Judge Thomas Jefferson Withers

Judge Withers


Thomas Jefferson Withers (Thomas1, Reuben2, James3) was born in 1804, in Ebenezer, near Rock Hill, York County, South Carolina. He was among the nine children of Randolph Withers of Virginia and Sarah Bailey Withers of Virginia, (daughter of Captain Thomas Bailey, Revolutionary War hero) who were both buried in Ebenezer, South Carolina.

In 1825, Thomas graduated from South Carolina College and in 1828, he was admitted to the bar. From 1828-1830, he was editor of the Telescope, an important newspaper published in Columbia, South Carolina. He then became close friends with Stephen D. Miller, who was running for Governor.

In 1829, he was appointed by Governor Miller to travel by stage coach to Washington, DC to present to Congress a memorial adopted by the Legislature of South Carolina protesting against the Tariff Act of 1828.

He married Elizabeth Tunstall Boykin, in 1831. She was a daughter of Burwell Boykin and Mary Whitaker, and sister of Steven D. Miller's wife, thus Thomas J. Withers became the uncle of Governor Miller's children. They moved to Camden, South Carolina where he opened a law practice. His office was a one-room wooden building, the last on the west side of Broad Street, south of the old Court House. In 1832, he was elected Solicitor of the Circuit and re-elected several times.

Elizabeth and Judge Withers' first four children Mary, Amelia, Sarah, and Burwell died in infancy of scarlet fever from 1832 to 1838. Governor Miller also died in 1838, and the Withers became guardian of his two daughters Mary Boykin Miller, and Catherine Boykin Miller. [Mary, born 1823, married James Chestnut, Jr. and wrote Diary from Dixie. Catherine was born in 1827.]

Judge Withers and Elizabeth had four surviving children:

  • Mary Miller Withers, who married William Lenox Kirkland, Jr. in 1859;
  • Thomas J.Withers, Jr., born in 1841, died in 1858 in a horse racing accident;
  • William Randolph Withers (Tanny) was born in1846; and
  • Katherine, born in 1845, died of typhoid fever in July, 1865.
Judge Withers suffered a stroke which caused him to resign as Solicitor.

He then served as an elected Common Law Judge on the Court of Appeals from 1845-1866

In 1860, he was a delegate from Kershaw County to the Convention of the 0rdinance of Secession, where he signed the Secession Ordinance.  By the Secession Convention he was chosen as a delegate from South Carolina to the Convention at Montgomery, Alabama, which organized the Confederacy of Southern States. When this Convention became a provisional Congress of the Confederacy, Withers was chosen one of the two Senators from South Carolina (the other was C. G. Memminger). Before the close of the Montgomery Convention he returned to Camden,  resigned his position as Senator in the Confederate Congress, resumed his duties as Judge.

The following description of Judge Withers is from "Reminiscences of Public Men," by Governor B. F. Perry.

