typical Charleston “single house”—a two-story wooden-frame house with a piazza on the west facade, situated on the south side of Doughty Street, approximately one hundred feet east of Lucas Street.[20] In the Federal Census of 1920, sixty-three-year-old James Henry Conyers stated that he owned his residence, free of mortgage.

James Henry Conyers apparently worked as a ship caulker until his death on November 29th, 1935, at which time he was described as being seventy-nine years of age. His death certificate portrays an old man in poor physical health. The coroner identified the sole cause of death as pellagra, a treatable and curable disease associated with poor nutrition, and which is exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol. James’s wife, Fannie, died of complications related to diabetes on May 25th, 1942, at which time she was reportedly seventy-three years of age. Both James and Fannie Conyers were buried at the Humane and Friendly Society Cemetery on Cunnington Avenue in Charleston, but neither grave is marked by a headstone.

Six years after the death of Fannie Conyers, their family home was razed to make room for a new teaching hospital for the Medical College of South Carolina. In 1949, the college purchased approximately seventy residences and one church forming a vibrant African-American neighborhood bounded by Doughty, Ashley, Mill, and Lucas Streets. After the site was cleared in the late summer and early autumn of 1950, one newspaper heralded the improvement of this “former slum area.” The new teaching hospital for the Medical College opened in the summer of 1955, and fifteen years later the adjacent vacant property was developed into a library and administration building. The Medical College became the Medical University of South Carolina, and its 1971 library was renamed in 2009 as the James W. Colbert Education Center and Library. Beneath the southwest corner of that large structure you’ll find the shadow of the Conyers family home.

The story of the life and times of James Henry Conyers is not especially dramatic or remarkable, but it stands as a worthy example of the experiences shared by millions of men and women who lived through the tumultuous decades of the second half of the nineteenth century. That era marked a long period of difficult transition here in the United States, and James’s experience at the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 1870s formed a sort of crucible of the institutional discrimination that defined and constrained his entire life. The pain and disappointment he experienced was not in vain, however. Nearly a century after his passing, we continue to celebrate his perseverance in the face of adversity, and to honor his legacy. James Henry Conyers was a man of undeniable talent, and his courage will always be remembered.



[1] Conyers’s 1935 death certificate can be found on microfilm in the South Carolina History Room of the Charleston County Public Library (hereafter CCPL), and on See the marriage of Walter P. Brown and Margaret Conyers, 8 October 1903, in “Massachusetts, U.S., Marriage Records, 1840–1915,” in, accessed on 3 February 2021. As of 5 February 2021, I have not tracked down documentation of the other siblings of James Henry Conyers to see which maiden name they associated with their mother.

[2] See, for example, Mabel L. Webber, “Early Generations of the Seabrook Family,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 17 (April 1916): 58–72.

[3] Will of Archibald John Calder, dated 9 April 1804 and proved on 11 May 1804, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (hereafter SCDAH), Will Book D (1800–1807), 452–53; also appears in WPA transcript volume 29: 631–32.

[4] Will of Henry Calder, signed in Charleston on 12 November 1819 and Proved in Charleston on 16 June 1820, SCDAH, Will Book E (1818–1826), 183–85; also appears in WPA will transcript volume 34: 307–10. Note that Henry Calder’s will was probated six months before the South Carolina General Assembly ratified “An Act to restrain the emancipation of slaves, and to prevent free persons of color from entering into this state, and for other purposes,” on 20 December 1820, which effectively barred the future emancipation of slaves without an act of the state legislature.

[5] Brown Fellowship Society, Rules and Regulations of the Brown Fellowship Society (Charleston, S.C.: J. B. Nixon, 1844), 23.

[6] James R. Schenk, The Directory and Stranger’s Guide for the City of Charleston; Also a Directory of Charleston Neck, between Boundary-Street and the Lines for the Year 1819 (Charleston, S.C.: A. E. Miller, January 1819), 33.

[7] See Dwelling No. 135 in the 1850 census of the Parish of St. John’s Colleton, Charleston District, dated 23 October 1850.

[8] For a reliable overview of this topic, see Judith Brimelow and Michael E. Stevens, State Free Negro Capitation Tax Books, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1811–1860; An introduction to accompany South Carolina Archives Microcopy No. 11 (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1983). Additional capitation tax ledgers covering ca. 1853, 1861, and 1864, not found on the state-produced microfilm, are held at the Charleston Archive at CCPL.

[9] Frederick A. Ford, Census of the City of Charleston, South Carolina, For the Year 1861. Illustrated by Statistical Tables. Prepared under the Authority of the City Council by Frederick A. Ford (Charleston, S.C.: Evans & Cogswell, 1861), 188. This source places Catherine Conyers on the south side of Society Street, in contrast to the surviving ledger of the Charleston capitation tax, which places her at the northwest corner of Society and Anson Streets.

[10] U.S., Freedman's Bank Records, 1865–1874 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005; accessed on 4 February 2021.

[11] Charleston Courier, 19 April 1867, page 2, “Public Examination of Saxton School, (Colored).” A shorter review of this event appeared in the Charleston Daily News, 19 April 1867.

[12] South Carolina Republican, 26 June 1869, page 2, “Review of the Week.” For more information on the school’s early history, see Edmund L. Drago, Initiative Paternalism, and Race Relations: Charleston’s Avery Normal Institute (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990).

[13] Charleston Daily News, 26 September 1872, page 3, “News of the Day,” quoting from an unspecified Annapolis newspaper.

[14] My thanks to Rear Admiral Daniel W. McKinnon, Jr. SC, USN (retired), for sharing with me the details of a book in his possession—an 1868 edition of S. B. Luce’s textbook, Seamanship—that once belong to Cadet Midshipman James Henry Conyers.

[15] For details of Conyer’s experience at the Naval Academy, see Robert J. Schneller Jr., Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 3–31.

[16] A. E. Sholes, Sholes’ Directory of the City of Charleston for 1877–78 (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans & Cogswell, 1877), 190.

[17] See the books for Ward 6, precinct 2, and Ward 8, precinct 1, in “Records of the Commission of Elections for Charleston, 1877–1879,” Charleston Archive at CCPL.

[18] SCDAH, Charleston Marriage Records, 1877–1887 (also available via

[19] The deaths of Catherine and Peter Conyers were recorded in the ledgers of the “Return of Deaths within City of Charleston,” now held at the Charleston Archive at CCPL, and in the Charleston County Death Certificates found on microfilm at CCPL. The city directories of 1890 through 1899, found in the South Carolina History Room at CCPL, describe Peter Conyers as a waiter, steward, or “head water” at the S.C.M.A. (i.e., the Citadel).

[20] James Henry Conyers first appears at No. 29 Doughty Street in the city directory of 1917, but does not appear in the 1916 directory. I believe he was omitted from the 1916 directory because his residence was in flux, but I have not yet visited the office of the Charleston County Register of Deeds to confirm the date and price of his purchase.


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