South Carolina Department of Archives and History
National Register Properties in South Carolina

Robert Barnwell Rhett House, Charleston County (6 Thomas St., Charleston)
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Known as the “Great Secessionist,” Robert Barnwell Rhett was one of the most effective and prominent of that circle of proslavery “fire-eating” radicals. Rhett in South Carolina joined with others like William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama to launch a carefully programmed campaign to sever the slaveholding states from the Union. Unlike the constitutional unionists or cooperationalists, such as Robert Toombs, for whom secessionist feelings evolved from the collapse of the compromises and disintegration of the national parties, Rhett sought secession early and eagerly. He utilized his newspaper, the Charleston Mercury and his eloquence to discredit any opportunity for compromise and was instrumental in unifying South Carolina’s resistance to the central government. He successfully fought off attempts to postpone the State’s secession convention. In addition, he had a major influence on the State’s Ordinance of Secession and wrote the “Address to the Slaveholding States,” a report of South Carolina’s act of separation and a call to like-minded states to join her. Rhett was born in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1800, the 8th child of James Smith. By wise investment in plantations he increased his wealth until by 1850 he had 190 slaves on two estates. He maintained a town residence in Walterboro and later, both in Charleston and Georgetown. Only the boyhood home in Beaufort and the Charleston townhouse remain. This house, built ca. 1832, is a large single-family clapboard frame dwelling of two stories on a raised basement. It has a modified Charleston “double house” plan. Listed in the National Register November 7, 1973; Designated a National Historic Landmark November 7, 1973.

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