For those interested in following the continued research into the life of great-great-great uncle Major Erastus W. Everson, be sure to read:
In 1871, Massachusetts-born Erastus Watson Everson was summoned by a government committee which was investigating the “Ku-Klux Klan conspiracy”. Erastus had worked for the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War throughout South Carolina. In particular, he was summoned for an experience he had after his duty in the Freedman’s Bureau, when he was working again for the army as an assessor. Erastus was an inadvertent witness to the Laurens County, SC riot in October 1870. He testified his belief that the riot was planned in advance in part by the Ku Klux Klan.
He testified that he had traveled to Laurens county to purchase a horse for his boss. On the way over, he encountered numerous armed men. In the town, he inquired of a colonel who was stationed there with his troops, and was told that an election was occurring the following day. The colonel advised Everson to stay in town until the election was over. While staying at a hotel that night, Everson overheard a plot to throw the election that was to occur the following day by capturing the ballot boxes and starting fights with the state constables and any colored voters. Everson sent word to both the army colonel and his troops stationed in the town, as well as a note of warning to Mr. Crews, a politician who led the local armed colored militia. Erastus’ actions briefly helped saved the election day, or so he thought. Crews lined up his militia by the election station, and although white agitators verbally abused the troops, no physical fighting occurred. Although tensions flared, the election went seemingly went smoothly. But it was not enough.
That night Erastus heard conversations and drunken boasts that the ballot boxes had been stuffed anyways. But that was soon to be the least of Erastus’ worries. The following day, the infamous “Laurens County riot” occurred, in which thousands of armed riders came into the area, where brawling soon became deadly as the riot turned “into a negro chase”. Erastus ran outside to determine what was happened, and avoid the brawling and gunshots now spreading all over the area. Erastus fell in the street, and rolled out of the way of the chaos. Mr. Copeland, the general store owner, and Mason, took in Erastus during the midst of the riot, and promised him a safe place to stay for the evening, shortly after which Copeland soon left. Men came in and out of the house all evening, and some of them were bragging about the death of Wade Perrin, the most powerful black politician who had been elected the previous day. Erastus thus found himself in a difficult position – he discovered too late that he had been saved by Klan sympathizers. Everson determined he could not escape into the night with the horse that he had purchased, because the roads were filled with armed men looking for a fight. After Erastus went to bed, a man called for him – it turned out to be Hugh Farley, a former Confederate officer who Erastus had dealt with a few years previously. Although a former enemy, Erastus considered him a gentleman, and when Hugh Farley promised to help Erastus get out of the area, Erastus took him up on the offer. They rode off into the night from Laurens County to Newberry County, almost 40 miles. Farley rode with Erastus and would often go ahead to picket groups of men along the way, then let Erastus pass. The rioting had spread throughout the entire county, with thousands of men causing violence. Along the way, Erastus was threatened and almost shot several times. Through discussion with Farley on their journey, however, Erastus was soon horrified to discover that Farley was a probable Ku Klux leader. Once in Newberry, Erastus encountered a large group of men, several of whom he had formerly arrested as “bushwhackers” – who were not pleased to see “that God-damned Everson!” Farley had promised Everson safe passage, and then made Erastus Everson agree that he would make a statement supporting them later. He was to tell the government that the riot was necessary, and that no one was to blame in the matter. “I had promised Farley that if he would see me safe through, I would come down here and go before the executive committee of the reform party to make a statement, but I had to do things that a man would not ordinarily do. I went back on my word, because I could not do such a thing. I think, however, that I had no other way of saving my life. I know it, and so I have never been before that committee, and I never will go, because I cannot tell them what he wanted me to tell.” Once in Newberry, he was handed off to another man, but Erastus soon escaped and ran to the train tracks, where he caught a train. Aboard, he found three state constables who were escaping as well, along with Senator Owens. Erastus and the Senator hid in the mail-car privy, and made their way to safety.