"Judge Withers was a man of distinguished talent and ability. His  intellect was as keen and bright as a Damascus blade, and he wielded it  on all occasions, in public and in private, most effectually. Every word that fell from his lips in conversation, on the Bench, or in public  speaking, had a telling effect. No one was ever left in doubt as to his meaning when he discussed any question. He had moral courage in a high degree, and cared not whom he pleased or offended. He was very sarcastic and bitter in his denunciations of men and measures. No one ever possessed less of the demagogue than Judge Withers. No one ever more conscientiously did what he thought was right, regardless of consequences. He was in bad health all his life, and somewhat misanthropic. He never courted popularity, and scorned the base means which others resorted to for this purpose. The high public offices which he filled were conferred on him for his talents, ability and honesty, and not on account of any personal popularity which he possessed. There was a spice of malice in his composition which delighted in wreaking itself on unworthy men and measures. He was as open as the day, and if he disliked anyone, he showed it in a manner not to be mistaken. Frankness was his character.
"The Judge told me of a piece of malice and passion on his part, which I did not think altogether right. He was going from Camden to Sumter Court in an old sulky. It was late in the evening and raining very hard, the weather, too, was quite chilly, and he thought he would stop for the night at the next house. He drove up, and the gentleman, who was pacing back and forth in a long piazza, took no notice of him till he asked if he could get to stay all night with him. The gentleman replied promptly hat he did not keep a public house, and continued his promenade. This cold, inhospitable reception nettled the judge, and he said to the gentleman, "I did not mistake your residence, sir, for a hotel, but I thought your kindness and humanity would prompt you to give shelter in such weather as this, to a wet and suffering fellow-creature like myself. If there had been a public house anywhere on the road, I should not have called on you." By this time the gentleman ascertained who he was, and very politely asked him to alight, and said he would be happy to have the pleasure of his company for the night. "No", said the judge, "I will drive in the night through the rain to Sumter Court House before I will take shelter with such a man as you are," and he drove off. "This fellow", said the judge, "was a wealthy man, and a shining light in the Presbyterian Church. He afterwards became a candidate for the Legislature, and I took great pleasure in telling about his inhospitable conduct, which damaged his election considerably, and he was defeated."
"Judge Withers married the sister-in-law of Governor Miller, a Miss Boykin, who owned a valuable plantation in Kershaw District, and a large number of slaves. His treatment of the slaves, and management of the plantation was so kind, indulgent and humane that it displeased some of his neighbors, who said it was a bad example in the neighborhood, and demoralized the slaves on the other plantations. This determined the Judge, as he told himself, to sell out and invest the proceeds in bank stocks and bonds and mortgages. With all of his temper and irritability, Judge Withers was a very kind-hearted gentleman, and most indulgent and affectionate in all the relations of life. His house servants did pretty much as they pleased, and he did not pretend to watch over them. On one occasion he told me that his carriage-driver, in whom he had placed great confidence, was caught in a theft, and he thought it was a good opportunity of having a general confession of all his roguery and rascality. He asked the fellow if he had not been stealing his corn and fodder and selling it. The [man] declared that so far from having done so, he did, on one or two occasions, when the judge was short of fodder, steal a few bundles of one of the neighbors to feed his horses with!" 
Judge Withers was described as average height, delicate slim build, with Grecian face and features. He used snuff and a red bandana handkerchief to sneeze into.

The Civil War destroyed most of his estate. He died on November 7, 1865 after "a brief illness."

Letters of Judge Thomas Jefferson Withers

[A Letter from T. J. Withers to his Fiancé Elizabeth Tunstall Boykin and noted as "Sacred Letters" on the back by his son W.R. Withers, December 5, 1866]

My Dear Elizabeth,

Columbia, Nov. 1st, 1830

I tender you a hasty line as a respectful memento of my plighted love and affection. I write in extreme haste and freer' offer you the inmost feelings of my heart. Indeed, I have never felt any reserve toward you, though I am free to confess that I may have sometimes appeared to practice it. I often indulge my recollection in running thro' the incidents of our acquaintance, and this is the only one which excites a feeling of regret. I perceived (and it was with more pain than you imagined) that in my great solicitude to avoid giving offense to a single feeling of delicacy which you cherished, I had unconsciously given you some cause to believe me indifferent. My dear Elizabeth, in this I did myself great injustice. But it has still been fortunate, for when I asked you to accept a renewed pledge of my affection, you promptly did so with a generous magnaminity, that endeared you a thousand times more to my heart. I know that I possess more enthusiasm of character, more devoted affection for you, than I have ever yet evinced. But now I promise that no feeling of my heart shall be concealed from you which is worthy to be made known and there are many which I could not express if I would. I hope we shall never find occasion to indulge a sentiment of the slightest distrust. None such, believe me, ever entered my mind for a moment. Indeed, where there has been no semblance of coquetry and where there has been, on either side, naught but open candor and frankness, there can surely be no ground for mistrust. I know you do not feel it and it will be my care to afford you no future occasion to do so.

I wish I had allowed myself more time than I now have at command to write you this letter. In one hour I am off, with some of my companions here, for the wedding of Miss Scott to Dr. Davis. I go, not for the pleasure I take in the frolic, but for a purpose very different; one, which will better bear explanation in conversation than in this letter. You will laugh at me when I tell you what it is.

