Physician. Ensor was born in Butler, Maryland, on December 12, 1834. He received his medical training at the University of Maryland, from which he graduated in 1861. During the Civil War he served with distinction as a surgeon in the Union army. In November 1862 he married Henrietta Kemp. They had two daughters.
After the war, Ensor became active in the Republican Party and moved to South Carolina. In 1870 Governor Robert K. Scott appointed him superintendent of the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. Contrary to the expectations of many South Carolinians, Ensor proved to be competent, honest, resourceful, and adamant in defense of the needs of the institution and its patients. At times he was one of the harshest critics of the government that appointed him, particularly for its failure to provide adequate appropriations. Ensor was appalled by the condition of the asylum when he assumed his duties, claiming that the buildings were overcrowded, poorly ventilated and heated, and unsanitary. He complained particularly about the facilities allotted to the black patients, calling them a disgrace to the state and his own party. Unable to secure adequate state funds for the changes he envisioned, Ensor borrowed from merchants in Columbia and Philadelphia, using future appropriations and even his own salary as credit. With this money, he secured central heating, indoor plumbing, underground sewers, new furniture and carpeting, new dining and bathing facilities, and many items for the patients’ amusement and occupation.
Ensor’s tenure at the asylum was politically significant. He publicized the asylum’s plight in the state’s newspapers, adding to the embarrassment of the Republican government and providing fodder for Democrats, who overthrew the Reconstruction regime after the elections of 1876. Ensor helped lead a Republican reform movement.
In 1874 he served as campaign manager for the successful Republican reform candidate for governor, Daniel H. Chamberlain. Although Ensor was subsequently somewhat disappointed with Chamberlain’s efforts to aid the asylum, he supported his reelection in 1876. In 1877 Ensor was the first state official to recognize the legitimacy of the new Democratic governor, Wade Hampton, when he appealed to him rather than to Chamberlain for desperately needed aid for the asylum’s patients. Although Ensor won the respect of many Democrats, Hampton forced him from the superintendent’s office in November 1877.
Ensor resided in South Carolina for the rest of his life but remained a Republican. He subsequently held several federal posts, including chief inspector and surveyor of the Port of Charleston and chief raiding deputy for the Bureau of Internal Revenue. In 1894 he resumed the practice of medicine in Columbia. President William McKinley appointed him postmaster of Columbia in 1897, and he remained in that post until his death in Columbia on August 9, 1907.
McCandless, Peter. Moonlight, Magnolias, and Madness: Insanity in South Carolina from the Colonial Period to the Progressive Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Obituary. Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association 3 (August 1907): 152–53