Everson, who had been injured several times during the Civil War while serving on behalf of the Union, and then dedicated years of service to the Freedman’s Bureau where he helped protect the rights of newly freed slaves in the South, had inadvertently found that his life had been saved by Ku Klux Klan members. He broke his promise to them, however, and reported all that he heard during his stay and remarkable escape from the Laurens County.
Learn more about the Laurens County, SC riot here.
Erastus W. Everson was the eldest child of William F. Everson and his wife, Salome B. Crocker. He was born about 1837 probably in Hanson, MA. Three years later, his brother Frederic O. Everson was born, followed by his sister Sylvania Everson. They grew up on Pleasant Street in Hanson.
In 1850, at the age of 13, Erastus was living in Hanson with his family, and a 17 year old servant (or boarder) named Fidelia Hunt. He and his siblings were attending one of the small schoolhouses in South Hanson. Next door to them, extended Everson and Crocker relatives had a small shoemaking shop, and Erastus’s father most likely worked here during the day. To the north of them them was the Baptist parsonage, where Asa Bunson, the Baptist clergyman lived. Across from the Everson family was Levi Thomas’s family (Levi Thomas’ son, Levi Zelida Thomas, was a 23 year old school teacher at the time, and would eventually have a Hanson school named in his honor).
In 1860, Erastus, now in his early twenties, had moved up to Dedham, where he was staying at a hotel in Dedham village while he worked as a copyist. The hotel hosted a wide variety of individuals and families. There Erastus probably interacted with the hotel keeper and his family, W.H. Crossman, along with his wife and three young children. Perhaps he briefly befriended Frederic Eley, a 21 year old law student, as well as a 35 year old wood carver and his family, a 30 year old physician and his family, and many more who moved in and out of the small hotel.
But war was coming. Erastus enlisted for the Civil War as a Sergeant on 16 April 1861 at the age of 24 from Dedham, MA. He enlisted in Company A, 3rd Infantry Regiment Massachusetts (The Halifax Light Infantry) on 23 April 1861, and was mustered out on 22 July 1861. His brother, Frederick O. Everson, had also enlisted as a Corporal on 16 April 1861 at the age of 21, and several days later, on 23 April 1861, Fred enlisted in the same company as his brother Erastus. Fred was mustered out on 22 July 1861. Frederick did not enlist again, but Erastus was attracted to the army, and decided to provide more service.
Erastus soon enlisted in Company H, 18th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts on 24 August 1861 and was then promoted to Full Sergeant 1st Class on the same day. A year later, he was promoted to Full Lieutenant 2nd Class on 01 August 1862. At the end of the month, he was wounded on 30 August 1862 at the second Bull Run, VA. He was then again wounded on 13 December 1862 at Fredericksburg, VA. Several months later, he was promoted to Full Lieutenant 1st Class on 25 February 1863. He was honorably discharged from Company H, 18th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts on 10 December 1863, and the following day joined Company D, 20 Veteran Res. Corps, as a 1st Lieutenant.
In 1866, Erastus was assigned as the inspector general of the South Carolina troops for a period of eighteen months, and was stationed in Charleston, SC. He then served as an aid for the Freedman’s Bureau for three years, during which time he traveled all over South Carolina and made many acquaintances. One of his main tasks was to find and arrest “bushwhackers”, who were men that engaged in guerilla warfare attacks during the Civil War and Reconstruction. From 1869-1870, Erastus was stationed in Anderson, SC as an assistant assessor, and then he moved to Columbia, SC in 1870. In October of 1870, Erastus was present for the Laurens County, SC riot, in which he overheard and tried to prevent presumed Ku Klux Klan activity. He narrowly escaped with the assistance of several men in the area, who he soon was horrified to discover were probably Ku Klux members, and therefore responsible for the riot. My next posting will deal more with this fascinating event in Erastus’s life.
