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Preston Brooks

Preston Brooks was born in Edgefield County and attended South Carolina College (now University of South Carolina). Before graduation, he was expelled for threatening local police officers with firearms. It was an act that foreshadowed his future that put his name in the history books and added to the violent reputation of Edgefield.

Brooks was a member of the South Carolina House Representatives in 1844, and elected to the 33rd United States Congress in 1853. As a democrat and much like his fellow South Carolina legislators, he was fervently pro-States Rights.

In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts made a speech against admitting Kansas into the Union as a slave state and all those who supported it, specifically mocking Senator Andrew P. Butler (a cousin of Brooks).

Two days later, Brooks walked into Sumner’s chamber and beat him with a cane until he was unconscious. He later said that Sumner wasn’t a gentleman and didn’t deserve to be challenged to a duel. Instead, he chose to use a cane to beat him “like the dog he was.”

Sumner recovered and Brooks resigned, only to be re-elected immediately after. This political scandal seemed to be a symbol of not only the infamously violent culture in Edgefield, but also of society during this time, which soon crumbled into Civil War.

Preston Brooks is buried in Edgefield Village Cemetery, next to the First Baptist Church in Edgefield. You can experience this story and others for yourself by braving Edgefield’s Murders & Mayhem tour.

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