Preston and Miss Davis have married, In good truth and what was most cruel? In them, sooner than the public had determined they should marry. I arrived here in good time to participate in some of the gaiety of this joyous occasion. Dr. Davis gave a party of some considerable dimensions on Wednesday night last, at which I had the honor to be present. I saw the new-married couple: Preston with less dignity and hauteur than he had commonly worn, and the bride with some addition to her small stock. I saw also Miss Maria Taylor who performed upon the piano, and I thought she wore more of the natural and interesting aspect of former happy days than I bad recently observed. Judge DeSausure and his amiable daughter made their entre, ala mode. I denied myself the honor of speaking to either of them, whereby I am afraid I have now the hazard of explaining that very remarkable confidence which, it seems, has heretofore existed between Miss Sarah and myself. If so it will, of course, be duly painful to my feelings but a wound which I hope is not absolutely incurable.

I find that you and I enjoy somewhat of a conspicuous position in the "tea-table roasting" of a small portion of this truly gossiping little town. But what care we for this? It affords but little annoyance to me; I trust you are as perfectly independent of it. I do verily believe, however, that there is evil enough in the world to make it an object of pleasure and perhaps of solicitude to some, to thrust an obstacle between us. Yet we can look upon it as the nonsense of tattlers, with composure, when it may be innocent with contempt when it be otherwise. I have employed every means I can devise to shield you: if I am unsuccessful, why no great object is lost to us or gained by them.

It is with great cheerfulness I tell you that I have at last shuffled off the bother of politics. I leave a little farewell address to be printed in the next paper and I know not that I have ever felt a greater buoyancy of spirit, with one unmovable exception. I think it probable that years will pass away before I shall recover from my honest disgust at the turbulence of political warfare. I have been in the midst of an incipient storm for more than two years, and now I cherish the first hope that it is to be succeeded not only but by the other political world, but by the true happiness in domestic life which I have never known before, but of which I trust my present relation to an object of my best love, affords some indication. Do you not remember I told you, I intended to be happy? I know it seemed a very bold remark. It had some meaning, however. I have been so, since I saw you. It is not due to my own agency, but to yours. Heaven grant that this letter may find you, my dear Eliza, in the same state of mind, and may your hope (which is always for the best, you know) never meet with a shade of disappointment.

I saw the theatre recently. It will be quite pleasant and comfortable. You must allow me the pleasure of attending you there this winter. Miss Sally, I know, would be attended by a better beau.

I hope to have the pleasure to see you about the last of the present or the first of the ensuing week.

May Heavens best blessing attend you, my dear Elizabeth, and believe me to be

Affectionately thine,


[ to son, William Randolph Withers (Tanny) b. 1846, age 11]

 Dear Son

Winnsboro, Tuesday Morning 4 O'clock A.M.

Some drunken vagabond, I believe my Landlord, marched into my room an hour ago, routed me, escaped before I could get a candle lit; so I am up, and propose to give you an abstract, derived from the great German Historian of Rome, Nichbur, as to the manner in which the celebrated Roman Empire arose, which will show how the genius of Virgil has emblazoned the annals of his country by his poetic Inventions. The founders of the Roman power were a few roaming robbers, under Romulus. This is the short account: " The la..h . followers of Romulus first coalesced with the Sabines; the two nations united then compelled the Albans to raze their city to the ground settle in Rome. Next came the Latins, to whom also a portion of the city was allotted for settlement. These two conquered Nations were, of course, not permitted the same civil political privileges as the conquerors; and, with the exception of a few noble families among them (which probably had been from the beginning in the interest of the conquerors) these tribes formed the Plebs. The distinction by nations was forgotten had become a distinction of classes. The Plebeians first gained their Tribunes, who could protect them in against the one sided litation of the dominant class; then, the right of discussing and deciding certain questions in the omission, or public assembly. Next the law prohibiting intermarriage between the Patricians and Plebeians was repealed; and thus, in course of time, the Government changed from an oligarchical to a democratic form." To complete the picture I may add, that they afterwards had a race of Kings, then expelled them and set up a Republic which expired with the life of C..., and then followed a long line of Emperors, beginning with Julius Caesar. Such is the truth of History as to the rise of the Roman Empire, without lauding the gorgeous picture of Virgil, in the Aneid, of the direct interference of the Gods, the K...of the she wolf and the derivation of Roman origin from the great Trojans. It is a beautiful poem, but all humbug.

