Members conducted experiments in all phases of agriculture and animal husbandry, attempted various industrial pursuits, and were particularly concerned with slavery.
The Beech Island Agricultural Club originally convened as the ABC Farmer’s Club in 1846. The organization met monthly in a rural Aiken County clubhouse. Meetings were dedicated to education, experimentation, and discussion. Each gathering began with a large meal and the election of a chairman for the next meeting. Members conducted experiments in all phases of agriculture and animal husbandry, attempted various industrial pursuits, and were particularly concerned with slavery. The care and control of slaves eventually dominated club activities, and by 1851 the group merged with a local slave patrol to form the Beech Island Agricultural and Police Society.
Reorganized in 1856 as the Beech Island Farmer’s Club, and rededicated to its original mission of scientific agriculture, the organization continued to be based on its 1846 bylaws. The new club had each member attempt, and report on, one farming experiment annually. The club also hosted public barbecues, usually for political purposes. On July 22, 1858, U.S. Senator James Henry Hammond, a founding member of the club, made his controversial “Beech Island Speech,” in which he sought to check the growing secessionist impulse by avowing that cooperation with the federal government was the best means to address southern grievances.
The organization survived at the start of the twenty-first century as the Beech Island Agricultural Club. Continuing to meet under the 1846 charter, the club is the oldest continually active agricultural society in South Carolina. The club maintains a tradition of inviting influential guest speakers, including Wade Hampton III, John D. Rockefeller, William Howard Taft, James Byrnes, and Strom Thurmond. A state historical marker commemorating the club stands near the clubhouse on U.S. Highway 278 in Aiken County.
Beech Island Farmer’s Club. Records, 1846–1934. Typescript. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Cordle, Charles. “Activities of Beech Island Farmers Clubs, 1846–1862.” Georgia Historical Review 36 (March 1952): 22–31.
Roper, Donna K. “To Promote and Improve Agriculture: A Study of Four Antebellum South Carolina Farmers’ Societies.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1989.