Conner was among the original directors of the Bank of Charleston when it was organized in 1835. In 1841 Conner was elected president of the bank, a position he held until 1850.
Merchant, banker. Conner was born on March 4, 1797, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, the son of James Conner and Lilly Anna Wilson. His father was a native of Ireland, a Revolutionary War veteran, and a cotton planter. Conner attended a private academy near Charlotte until 1814, when he left home in an attempt to join the army during the War of 1812. When Workman was unsuccessful in the effort, his father sent him to Tennessee to oversee family lands there. For the next three years he managed his father’s property in that state and dabbled in land speculation and business ventures before returning to North Carolina.
In 1822 Conner arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, and began the factorage and commission house of Conner & Wilson. The firm pioneered the use of steamships to carry freight and passengers between Charleston and towns in the interior of South Carolina and Georgia. In 1833 Conner formed his own hardware importing business, which was likewise a great success. He also became involved in improving and expanding the city’s commercial landscape, becoming a leading investor in the construction of a range of new buildings on Hayne Street, including the magnificent Charleston Hotel.
Conner was among the original directors of the Bank of Charleston when it was organized in 1835. The bank was the largest private financial institution in the state and one of the most influential in the entire South. In 1841 Conner was elected president of the bank, a position he held until 1850. Under his leadership the Bank of Charleston greatly expanded its operations, solidifying relationships with banks in Europe and the North, and opening agencies in major ports and interior towns across the Southeast. By the mid-1840s the Bank of Charleston had business connections with no fewer than 123 financial institutions across the nation, which greatly expanded the presence of the Charleston mercantile community.
In 1850 Conner resigned as president of the Bank of Charleston and became president of the South Carolina Railroad, an office he held until 1853. Other business ventures in Charleston and its environs in which Conner was involved included the establishment of the Charleston Gas Light Company in 1848, the erection of the Moultrie House Hotel on Sullivan’s Island, and the formation of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company to run a line of steamships between Charleston and Liverpool. In 1853 he formed a private bank, Henry W. Conner & Son, with offices in Charleston and New Orleans. By the time of his death, few men had contributed more to the antebellum growth and prosperity of Charleston than Conner.
Conner married Juliana Margaret Courtney on June 7, 1827. They had two sons. Although active in city and state politics, Conner operated mostly behind the scenes. He was a frequent correspondent of John C. Calhoun and, together with Charleston business leaders such as Ker Boyce and James Gadsden, became one of Calhoun’s leading allies in the lowcountry. Conner was elected to the Secession Convention of December 1860 and was among those who signed the Ordinance of Secession. He died shortly thereafter, on January 11, 1861, and was buried in the cemetery of St. Michael’s Church in Charleston.
“Gallery of Industry and Enterprise: Henry W. Conner, of Charleston.” De Bow’s Review 10 (May 1851): 578–81.
May, John Amasa, and Joan Reynolds Faunt, eds. South Carolina Secedes. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1960.
Stoney, Samuel Gaillard. The Story of South Carolina’s Senior Bank. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1955.