Literary and Philosophical Society

1813–1860

Established in 1813 in Charleston, the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina was founded mainly to promote scientific interests in the state, including the collection and display of natural history specimens, but it also aimed to foster literary studies and preserve cultural artifacts.

Established in 1813 in Charleston, the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina was founded mainly to promote scientific interests in the state, including the collection and display of natural history specimens, but it also aimed to foster literary studies and preserve cultural artifacts. The society soon began to receive donations of specimens and artifacts, acquired the holdings of the museum founded by the Charleston Library Society in 1773, and purchased a large private collection. The Charleston banker and noted botanist Stephen Elliott was elected president of the society in 1814 and served until his death in 1830.

By 1819 the organization was prospering and had 138 members. Although not admitted to membership, women regularly attended society meetings. The extant addresses presented before the society indicate a high level of quality. A brief period of decline ensued after the death of Elliott, but the society was revived in 1831 and flourished during the next seven years. Charleston’s noted mammalogist John Bachman played a major role in the organization’s affairs during that period.

Languishing again by 1839, the society was revived in 1842 as the Literary and Conversation Club. Although attendance thereafter was generally small, the organization continued to consider important topics, such as the nature of the various human races. In 1850 the club’s valuable but much-neglected collections, which had already been transferred to the Medical College of the State of South Carolina, became the property of the newly formed Charleston Museum. Thereafter the organization declined, and it was moribund by 1860.

Sanders, Albert E., and William D. Anderson, Jr. Natural History Investigations in South Carolina, from Colonial Times to the Present. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Stephens, Lester D. “The Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina: A Forum for Intellectual Progress in Antebellum Charleston.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 104 (July 2003): 154–75.

–––. Science, Race, and Religion in the American South: John Bachman and the Charleston Circle of Naturalists, 1815–1895. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Literary and Philosophical Society
  • Coverage 1813–1860
  • Author
  • Keywords promote scientific interests in the state, Charleston banker and noted botanist Stephen Elliott was elected president of the society, Charleston’s noted mammalogist John Bachman, Literary and Conversation Club
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 25, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 6, 2017
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