In like manner we sing the praises, in ... of Inky Oratory and Revolutionary Histories, of our virtuous and glorious Ancestors. The fact is, that they brought with them here, a considerable knowledge of the arts and civilization of their parent countries; but the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, of whom the Yankees boast, were a sour, bigoted, narrow minded clan of turbulent ..., who preferred "to rule in Hell rather than serve in Heaven"; who (as soon as they were able) became as venomous towards others as a ground rattlesnake; not a few of the Virginia Cavaliers,(my ancestors) were fugitives from English justice, got their wives for so much tobacco; and the boasted Huguenot blood of So. Carolina ( .......... ancestors) were renegade Frenchmen, who could neither read nor write, and even beaten from the polls, when they came to vote, as a dog would be beaten out of a pantry. They were fugitives from French Catholic persecution. All such truth is ignored among people, when speeches, songs and histories are written, after times, concerning their origin.

Now see what sort of direction my brains have taken me this morning, upon being routed prematurely by some scamp, from bed! Perhaps what I have written may serve to open up a few useful ideas to you, and if it contributes to lead you to sift what you read and hear, in order to get rid of chaff and retain the grain of truth only, 'twill be of service in all circumstances of life.

Next Monday, the 1Oth Novr. will be my anniversary, and will begin my 53rd year. How different must be the train of thought and the course of feeling engaging my mind and heart in the contemplation of such an event, from those that sway yours! I look back and what of good have I accomplished? and forward to consider and what is to come of me when the form of existence (now very fleeting) shall end?

Shall I have worthy monuments behind me in the shape of those who have sprung from my loins? Shall I have a son who shall attract the respect, the love, the admiration of the generation to which he belongs? A daughter, who shall shew forth the praises and honor of her parents? Shall I have a happy, virtuous, an honorably ambitious generation to represent me when I am gone? Shall I live to see them a generous impulse in life? Shall I live to see them begin it's conflicts? Can I plant in them a veneration for what is wise, virtuous, noble - a scorn for what is opposite?and such is a sample of my thoughts.

You will be able to see how different are your own. They cannot be similar. Your years forbid it. The color your views of life- ... ... within you. You see interest in things as evanescent as the mists of the morn. The landscape of life is ...........presents more brilliant- colors and of dark, damp shadows, than you will find in the experience of it.

But I object not that you enjoy it in all innocent way sand never forgetting, that the levities of amazement are but the recreation of a moment and should only minister to that awfully great object, to wit, a solid preparation for the grave duties of time and the incontable conditions of Eternity.

May God bless you

T.J. Withers

[Catherine (Kate) Chesnut may have been living at "Mulberry" with her sister Mary, since the unnamed suitor lived at Society Hill near Camden. Catherine m. Dec. 22, 1846, planter David Rogerson Williams II, a nephew of James Chestnut.]

Camden 27 Sept. 1846

My dear Kate,

It is not in my nature to decline a very frank reply to your affectionate and moving note this moment received. I am no flatterer - you know that - yet I venture to tell you that you are not mistaken in assuming (as your generous confidence teaches you to do) that I cherish a very deep sentiment of concern for your welfare in life, in every possible respect for this you have guaranties - You are fatherless - and with your deceased Father I was once very closely associated. Your Mother has also been a mother to my children, in all but the natural relation. You have grown up under my eye and there has been nothing to qualify the delight with which I have looked upon your progress physically, morally, intellectually. Now then, my dear girl, consider how I must tremble in venturing a word of advice, to one whom I thus regard, on an event the development whereof no mortal eye can see: but which (none can know better than I) is the very pivot upon which your worldly happiness or misery must turn !

