By: Louise Pettus
At least 10 men with the Witherspoon name were very active in the political life of South Carolina before the Civil War. Most represented Lowcountry counties in the House or Senate, but at least four of the Witherspoons were from this area.
James Hervey Witherspoon, 1784-1842, of the Waxhaws of upper Lancaster District, was an S.C. lieutenant governor. He and his wife, Jane Donnom Witherspoon, were the parents of three sonsJames Hervey, Jr., Isaac donnom and George McCrottrey Witherspoon.
James Hervey Witherspoon, Jr., born March 23, 1810, was Lancaster County Commissioner of Equity for 27 years years and Lancaster County Ordinary (an ordinary was equivalent to today’s probate judge) for 16 years. When the Civil War came along, he was 51, but he enlisted as a private. Later he was commissioned colonel. In 1863 he was elected to the Congress of the Confederate States of America.
Isaac Donnom Witherspoon, born December 1803, was sent to South Carolina College but left in his junior year. He moved to Yorkville and studied law with Thomas Williams and became his partner.
In 1836 he was elected to the S.C. House from York District and later was senator. In all, he spent 20 years in one house or the other. In 1842 he was elected lieutenant governor but “did not qualify” and remained in the Senate.
Revered in Yorkville where he was considered the leading citizen, I. D. Witherspoon died in White Sulphur Springs, Va., in 1858 following a stroke. He was emporarily buried there and the following year the body was returned (by way of Chester on the Kings Mountain Railroad) to Yorkville for burial. The Yorkville Enquirer reported that the “largest assembly of people in York history followed the hearse to the cemetery of the Independent Presbyterian Church.”
George McCottrey Witherspoon, 1812-1898, was the longest lived of the brothers. He graduated from South Carolina College in 1832, studied law, and settled in Lancaster District as a combination lawyer and planter. In 1836 he was off to the Seminole War in Florida as a volunteer. The 1860 census showed that he owned 83 slaves.
George McCottrey Witherspoon served in either the S. C. House or Senate from 1848 to 1865. When the Civil War ended, he served Lancaster County as district judge (1865-1868) and as probate judge (1880-1898).
Service to the state extended into another generation when Isaac Donnom Witherspoon, Jr. (1833-1901) returned from the Civil War and became active in the Democratic Party during Reconstrucion. Barred from office before 1876, he was immediately elected by York County to the S. C. Senate as soon as federal troops left the state.
In 1882, Witherspoon resigned his Senate seat to become judge of the Sixth Judicial District. He stayed in that office until his retirement in 1898.
Witherspoon was honored May 12, 1930, when a bronze plaque was installed at the York County Courthouse. The plaque read, “The shrubbery of this yard is in loving memory of Judge I. D. Witherspoon, 1833-1901. Justice, mercy, courtesy and humidity characterized his life and humility characterized his life and conduct. By Kings Mountain Chapter, DAR, 1929.” More than 200 people attended. Addresses were made by ex-governor Martin F. Ansel, R. E. Wylie of Lancaster, and Thomas F. McDow of York.
The Daughters of the American Revolution marker was also a tribute to Witherspoon’s daughter, known as “Miss Lessie.” Tirelessly, for many years, Miss Lessie worked on projects to celebrate York County history, by participating in Kings Mountain celebrations, raising funds for markers, inviting speakers to York, collecting historical materials, as a co-founder of the York Historical Society, and as an active member of the DAR. Like her father and grandfather before her, she represented patriotism, hard work, and vigilant service to the people of York.
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