Sometimes, history is quite disappointing

I’ve remarked a number of times recently, I think, on the fact that no matter how much history I think I know, I keep getting slapped in the face by the fact that I don’t know squat about it.

Even when you limit it to a certain period I’ve obsessed over, I keep learning things that you would have thought anyone would have known. But I didn’t. Makes me humble — almost. I wish it would make those people on both sides of the CRT battles — who all think they know everything they need to know about what went before, and what it means — humble. Or at least quiet them down a bit. Because they get tiresome.

I had this happen again a few minutes ago. For reasons having nothing to do with this post, I happened to look up a town called Jeannette, Pennsylvania. A guy named it for his wife. It’s a pretty new town, only founded in 1888. You’d think it was out West or something, but no. Near Pittsburgh, which is only out West if you’re in Philadelphia.

Anyway, I read that its 2010 population was 9,654. Which made me think of my hometown, Bennettsville. Y’all know, of course, that I use that term “hometown” loosely, as only a Navy brat can. I grew up in America — mostly — rather than one bit of it. But I was born there, and it was the place I returned to in the summers, and I spent the entire 9th grade at Bennettsville High School, back when there was one (go, Green Gremlins!). I feel a great fondness for the place, but as I’ve said repeatedly, I could walk all the way through downtown on Main Street and not be recognized by anyone, unless I got lucky.

So I looked up B’ville on Wikipedia as well, and found that as I thought, the population was close to the same — 9,069 in 2010.

But then I read on, and got to this:

The city of Bennettsville was founded in 1819 on the Great Pee Dee River and named after Thomas Bennett, Jr., then governor of South Carolina….

I’d never thought about it before, but I guess I’d always assumed it had been named for, you know, somebody who lived there in the early days. Some plucky pioneer who was among the first Europeans to turn the sod on the banks of the Pee Dee, or who operated a ferry, or some such.

But no, this guy was just — the governor. Some guy from Charleston. It appears he raised some questions about the conduct of the Denmark Vesey investigation, trial and executions. Perhaps the points he raised were to his credit. It’s a bit hard to tell, because the article isn’t very well written.

But that’s all irrelevant to the point that, aside from having it named for him, I don’t see anything that indicates he had anything to do with Bennettsville. Or Marlboro County, for that matter. Or the Pee Dee, even.

Which is rather disappointing. It’s like founding a town and naming it for Henry McMaster, even though he’d never been there. Don’t you think that’s kind of lame? I’d think it was lame even if Henry were a more interesting and distinguished governor. Which, as we know, wouldn’t take much.

I’m not lobbying to change it, of course, even though B’ville has plenty of more interesting sons and daughters — Hugh McColl, Marian Wright Edelman, or if you want someone more recent, Aziz Ansari. I mean, come on — it was the home and base of operations of Sen. Jack Lindsey! Why, my Uncle Woody embodies the town, far as I’m concerned, and could entertain you enormously telling stories about it. But it’s not named for him, either.

But again, I love the name “Bennettsville,” and wouldn’t change it. It has a certain warm, rounded feel. It’s part of my own deepest identity, one of the essential “B” names and words for which I’ve always felt such a keen comfort and affection. (Have you seen me in my new B hat?) Like the color blue.

I just wish we had a better reason for the name. Maybe there is one, and it didn’t make Wikipedia. I’ll have to ask Walter Edgar, next time I see him. Being a real historian, he knows stuff like that…

8 thoughts on “Sometimes, history is quite disappointing

  1. Doug+T

    I live 15 miles from Bennettsville and worked there for 7 years. Great people. My warehouse guy told me how he cooked chicken feet. I didn’t realize people ate chicken feet.

    Marlboro County should be included in the “Corridor of Shame”. Ansari and most of the white people in the county attend the private “Academy”. The public schools suffer. 2-3 years ago the School Board fired the superintendant and payed out her contract. Like there’s extra money sitting around for grudges.

    Last week Mohawk Carpet annouced it was closing their factory in Marlboro County. 600 jobs. That is really gonna hurt. They still have the paper mill and plywood plant, but like a lot of rural areas, the place is drying up.

    There’s a guy on YouTube…Nick Johnson i think is his name. He travels around and films depressed areas. Of course he visited Marlboro County. Really depressing. Unfortunately it’s easy to find the poor areas of any location, but this guy’s narrative was depressing.

    And…I followed Hugh McColl’s time at NCNB-NationsBank-BankAmerica. What a guy. Ex marine who kept a grenade on his desk. Hugh rightfully gets credit for moving Charlotte forward in a big way. Too bad he couldn’t do that for McColl or Clio or Blenheim.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, that’s certainly a good deal clearer than the Wikipedia version:

      It was Bennett’s response to the Vesey crisis for which he is best remembered. In a message to the General Assembly on November 22, 1822, the governor chastised Charleston authorities for the mass execution of alleged conspirators….

      It would seem Bennett’s take on the matter was fairly laudable — although I don’t expect him to get a lot of praise for it these days, since “Part of Bennett’s opinion was based on racial stereotypes. He simply doubted the capability of African slaves to mount such an uprising…”

      Thanks for passing that on, Rose. Although we’re still clueless as to why B’ville is named for him…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Still dwelling on the empty idea of naming something after the governor just because he’s the governor…

        I had an interesting thing happen today. I was leaving Best Buy with my laptop, it having just been repaired by the Geek Squad, when a guy who was on his way in with a laptop stopped to congratulate me on my own preference in governors. It took me a moment to realize he was reacting to the James Smith bumper sticker on my truck.

        We ended up talking for 10 or 15 minutes, and I learned a lot about the gentleman’s views. He apparently lives nearby — this was the Best Buy on the way into Lexington on 378 — but has not always lived there. He’s originally from Connecticut.

        He didn’t react that way because he’s a Democrat or anything, he made sure I knew. Like me, he’s an independent. But of course, to any thinking person, James was clearly the vastly superior candidate in 2018.

        Anyway, I also learned what he thinks of Trump, Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham and quite a few other people, events and ideas.

        As I drove away, I realized I should have gotten his name, or at least invited him to come join us here on the blog. But I didn’t…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I called that “an interesting thing,” and some of you may wonder: if you go around with political bumper stickers, you should expect this sort of thing, right? But the thing is, in the several years I’ve been driving around with that sticker, I can’t think of another time it has caused a stranger to come up to me and begin an extended political discussion.

          Which in one sense may be a GOOD thing, of course. Considering some of the folks who are out there. But in this case, the experience was quite constructive and enjoyable…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *