Election season seems the perfect time to showcase a piece of local voting history, and the Charleston Archive is proud to announce the completion of a transcription of the names and address of the men who voted in the city’s municipal election of 1877. These voters, numbering more than seven thousand black, white, Chinese, and Hispanic males, registered in early November 1877 to elect Charleston’s mayor and aldermen (City Council members) in early December of that year. The record of their names and addresses was preserved in the surviving documents of the city’s Commissioners of Elections, 1877–1879, which are now housed at the Charleston Archive at the Charleston County Public Library.
During a three-day period in early November 1877, 9,586 Charleston men registered to vote in the upcoming city election. One month later, on 11 December, 7,216 of the eligible voters went to their neighborhood polling place to cast their ballot. At the end of the day, Democratic candidate William W. Sale was proclaimed the new mayor, defeating Independent candidate D. F. Fleming.
The surviving records of these 1877 voters consist of twelve crumbling volumes, each of which represents a distinct election precinct in the city. At that time the city was divided into eight wards, each of which was further divided into precincts based on population density. Charleston had sixteen voting precincts in 1877, but the voter ledgers for four of these precincts are lost. Nevertheless, the surviving twelve volumes contain a wealth of information about the city’s demographics at that time. It was a precarious moment for voter rights in Charleston, following closely the end of the era of federal Reconstruction (which enfranchised black voters) and preceding the voter exclusion acts known as Jim Crow laws.
The 1877 ledgers contain the names and addresses of a total of 7,189 registered voters In addition, each of the precinct ledgers also includes numbers indicating the order in which these men registered and voted in the election. All voters were issued registration certificates in November, which they handed to the poll managers in December in order to cast their ballot. In order to prevent voter fraud, these certificates were either destroyed on the spot or filed for destruction at a later time, and the surviving precinct ledgers records this data as well.
Charleston Archive staff member Celeste Wiley spent many months transcribing the names, addresses, and other data from these 1877 records, and we are proud to make the fruit of her work available in two forms. First, the South Carolina Room at the CCPL’s main branch (68 Calhoun Street) has a paper copy of her work, which includes an introduction, illustrations, and appendices. A bound copy is now available in the S.C. Room under the title “The City of Charleston Voter Records of 1877: An Index of Names Transcribed from the Records of the Commissioners of Elections.” Second, we have made a PDF version of this transcription, which we are happy to distribute here.
To download the PDF file (2.1 mb), click this link: The City of Charleston Voter Records of 1877: An Index of Names Transcribed from the Records of the Commissioners of Elections.