Here are the thoughts that spring up in my mind. Above all you must respect the gentleman whom you marry, for the good qualities that you think you see in him; for, only upon it, this, and this only is the foundation for a rational and permanent affection.

Then, he should be so connected that a generous nature of his own is not likely to be degraded or perverted by those associations which nature has prescribed for him - I mean, in brief, his close relations, and those to whom he must introduce you, must be worthy of you and of him.

Again - I should like to be assured that his training has been in safe and proper hands. This (while his personal habits and career thus far do not contradict it and it gives us a reasonable guarantee that honor and faith have been instilled into his heart and character.

That his life and conversation shall show incontestably his superiority over grovelling appetites which I take to be those that lead a man to find his pleasure in men's physical nature rather than moral and intellectual enjoyment, is a requirement I should deem to be cardinal. Without this quality, as you proceed in life, when beauty and youth shall have yielded their charms to the ravages of time and accident, a husband's affection will become as transient as they - in short, no man can steadily, supremely and tenderly, love and admire a virtuous woman, in the morning, the meridian and the evening of life, who has not that refinement of soul that lifts him above the inane pleasures of sense - that will enable him to repeat,in the sere and yellow leaf, in ...with sincerity, that beautiful song,

Believe me if all those endearing young charms .....

Now does the gentleman to whom we both refer appear, according to the best evidence we can obtain, to come up to the forgoing standard?

What is my testimony worth on the question? I know him not intimately - much of the evidence can be derived only from a very free and frequent intercourse. Doubtless you have had that means of studying his character and I can only say that if anyone of the human race was to present himself to you as a suitor you could never be forced to make a chance and a hazard 'till experience should settle the question.

My best argument is this: if you do sincerely respect him I believe you have as many assurances in his favor on the points I have suggested, as you can reasonably expect or demand; I have no doubt he does sincerely love you, 1st Because I suppose him to be candid and 2nd Because you deserve to be loved by him.

Consider well- and having resolved, act with decision and ............ You are quite young enough to marry ?? But if you decide to do so, sooner or later, or decide otherwise be explicit and any other course is cruelty to him, and works no compliment or advantage.In any event I invoke for you the guardianship of almighty God.


Excerpts from
A Diary from Dixie,
by Mary Boykin Chestnut

Regarding Judge Thomas J. Withers:

"His high temper and his sarcastic tongue were as famous as his kind heart and his affectionate nature. He, Joseph Kershaw and James Chestnut wer members of the Secession Convention."

February 25, 1861: "At dinner Judge Withers was loudly abusive of Congress. He said: 'They have trampled the Constitution underfoot! They have provided President Davis with a House!' He was disgusted, too, with the folly of parading the President at the inaugeration in a coach drawn by six white horses. ...

"... What a pity the Judge will be so harsh and abusive! He frightens me. Today he called the people he represents, the Kershaw District, fools and knaves. "

March 11, 1861:"But our brides were shocked by [Judge Withers'] anecdote of a pair who quarrelled on a bridge, and the man said, blubbering: 'Nancy, take the baby. I will drown myself.' But she said: 'No, take the baby with you! I want none of your breed left!'"

November 11, 1861: "Here we are, mild as the moonbeams, and as serene; nothing but Negroes around us, white men all gone to the army. Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Withers, two of the very kindest and most considerate of slave owners, aver that the joy of their Negroes at the fall of Port Royal is loud and open; but there is no change of any kind whatever with ours."

"June 1, 1864:"At Bloomsbury we heard that William Kirkland is wounded. Mary was weeping bitterly, Aunt B?? [Elizabeth "Betsey" Boykin, Mrs. Withers] frantic as to Tanny's danger. I proposed to make arrangements for Mary to go on at once, but the Judge took me aside, frowning angrily. 'You are unwise to talk in that way. She can neither take her infant nor leave it. The cars are closed, by order of the government, to all but soldiers." I told of the woman who, when the conductor said she could not go, cried at the top of her voice: 'Soldiers! I want to go to Richmond to nurse my wounded husband.' In a moment, twenty men made themselves her bodyguard and she went on unmolested.

