Hammett was one of the first postwar mill presidents in South Carolina to adopt the large-scale New England model of factory production.
Industrialist. Hammett was born on December 31, 1822, in Greenville County, the son of Jesse Hammett and Nancy Davis. After a childhood on his father’s farm, Hammett went at the age of eighteen to Augusta, Georgia, where he trained as a clerk in the cotton firm of Matthews & Company. He returned to Greenville to teach school and then worked in a country store near Batesville. In 1848 Hammett married Deborah Jane Bates, the daughter of the textile mill owner William Bates. The couple had six children.
Soon after his marriage, Hammett took charge of cotton purchasing for the Batesville Cotton Mill and became a partner in the firm by the mid-1850s. In 1862 the company purchased land at Garrison Shoals on the Saluda River with the goal of relocating and modernizing the cotton mill. The following year, however, a Charleston company bought the Batesville mill. Hammett purchased the Garrison Shoals property and moved to Greenville, where he became county tax assessor. For the next few years, Hammett served in the public arena, representing Greenville County in the General Assembly from 1865 to 1866. He also served as president of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad from 1866 to 1870.
In the early 1870s Hammett headed a group of area business leaders interested in building a cotton mill on the Garrison Shoals property. On April 30, 1873, subscribers met at Greenville to organize the Piedmont Manufacturing Company. Hammett was elected president of the new firm, which would incorporate a year later with $200,000 in capital stock. Hammett was one of the first postwar mill presidents in South Carolina to adopt the large-scale New England model of factory production. The first mill at Piedmont began operations in March 1876 with 5,000 spindles and 112 looms. Under Hammett’s leadership a second mill was added in 1878, then a third in 1890. By 1892 the Piedmont Manufacturing Company operated 47,000 spindles and 1,300 looms with a mill village population of three thousand. China represented an important market for the company’s cloth sheeting. Hammett also bought the insolvent Camperdown Mills Company in 1885, which he reorganized as the Camperdown Cotton Mills.
In addition to factory work, Hammett presided over a substantial mill village community including a schoolhouse, town hall, church, and hotel. As did most mill executives, Hammett opposed any unionization efforts. When the Knights of Labor began to organize at Piedmont in 1886, he ordered the mill superintendent to fire any worker who joined the union. He also joined other mill presidents in resisting child labor legislation in 1890. However, Hammett’s skillful management expanded economic opportunities for some in the upcountry and served as a model for subsequent mill ventures. He died in Greenville on May 8, 1891.
Carlton, David L. Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880–1920. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
Huff, Archie Vernon, Jr. Greenville: The History of the City and the County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.