Remembering the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, 150+ years later

boykin mill pond

Boykin, SC, a rural community of 100 people located east of Columbia, is known for an eclectic Christmas parade, a grist mill that began operation in the 18th century, a skirmish that took place in the waning days of the War Between the States, a shop that sells handmade brooms and a handful of small restaurants housed in 19th century structures.

It’s also the site of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, which occurred on May 5, 1860, when at least two dozen individuals drowned while on a pleasure cruise.

More than 50 people, including several young children, set out on a flatboat on the 400-acre pond. The disaster began when the boat was said to have struck a stump.

Ralph Leland Goodrich, a New Yorker teaching in Camden in the early months of 1860, detailed the events in his diary: “No immediate danger was apprehended, but then the boat began to take on water. Watching from shore, their friends gradually stopped laughing and eating and then began to panic. Some few tried to swim out to them but it was too late. Most of those on the boat were young women and girls, whose skirts became extremely heavy as the boat began to sink. The boys on board tried to help, but most went down in a single mass, clinging to each other as drowning victims do.”

It’s possible the disaster might have been averted had the passengers not panicked, but when they noticed the flatboat taking on water, everyone moved en masse to one end and the boat tipped, dumping all into the water.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 6, 1860.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young in Rembert Methodist Church cemetery, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 5, 1860.

Rembert Methodist Church

The names of the individuals who lost their lives in the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy as well as Goodrich’s details are part of CSI: Dixie, a project of the Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia, which collected 1,582 coroners’ reports from six Upstate South Carolina counties for the years 1800-1900.

The findings of the coroners’ inquest for the victims of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy is short, if not sweet.

For Amelia A. Alexander, 20, of Camden, SC, it reads: “… upon their oaths do say that the said Amelia A. Alexander came to her death by accidental drowning in the millpond of A.H. Boykin … by sinking of a Flat caused by the weight of between fifty-three & fifty-six persons.”

At least four sets of siblings lost their lives in the tragedy, including Samuel Young, 7; Mary Ann Young, 11; and Hollie Young, who would have turned 19 the following day.

Goodrich wrote of following a wagon-load of four bodies that “all went to the same house,” according to CSI: Dixie.

He helped dress the corpses as the mother “whose almost every child was gone,” wailed ‘“& these too, & these too?’” over and over. Her “grief could not be measured,” he later wrote.

Several of the victims are buried in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery while a handful of others are buried in the graveyard at Rembert Methodist Church, in neighboring Lee County. Others were buried in family plots whose location is unknown at present.

The number of deaths isn’t definitive; while at least one slave was among the dead in the coroner’s report, it is believed others may have been onboard and lost their lives, as well, but gone uncounted.

(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal)

(Top: View of Boykin Mill Pond; below: grist mill that gets power from Boykin Mill Pond.)

boykin-mill-farm

Last Union officer killed in Civil War shot by 14-year-old boy

boykin-mill-monument

The purported last Union officer killed in the War Between the States was a product of Harvard, shot down by a 14-year-old member of the Confederate home guard more than a week after Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

Edward Lewis Stevens, Harvard Class of 1863, had enlisted as a private in the 44th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment on Sept. 12, 1862. The Brighton, Mass., native was 20 years old when he joined up.

He was later commissioned an officer in the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official African-American units and the subject of the 1989 film Glory.

Stevens was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 54th in April 1864, nearly a year after the regiment had attempted to take Fort Wagner near Charleston, SC, where Col. Robert Gould Shaw and 280 other members of the unit were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action.

Stevens was promoted to 1st lieutenant in December 1864 and as the war would down, the 54th and other Federal troops found themselves back in South Carolina.

The 54th Massachusetts arrived in South Carolina on April 1, 1865, landing at Georgetown, between Charleston and Wilmington, NC, from Savannah, Ga.

The unit was one of six infantry regiments operating under Maj. Gen. Edward E. Potter, with the 54th contributing 700 officers and enlisted men to Potter’s 2,700-man force.

By April 18, 1865, Potter was in Camden, a medium-sized affluent community a little more than 100 miles northeast of Georgetown. That morning, Potter left Camden and headed south. They had traveled 10 miles on the Stateburg Road and encountered no opposition until they reached a fortified Confederate position at Boykin’s Mill.

Boykin’s Mill was little more than a grist mill, church and small collection of homes, but its defense were enhanced by the presence of a millpond, along with streams and a swamp.

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