Miles, William Porcher, 1822-1899

Alternative names
Birth 1822-07-04
Death 1899-05-11

Biographical notes:

William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) was a South Carolina educator, mayor of Charleston, S.C. (1855-1857), United States Representative (1857-1860), member of the Confederate House of Representatives and chair of its Military Affairs Committee. After the Civil War, he was a planter in Virginia, then president of South Carolina College, then a planter again, this time in Louisiana. Miles married Betty Bierne (d. 1874), the daughter of Oliver Bierne, a wealthy Virginia and Louisiana planter, in 1863.

From the description of William Porcher Miles papers, 1784-1906. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 23658430

Attorney, plantation owner, college president, C.S.A. Representative, and U.S. Representative. Born in Walterboro, S.C., Miles served as mayor of Charleston, S.C., served in Congress from 1857 to 1860, and later lived in Virginia and Louisiana.

From the description of William Porcher Miles letters, 1858. (The South Carolina Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 36866195

U.S. representative from South Carolina, C.S.A. representative from South Carolina, confederate army officer, mayor of Charleston, S.C., educator, manufacturer, and planter.

From the description of Letter of William Porcher Miles, 1861. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79454553

William Porcher Miles was born 4 July 1822 in Walterboro, S.C. He was the second of five sons of James Sanders and Sarah Bond Warley Miles. Miles was taught at home with his younger brothers until 1836, when he spent a few months at James B. Waddel's Willington Academy in the Abbeville District, S.C. He entered the College of Charleston in 1838 and graduated four years later with honors. Miles excelled particularly as an orator and in mathematics.

Miles read law in the office of Edward McCrady in Charleston, S.C., for a year, then returned to the College of Charleston as a professor of mathematics. During the summer of 1855, he traveled to Norfolk, Va., to serve as a volunteer nurse in the yellow fever epidemic. When news of his services reached Charleston, friends recalled his gifted oratory, dignified presence, and social position, and wrote laudatory letters that appeared in the Charleston Mercury . While Miles was still in Norfolk, a group of influential Charlestonians nominated him to be the Southern Rights Party candidate for mayor. Miles accepted the nomination, though he remained in Norfolk until two days before the election. He won in a light turnout, resigned his post at the College of Charleston, and was administered the oath of his new office on 9 November 1855.

Miles' political career took another turn the following year when he ran for Congress on the Southern Rights Party ticket. Miles again did not campaign, but was elected by a small majority. During 1857, he concurrently served out his second year as mayor of Charleston and his first year representing the Charleston District, S.C., in Congress. Miles championed slavery and secession and was active in the southern independence movement. During his three years in office, Miles spent most of his time in Washington and immersed himself in the social life there. He shared his bachelor quarters in Washington with other prominent young men, apparently M. R. H. Garnett and Laurence M. Keitt, and possibly others at different times.

Upon resigning from Congress in 1860, Miles served as chair of the committee on foreign relations in the South Carolina secession convention, and signed the Ordinance of Secession. He represented the Charleston district in the Confederate Congress during its entire existence, including the Montgomery, Ala., convention, where Miles seems to have served as the principal South Carolina leader. He played an active role in drawing up the new constitution, making major decisions, and awarding appointments, and he was chair of the Committee on the Flag and chair of the Committee on Military Affairs. In 1861, Miles served briefly as aide-de-camp to General P. G. T. Beauregard.

Miles married Betty Bierne (d. 1874), the daughter of Oliver Bierne, a wealthy Virginia and Louisiana planter, in 1863. From 1865 to 1867, Miles and his family resided in Charleston, but unable to prosper in the depressed post-war conditions, they moved to Oak Grove Plantation in Oakridge, Nelson County, Va., which had been purchased by Oliver Bierne. After Betty died in 1874, Miles and the children stayed on at Oakridge for several more years, with the continued financial support of his father-in-law.

In 1880, William Porcher Miles returned to South Carolina to become president of South Carolina College. He resigned this position in 1882 to manage his father-in-law's recent inheritance, Houmas Plantation (now Burnside) in Ascension Parish, La. Miles became one of the largest planters in the state, controlling at least seven plantations that produced twenty million pounds of sugar annually. He served as president of the Ascension branch of the Louisiana Sugar Planters' Association and was one of the founders of a sugar experiment station and of The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, a weekly newspaper published in New Orleans. Miles continued to be active in state and local political matters, though he did not seek elected office. He opposed the state lottery, the sugar tariff, and other measures of the Republican Party.

Miles died at his home, Houmas House, on 11 May 1899.

See also Ruth McCaskill Daniel's William Porcher Miles: Champion of Southern Interests, M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina, 1943).

From the guide to the William Porcher Miles Papers, 1784-1906, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)


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  • Fugitive slaves
  • Freedmen
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)
  • Legislators
  • Yellow fever
  • Politicians--History--19th century
  • Agriculture--History--19th century
  • Legislators--History--19th century
  • Families--Social life and customs
  • Mothers--Mortality--History--19th century
  • Jews
  • Sugarcane industry--History--19th century
  • Plantation life
  • Slavery
  • Sectionalism (U.S.)
  • Plantations


  • Educators
  • Army officers, Confederate
  • Mayors--South Carolina--Charleston
  • Plantation owners
  • Industrialists
  • Politicians
  • Representatives, C.S.A. Congress--South Carolina
  • Representatives, U.S. Congress--South Carolina


  • Virginia (as recorded)
  • Virginia (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Confederate States of America (as recorded)
  • Columbia (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Oak Grove Plantation (Nelson County, Va.) (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • South Carolina--Charleston (as recorded)
  • Louisiana (as recorded)
  • Virginia--Norfolk (as recorded)
  • Charleston (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Washington (D.C.) (as recorded)
  • Ascension Parish (La.) (as recorded)
  • Nelson County (Va.) (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • Houmas Plantation (Ascension Parish, La.) (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • Southern States (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)