Popular and ambitious, Geddes was an ardent Democratic-Republican who gained a political following among the merchants and mechanics of Charleston.
Governor. Geddes was born in Charleston on Christmas Day 1777, the son of Scots-Irish merchant Henry Geddes. After attending the College of Charleston, he studied law and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1797. On May 30, 1798, Geddes married Harriet Chalmers, a daughter of Charleston artisan Gilbert Chalmers. After Harriet’s death in 1803, he married Ann Chalmers on March 28, 1805, who died the following year. The marriages produced at least three children.
Popular and ambitious, Geddes was an ardent Democratic-Republican who gained a political following among the merchants and mechanics of Charleston. He first won office as a city warden in 1799. In 1808 the city parishes of St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s sent Geddes to the state legislature, where he served in the S.C. House of Representatives until 1815 and was chosen Speaker of the House by the Nineteenth (1810–1812) and Twentieth (1812–1813) General Assemblies. He won election to the S.C. Senate in 1816 and also served as intendant (mayor) of Charleston from 1817 to 1819.
On December 8, 1818, after four ballots, Geddes was elected governor by the General Assembly, narrowly defeating John Taylor of Richland District. A few months into his term, on April 26, 1819, the city of Charleston was honored with a visit by President James Monroe, who was entertained in grand style for a week by the governor and other dignitaries. Geddes personally covered much of the expense of the celebration, which did considerable injury to his private fortune. Years later, in 1831, the General Assembly appropriated $3,000 to reimburse the governor’s heirs. Geddes’s term also witnessed the commencement of a statewide internal improvement program, for which the legislature appropriated the unprecedented sum of $1 million in 1818. The governor also followed the bitter debates in Congress over the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Geddes warned the legislature that during the controversy, “principles were advanced, which should put us upon our guard, and the mischievous effects of which, we should counteract by the most efficient measures.” State legislators responded by banning free blacks from entering the state, requiring an act of assembly to emancipate slaves, and levying fines and imprisonment on any person caught distributing “inflammatory” writings in the state.
Leaving office in December 1820, Geddes remained an influential figure in Charleston politics. In October 1822, his son, John Geddes, Jr., acquired the Charleston City Gazette, which became the organ of the Geddes faction. Narrowly losing an election for the state Senate in 1822, Geddes was elected to another term as intendant the following year. He also maintained his lifelong attachment to the state militia, achieving the rank of brigadier general. On March 4, 1828, Geddes died of a stroke in Charleston. In a melancholy twist of fate, his son John died just hours later. After an elaborate funeral procession through the city, both men were interred in the Second Presbyterian Churchyard.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
O’Neall, John Belton. Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina. 2 vols. Charleston, S.C.: S. G. Courtney, 1859.