Merchant, bank president. Boyce was born on April 8, 1787, in Newberry District, the son of John Boyce and Elizabeth Miller. Possessed of little formal education, he entered trade as a clerk in a store operated by the merchant John McMorries. He opened his own store in Newberry in 1814, from which he conducted a profitable overland trade with the city of Philadelphia. Around June 1815 he married Nancy Johnston, the daughter of his Newberry business mentor, John Johnston. They had four children. Following Nancy’s death in 1823, he married her sister, Amanda Jane Johnston, despite the disapproval of his Presbyterian congregation. His second marriage produced five children before Amanda’s death in 1837.
Although prospering as a young upcountry merchant, Boyce left Newberry in 1817 and opened a store on King Street in Charleston in partnership with his brother-in-law, Samuel Johnston. As had Boyce’s earlier business ventures, this one soon thrived. The partnership established a factorage and commission house on East Bay around 1825, which, despite the death of Johnston and temporary setbacks, made Boyce a wealthy man and an influential member of Charleston’s business community. Wealth begot wealth, as Boyce invested the profits from his East Bay business into a series of other business enterprises, including the Bank of Charleston, the Charleston Hotel, a commercial block on Hayne Street, the Graniteville Manufacturing Company, and several insurance, railroad, and manufacturing enterprises. He served as president of the Bank of Charleston from 1837 to 1841, successfully guiding the institution through the financial turmoil that followed the Panic of 1837. At various times from the 1820s to the 1850s, he sat on the boards of several of the leading business enterprises in the state, including the South Carolina Railroad and the Bank of the State of South Carolina. He was president of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce from 1840 to 1846.
An active participant in state and local politics, Boyce represented Charleston in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1832 to 1839 and in the S.C. Senate from 1840 to 1847. In the General Assembly he was an influential advocate for the state’s commercial interests. He also played a key role in providing John C. Calhoun with the backing of many of the city’s leading bankers, including James Gadsden and Henry W. Conner. Although Democrats, this financial triumvirate also helped direct the movement to support the Whig candidate for president in 1848, Zachary Taylor.
By the time of his death, Boyce was one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina and the entire South, despite the fact that he owned only a handful of slaves and had no planting interests. An inventory of his estate listed stocks, bonds, and notes totaling almost $1 million and real property worth more than $160,000. Boyce died in Columbia on March 19, 1854.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
O’Neall, John Belton. Annals of Newberry, Historical, Biographical, and Anecdotical. Charleston, S.C.: S. G. Courtnay, 1859.
Stoney, Samuel Gaillard. The Story of South Carolina’s Senior Bank. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1955.