Jurist, U.S. senator. Born on November 27, 1786, in Marlboro District, Evans was of Welsh descent and the son of Thomas Evans, a prominent Revolutionary War soldier and early South Carolina legislator, and Elizabeth Hodges. He received his early academic training in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and graduated third in his class from South Carolina College in 1808. He then studied law under his brother-in-law and was admitted to the bar on November 28, 1811. On Christmas Day 1813 Evans married Dorothy DeWitt of Society Hill. The marriage produced five children. Evans began accumulating land in Marlboro, Chesterfield, and Darlington Districts and eventually acquired more than 220 slaves.
Evans was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives from Marlboro District in 1812. He was returned to the legislature by Darlington District in 1816 but resigned following his election as solicitor for the Northern Circuit, an office to which he was returned several times without opposition. Simultaneous with his legislative service, Evans served as commissioner and register in equity for the Northern Circuit and as an aide to Governor Joseph Alston. In 1818 Evans was elected as a South Carolina College trustee, a position he held for thirty-four years.
In 1829 Evans was appointed judge of the Court of General Sessions and Common Pleas, serving on that court until 1835 and thereafter on the appellate court until 1852. While a judge, Evans authored a digest of South Carolina statute law published as Road Law in 1850, but his claim to legal renown was his involvement as the leading advocate in sustaining the will of Mason Lee. Lee, an eccentric bachelor who owned a large tract of land on the Pee Dee River, directed that the principal part of his property be given to the states of Tennessee and South Carolina, rather than to the Wiggins, his natural heirs at law. The heirs contested the will on the ground that Lee was a mental imbecile. The will further directed, however, that if the heirs should contest the provisions of the will, Lee’s executor, state senator Robeson Carloss, should employ the best legal talent in the state to uphold its provisions. Carloss employed Evans as lead counsel. The will was upheld in what became a test for testamentary capacity and legal competency in the state and is one of the most legendary cases cited in South Carolina legal history.
The South Carolina legislature elected Evans to the U.S. Senate in 1852 as a Democrat to succeed Senator William F. DeSaussure. During his six years in the Senate, he chaired both the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense and the Committee on Revolutionary Claims. Although a supporter of states’ rights and strong defender of his native state against the virulent attacks of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner, Evans did not support disunion.
Evans died on May 6, 1858, in Washington, D.C. A portrait, inscribed by Matthew Brady, hangs at the Darlington County Historical Commission, and Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville bears his name. He was interred in a private cemetery at his home in Society Hill.
Bailey, N. Louise, ed. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 4, 1791–1815. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1984.
O’Neall, John Belton. Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina. 2 vols. Charleston, S.C.: S. G. Courtney, 1859.
Thomas, J. A. W. A History of Marlboro County, with Traditions and Sketches of Numerous Families. 1897. Reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing, 1971.