Rhett, Robert Barnwell, 1800-1876

Alternative names
Birth 1800-12-21
Death 1876-09-14

Biographical notes:

Charleston, S.C. plantation owner, politician, ardent secessionist, and author. Robert Barnwell Rhett (1828-1905) was his son.

From the description of Rhett family papers, 1825-1938. (The South Carolina Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 32141642

U.S. Senator from South Carolina and leader in the secession movement.

From the description of Papers, 1838-1874. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 20115801

Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was a congressman and senator from South Carolina, 1837-1852, and a member of the Nashville Convention, 1850; the secession convention, 1861; and the Confederate Congress at Montgomery, 1861.

From the description of Robert Barnwell Rhett papers, 1835-1880. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 25255393

S.C. Representative, 1828-1834; U.S. Congressman, 1837-1849 and 1850-1852; outspoken advocate of states' rights and member of Nashville Convention during secession crisis of 1850; born R.B. Smith, surname changed to Rhett in 1838; native of Beaufort, S.C.; relocated to Louisiana in 1867; father of Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr. (1854-1901), editor of the Charleston Mercury.

From the description of Robert Barnwell Rhett papers, 1752-1953. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 41442327

Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was born at Beaufort, S.C., to James and Marianna Smith. He started practicing law there in 1824, was in the legislature in 1826, and was attorney general of South Carolina in 1832. The family name was changed from Smith to Rhett, a colonial ancestor, by an act of the legislature in 1838.

Rhett served as a Democrat in the United States Congress from March 1837 to March 1849, representing Beaufort and Colleton, S.C.; and served in the United States Senate (replacing John C. Calhoun) from 18 December 1850, through 1852. A leading advocate of states rights and an early proponent of secession, Rhett was a member of the Nashville Convention, 1850; delegate to the secession convention, 1861; member of the Confederate Congress at Montgomery in 1861 and also at Richmond; and was chair of the committee on the Confederate constitution.

In 1836, Rhett had made an advantageous purchase of a plantation, and in the 1850s another. He had residences in Walterboro and later in Charleston, and while he was at the capital had a house in Georgetown, D.C. He owned the Charleston Mercury, which regularly published his extreme pro-southern views and those of other fire-eaters. . His son Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr. became editor of the newspaper in 1857. After the Civil War, Rhett moved to Saint James Parish, La., and out of politics, except for brief service as a delegate to the 1868 Democratic National Convention in New York.

Rhett married Elizabeth Washington Burnet in 1827. She died in 1852, and about a year later he married Katherine Herbert Dent. Rhett had at least four children, including sons Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr., Albert M. Rhett, Edmund Rhett Jr., and Herbert Rhett. Robert Barnwell Rhett died in 1876 in Saint James Parish, La., at the home of his son-in-law Alfred Roman.

From the guide to the Robert Barnwell Rhett Papers, 1835-1880, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)


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  • Confederate Memorial Day
  • Real property--History--19th century
  • Families--Social life and customs
  • Politicians--History--19th century
  • Patronage, Political--History--19th century
  • Medicine--Practice--History--19th century
  • Nullification (States' rights)
  • Dueling--History--19th century
  • Rice
  • Slaves--Medical care
  • Slavery
  • Plantations--Records
  • Sectionalism (United States)
  • American newspapers--History--19th century
  • Secession
  • Education--History--19th century
  • Legislators--History--19th century
  • Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va., 1861
  • Plantations
  • Slave trade
  • Tariff--History--19th century
  • Banks and banking--history--19th Century


not available for this record


  • Sandy Dam Plantation (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Charleston (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Jehosse Plantation (Charleston County, S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Georgia--Altamaha (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • South Carolina--Charleston (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Texas (as recorded)
  • Colleton County (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Fort Sumter (Charleston, S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Oak Land Plantation (Colleton County, S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • Charleston (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Confederate States of America (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Confederate States of America (as recorded)