Governor. Born in Charleston on August 22, 1807, Gist was the son of Francis Fincher Gist and Mary Boyden (Boiden). Following the death of his father in 1819, Gist came into possession of most of the family property, including substantial landholdings in Union District, where he established his home plantation, Rose Hill. Through additional grants and purchases, he added more than 6,700 acres to his original inheritance by 1860. Gist attended South Carolina College but was expelled in 1827 due to his role in the “mess hall rebellion,” a student protest against the prohibition of off-campus dining. In 1833 he was indicted as accessory to murder in a confrontation on Union’s Main Street, in which his brother-in-law shot and killed man. However, the case was dropped by the circuit court. On May 13, 1828, Gist married Louisa Bowen of Laurens, who died in 1830 eleven days after giving birth to their only child. On October 10, 1832, he married Mary Elizabeth Rice, and their union eventually produced twelve children, although only four lived to adulthood. One of these, William, was killed in the Civil War while leading his regiment at Chattanooga in November 1863.
Gist represented Union District in the state House of Representatives from 1840 to 1843 and in the S.C. Senate from 1844 to 1855. He also acted as lieutenant governor for a period in 1848. An ardent secessionist, Gist was elected governor in 1858. As sectional tensions reached their climax in 1860, Gist did his best to hasten the final push toward secession. His biographer Daniel Bell describes him as “influential” in bringing about disunion, but it is doubtful that his personal leadership was truly essential. By 1860 the movement possessed more momentum than could be attributable to any one man.
In October 1860 he sent his first cousin, States Rights Gist, as his personal emissary to sound out support for secession among the Deep South states. The following month, the governor summoned a special session of the legislature, at which he presented his cousin’s favorable reports and asked that a special state convention be called to respond to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Immediately following the completion of his term on December 17, 1860, Gist attended the meeting as a delegate from Union District. Three days later, he placed his signature on the Ordinance of Secession, a document drawn up in the hand of Gist’s fellow Union District resident, Benjamin F. Arthur.
During the war Gist sat on the state’s governing executive council in 1861. The following year he served as joint head of the Department of Construction and Manufactures. After the war Gist retired to Rose Hill and managed to retain about half of his landholdings. He died on September 30, 1874, and was buried in Union District.
Bell, Daniel J. “Interpretive Booklets for Local Historic Sites: Rose Hill State Park, Union, South Carolina: As A Model.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1983.
Charles, Allan D. The Narrative History of Union County, South Carolina. 3d ed. Greenville, S.C.: A Press, 1997.