Hampton’s most lasting fame came from his success as a planter. Noted by Niles’ Weekly Register in 1823 as “probably the richest planter in the South,” he became a national symbol of the wealthy southern slaveowner.
Planter, soldier, politician. Hampton was born on May 3, 1754, in Virginia, the youngest son of Anthony Hampton and Elizabeth Preston. The family soon after migrated to North Carolina. In the early 1770s several of the Hampton brothers relocated to Ninety Six District, South Carolina, and by April 1774, Wade, along with his parents and other relatives, had moved to the Tyger River valley in present-day Spartanburg County. The brothers were involved in mercantile ventures and trade with the Cherokee Indians in the years before the Revolutionary War. Wade’s parents and other family members were killed by an Indian raiding party in late June 1776.
From the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Hampton supported the patriot cause. From 1777 until early 1780 he was an officer and paymaster in the Sixth Continental Regiment. After the fall of Charleston, Hampton signed an oath of allegiance to the British, but used his position as a storekeeper in the Congarees to spy on the British garrison at Granby. Early in 1781 Hampton joined Thomas Sumter as commander of one of the regiments of state troops and took part in the battles at Quinby Bridge (July 17, 1781), Eutaw Springs (September 8, 1781), and Dorchester (December 1, 1781).
Hampton was elected to the General Assembly in 1779, serving several more terms in the 1780s and 1790s. He was also twice elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1795–1797; 1803–1805) and held other positions of responsibility, including trustee of the South Carolina College (1801–1809). With war again pending with Great Britain in the early 1800s, Hampton again volunteered for military service. He was commissioned as a colonel in the U.S. Army on October 10, 1808. Subsequently promoted to brigadier general (1809) and major general (1813), Hampton served until April 6, 1814, when he resigned after a failed effort to capture Montreal–in conjunction with James Wilkinson–had brought stinging criticism of both men.
Hampton’s most lasting fame came from his success as a planter. In 1783 he acquired property on the Congaree River in Richland District, directing much of his time and financial resources to the improvement of his plantations and the more efficient production of his crops. Between 1783 and 1815 he added to his Richland holdings and constantly improved his property, establishing his immensely profitable cotton plantation, Woodlands. In 1799 he produced some six hundred bags of cotton worth an estimated $90,000. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, his Richland District lands produced on average fifteen hundred bales of cotton each year. In 1811 he purchased land in Louisiana that he developed into one of the most productive sugar plantations on the Mississippi. In 1827 sugar and molasses sales from his Louisiana plantations brought him $100,000 annually, making him that state’s largest sugar producer. Noted by Niles’ Weekly Register in 1823 as “probably the richest planter in the South,” Hampton had become a national symbol of the wealthy southern slaveowner. He may have owned as many as nine hundred slaves by 1820 in South Carolina and Louisiana.
Hampton married three times. His first wife, Martha Epps Goodwyn, died in May 1784 after only a year of marriage and left no children. Harriet Flud, who married Hampton in August 1786, left two sons at her death in 1794. He married his third wife, Mary Cantey (Harriet Flud’s stepsister), in 1801. The third marriage produced six children. Wade Hampton died February 4, 1835, and was buried in Trinity Churchyard, Columbia.
Bailey, N. Louise, and Elizabeth Ivey Cooper, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 3, 1775–1790. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.
Bridwell, Ronald E. “The South’s Wealthiest Planter: Wade Hampton I of South Carolina, 1754–1835.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1980.
Cauthen, Charles E., ed. Family Letters of the Three Wade Hamptons, 1782–1901. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953.
Meynard, Virginia G. The Venturers: The Hampton, Harrison, and Earle Families of Virginia, South Carolina, and Texas. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1981.