"The Judge said I talked nonsense. I said I would go in my carriage if needs be, and besides, there would be no difficulty in getting her a permit. He answered hotly. In no case would he let her go , and I had better not go back into the house! We were on the piazza and my carriage at the door. I took it and crossed over to see Mary Boykin."

Excerpt from the
Memoirs and Reminiscences of
Col. John Logan Black, 1st SCVC

Late April 1865 - This extract describes a scene near Florence, SC in late April 1865 while Col. Black's regiment was trying to join General Johnston's Army after evacuating Charleston and the Coast.

"One night while in Florence, and I think the night before we left there, I was asleep at a camp fire about 2 AM. Someone or something aroused me and I was told a citizen wished to see me. Rousing up on my elbow, I saw a tall, lank, countrified-ooking individual looking very much like a seedy farmer of 60, crops of summers on his brow. And I asked him what he would have.

"He informed me without hesitation that it was his business to find out how long we were to stay at Florence. I replied that I don't know, 'which way we would go from there. That I don't know,' was my reply. Not at all daunted, he plied questions on top of questions, now no one but a lawyer could ask more than he did. Half asleep and not in the habit of being quizzed, I gave no answers or very unsatisfactory ones. He saw this and announced his name as Judge Withers.

"Somewhat astonished at my farmer acquaintance turning out to be a judge and one of Judge Withers' well known character, I raised up and said, 'Judge, you will excuse me. I had no idea of seeing you here. You are aware that in war times when on a march it is not always policy to answer questions to everyone that thinks proper to propound them. But if I can serve you in any way, I shall be happy to do so.'

"He informed me that he was a refugee from Camden and that he had some assets of the Camden Bank in his possession. He wanted to get back to Camden and requested I would give him a guard to escort him. He also asked me what I thought his chance of personal safety.

"I told him that, from his very seedy appearance, no one would suspect him of having 10 cents in value about him, if he would go quietly along and not betray himself or his trust to anyone - that it was out of my power to make a detail for private purposes. And that, if I did, a guard would endanger rather than secure his safety.

"He was in camp at this dismal hour of the night, much like a fish out of water. Treating him as kindly as I could, I could not but feel sorry for him. I had never before met the Judge in life or did I ever afterwards and I know not how he [ ] and his trust. I though know him by character as one of the first men in South Carolina."

This item was found in the Kirkland papers in the South Carolina Historical Society, fireproof building, 100 Meeting Street, Charleston. Transcribed by Jeff Kirkland.

Excerpt from
The Diary of Emma Holmes

"Judge Withers died three days ago after about a fortnight's illness of dysentery, while his wife, whom he has been nursing ever since Kate's [Withers] death, is still left, but for how long, none can tell. What a broken up family. Accustomed to live in the greatest luxury, they are now so reduced that Randolph, the only son, about nineteen, has been every day cutting and carrying a load of wood to his mother to supply their wants....The Judge was a professed infidel and his funeral was as private as possible, Mr. Elliott being the only minister to perform the service."

- Emma Holmes, November 10, 1865


"Kirkland Source Book of Records," Volumes 1 and 2, compiled by Mae Ruth Green and Wilma C. Kirkland, 1988

Historic Camden, Volumes 1 and 2, by T.J. Kirkland and Kennedy, Published by the R.L. Bryan Co., Columbia, S.C.

Kershaw County Cousins, by Charlotte Boykin Salmond Brunson

Correspondence with Randolph Withers Kirkland, Jr.

"Reminiscences of Public Men," by Governor B. F. Perry.

A Diary from Dixie, by Mary Boykin Chestnut; Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA, 1961.

Diary of Emma Holmes, on Mary Withers, pg. 210

"Notes on the Letters of Judge T. J. Withers," Author unknown.


Special thanks to:

Randolph Withers Kirkland, author of Broken Fortunes, for the Civil War history.

Bob Reynolds, archivist at the George Meany Memorial Archives in Silver Spring, Maryland, for allowing me access to the Lane Kirkland boxes.

Jeff Kirkland for the transcription of the memoir by Col. John L. Black

© research, biography and design by Katharine Moore, 2005