William Hill was born in 1805 in Co. Antrim to a Presbyterian family who supported the United Irishmen. He arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822. By 1824 he had established himself as a storekeeper. He married Anna Hamilton Donald, the daughter of Major John Donald of Donaldsville. They went on to have six sons and four daughters. He served in the Seminole War in Florida in Captain Thomas Parker's company.
By 1850 he is recorded as a farmer with Real Estate to the value of $2,500 residing in Saluda, Abbeville County. At this time he owned four enslaved people: two women aged 35 and 21, and two boys aged 15 and 12. He is not the only William Hill residing in Abbeville County in 1850 but he is the only one recorded as Irish-born at that time.
In 1852, he was elected to the local court as Court Ordinary. He served in this role until 1868, at which time his position was retitled as Judge of Probate. Throughout his life Hill maintained correspondence with his brother David Hill and three letters can be found in the Irish Emigration Database which refer to his slaveholding activities. The Irish Emigration Database was established in 1988 and contains items from 1700-1950, Three-quarters of the collection are from the period 1820-1920 with a concentration of material from the Province of Ulster.
In a letter dated 24 Jan 1855, to his brother David, William Hill acknowledges ownership of seven human beings, 'three young Negro fellows' unnamed and 'two Negro women' one of whom is only sixteen years of age but already the mother of two children, also unnamed. It is important to note that this young girl was only thirteen years of age when she had her first child.
William Hill goes on to boast that his 'Negro property' is worth $6,000. It is clear from the letter that Hill understands that his brother David considers slavery to be morally wrong but he deflects criticism by reconstituting it as a difference of opinion, a defence in common use by slaveholders of the time. He continues by questioning the belief that slavery and Christianity are inconsistent and does not appreciate the attempts of David McAurtry to make him reconsider his position as a slaveholder.
In 1860, William Hill is recorded as Court Ordinary (Judge) of Abbeville County with Real Estate valued at $8,000 and Personal Estate of $12,000. Personal Estate includes the market value of the human beings he enslaved. The 1860 Slave Schedule records his ownership of 14 enslaved people, the oldest a 62 year old woman and the youngest a newborn baby boy.
William Hill's letter dated 2 Sept. 1865, bemoans his loss of wealth ($30,000) following Emancipation, which includes the loss of all but three of the people he enslaved.
In spite of his career as a slaveholder, William Hill was lauded as a person of 'character and integrity' at the time of his death in 1886.
I have been unable to find documents which name the people enslaved by William Hill to date and would welcome any information about them.
Letters from William Hill, Abbeville, South Carolina to his brother, David Hill, Co. Antrim, Ireland, Irish Emigration Database (www.dippam.ac.uk/ied) (accessed 14Jan. 2021).
1850 U.S. Federal Census
1850 Slave Schedule
1860 U.S. Federal Census
1860 Slave Schedule
(familysearch.org) (accessed 12 Jan 2021).
Abbeville Messenger 19 Jan. 1886
Mitchell, Arthur, South Carolina Irish, Charleston (2011), p. 64.
Martine Brennan (Curator)
Enslavement to citizenship: African Americans in Irish Slaveholder records by Martine Brennan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.