Richardson became the first backcountry resident—indeed the first non-Charlestonian—to hold the office, and his election reflected the increasing political and economic solidification of the state based on cotton, slavery, and the plantation system.
Governor. Richardson, the son of Richard Richardson and Dorothy Sinkler, was born on October 28, 1770, in St. Mark’s Parish. His father immigrated to South Carolina from Virginia in the 1730s and became one of the backcountry’s leading planters and political figures. Richardson grew up on his family’s plantation and married Anne Cantey Sinkler on May 10, 1791. Twelve children were born to their marriage. The upland cotton boom hit the South Carolina interior when Richardson was in his early twenties. Capitalizing on his family’s extensive resources, he quickly became one of the state’s wealthiest planters. He owned five plantations totaling more than five thousand acres in Sumter District and St. John’s Berkeley and St. James Santee Parishes, plus nearly seven thousand acres of unimproved land scattered from Charleston to Columbia. At death he owned 395 slaves.
In 1792 Richardson was elected by Clarendon County to the state House of Representatives, where he remained until his election as governor on December 8, 1802. Richardson became the first backcountry resident–indeed the first non-Charlestonian–to hold the office, and his election reflected the increasing political and economic solidification of the state based on cotton, slavery, and the plantation system. Richardson also was the first of six lineal descendants of Richard Richardson to serve as governor. A Democratic-Republican with an ear to his inland constituents, Richardson turned his attention to demands from interior districts to reopen the slave trade in South Carolina. Since the early 1790s the General Assembly had banned the importation of slaves from both foreign and domestic sources. With the spread of cotton into the backcountry in the 1790s, however, demand for agricultural labor soared. Richardson argued that prohibition of the trade was unenforceable and unfair, “for in the present state of things, the citizens in the frontier and seacoast districts do accrue late this property without the possibility of being detected, while those of the interior and middle districts only experience the operation of that law.” In 1803, at his urging, the General Assembly repealed all laws against the slave trade; only the importation of slaves from the West Indies remained illegal, as did importing male slaves over fifteen years of age from other states without certification of prior good behavior. During his tenure Richardson supported backcountry demands for increased representation in the legislature. A bill to reapportion the General Assembly to more accurately reflect the growing wealth and population of interior districts passed the House but was defeated in the Senate.
After Richardson’s successor was chosen on December 7, 1804, he was immediately returned by Sumter to the General Assembly, where he represented the district in the House from 1804 to 1805 and then in the Senate from 1806 to 1813. In 1812 Richardson was named a director of the Bank of the State of South Carolina. He served one final term for Sumter in the House (1816–1817) before retiring from public life. Richardson died on April 28, 1836, and was buried in Richardson Cemetery, Sumter District.
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.