Seabrook, Whitemarsh Benjamin
Along with his zeal in promoting agriculture, Seabrook was one of South Carolina’s most vocal defenders of slavery and states’ rights.
Governor. Seabrook was born in Colleton District on June 30, 1793, son of the Edisto Island planter Benjamin Seabrook and Elizabeth Meggett. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1812, Seabrook returned to Colleton District, where he established himself as a cotton planter and a leading advocate of agricultural reform. A prolific writer on agricultural subjects, Seabrook urged South Carolina planters to diversify their agricultural pursuits and adopt scientific farming techniques. A member of several agricultural organizations, he also led the successful effort to create the State Agricultural Society in 1839. On February 7, 1815, Seabrook married Margaret Wilkinson Hamilton. The couple had eleven children.
Along with his zeal in promoting agriculture, Seabrook was one of South Carolina’s most vocal defenders of slavery and states’ rights. His political service included representing St. John’s Colleton Parish in the state House of Representatives (1814–1819) and the state Senate (1826–1833), as well as a term as lieutenant governor (1834–1836). In the 1830s and 1840s Seabrook allied himself with the state’s most radical political movements, including nullification in the early 1830s and the Bluffton Movement of 1844. Seabrook penned several proslavery works that upheld the institution and warned slaveholders of the growing threat of abolitionism from the North and Great Britain.
An unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1844, Seabrook was narrowly elected to the office by the General Assembly on December 12, 1848. His tenure came in the stormy wake of the Wilmot Proviso controversy, in which northern members of Congress attempted to prohibit slavery in territories gained by the United States in the Mexican War. Believing that “there is to be no peace for the slaveholder” while South Carolina remained in the Union, Governor Seabrook urged his state to prepare for secession and the defense of its institutions. He asked legislators for appropriations to purchase arms and build armories, while also urging a reorganization of the state militia. Seabrook demanded that the distribution of abolitionist writings “be declared an offence punishable with severe and definite penalties.” Failing to act on Seabrook’s demands in its 1849 session, the legislature passed an act to strengthen the state’s defenses the following year after Congress passed the so-called Compromise of 1850, which Seabrook denounced as “another triumph over the South by the fell spirit of abolitionism.”
Following the end of his term in December 1850, Seabrook joined other radicals in canvassing the state to drum up popular support for secession as the only viable defense against northern aggression. These efforts were thwarted in 1851 when voters in an election for delegates to a “Southern Convention” opted for the more moderate cooperationists, who called for secession only if joined by other southern states. Seabrook remained an ardent secessionist for the remaining few years of his life. He died on April 16, 1855, at Strawberry Hill plantation in St. Luke’s Parish, Beaufort District, and was buried at Gun Bluff plantation on Edisto Island.
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.
Barnwell, John. Love of Order: South Carolina’s First Secession Crisis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.