Erastus was a skilled verbal negotiator and eloquent writer (and from his writings and interviews, he had a sense of humor!). After serving as a soldier during the Civil War and sustaining a total of 7 bullets, he served as an aid that was not involved in direct battles. He was commissioned by General Howard to the Freedman’s Bureau, and spent the early part of the Reconstruction negotiating and inspecting issues regarding things such as black labor and dealing with abandoned plantation property. The Freedman’s Bureau became very political towards the end of its time, encouraging blacks to vote for the Republican party, and was disbanded in 1869, although Erastus preferred not to be “mixed up” with politics. He was a self-proclaimed conservative Republican and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln and the reconstruction efforts. After his time with the Freedman’s Bureau, Erastus became an editor for the Union, SC newspaper, which was a Republican newspaper. “It is considered a conservative newspaper up North. They are sending me letters all the time, thinking that I am going astray!.. I am not a radical at all. I am not a radical republican, and never have been; but I believe in fair play”. Erastus spent the rest of his life as a newspaper man, both in the role of editor and writer. The 1880 Massachusetts census lists him as the “editor of a newspaper”, and in 1894 he is listed as a “journalist” from Marshfield, MA.
While a wealth of fascinating documents exist regarding Erastus’s time with the army, it is more difficult to ascertain the state of Erastus’s marriage from the documentary evidence. On October 28, 1869, Erastus married Harriet Rebecca Fales in Dedham, MA. Harriet’s father had died when she was two, and she had lived with her widowed mother in Dedham. It is unknown how long their courtship had been, due to the fact that for the majority of the 1860s, Erastus was not in Massachusetts. They married in the midst of his commission as an assistant assessor for the army in Anderson, South Carolina. They are listed as living together in Anderson, SC in the 1870 census, so Harriet moved down to South Carolina to be with him.
By 1880, the Eversons had returned to Massachusetts. The 1880 Massachusetts census presents a bit of a mystery, that either indicates a mistake made on behalf of the census takers, or that the Eversons were separated. Erastus is listed as living in Hanson, MA with his 65 year old parents and his 14 year old niece, Ella Gurney, the daughter of his sister Sylvania (who died in 1866). He is marked under the column for single, not widowed or divorced. Harriet is listed as Harriet Everson, living with her mother Rebecca Fales in Dedham, MA. She is noted as “married”. The Dedham census was taken on June 14 1880, and the Hanson census was taken on June 16, 1880. Perhaps Erastus was simply visiting his parents during this time, and the census takers in each town recorded incorrect information – the census taker is supposed to record who is living in the household, even if they are away on business, at school, etc. Certainly the census contains mistakes.
Harriet died September 28, 1887 in Dedham, MA at the age of 45, and is listed as the wife of Erastus Everson. They had no children together. Perhaps this was in part due to Erastus’ war wounds, or estrangement. In his pension application, Erastus is listed as an invalid, but certainly he could walk, ride, and travel long distances, which he did for the Freedman’s Bureau, and when he was charged with arresting bushwhackers, although he claimed to be easily tired due to his wounds.
Erastus next appears in the 1894 Marshfield, MA Directory, seven years after his wife’s death. His residence is listed as “North, on Green’s Harbor” and his occupation as a journalist. Family legend says that Erastus was granted the land north of Green Harbor, and the small island on the river as a reward for his Civil War service. I would like to research more about this. When was he granted the land? Did he have a permanent residence here? Certainly by the 1890s he did. Here is a photograph of Erastus in front of his hunting shack with two hunting dogs, supposedly on the Marshfield island which our family now owns:
Erastus died in 1897 in Marshfield, MA at the age of 60, having lived a very colorful life. Family legend says the Marshfield island was passed to Sherman McClellan, but at the time of Erastus’ death, Sherman was only 11. Sherman, Roddy, and Lillian’s mother was Imogene Everson. Both Imogene Everson and Erastus Everson were great-grandchildren of Levi Everson and Eunice Briggs. Erastus, having no children, passed the land via his cousin Imogene, and the land was eventually handed to Sherman McClellan. Further deed research is needed to verify the succession of ownership. That is a project for another time!