16 July 2008

Bank failures are nothing new

We are surrounded by bad financial news. Turn on your television set, listen to Talk or National Public Radio, visit the major news outlets online, (such as CNN) and you will find out plenty about bank failures.

Beaufort District did not have any local financial institution before Gen. Saxton advocated a bank for the newly freed slaves to learn "habits of carefulness and prudence"during the Civil War.
  • You can peruse the online version of "New South Newspaper," a part of the University of South Carolina's Digital Collections, to read more about Gen. Saxton's efforts to get a branch of the Freedman's Bank in Beaufort.
  • We also hold the New South, Free South, and Palmetto Herald on microfilm at Beaufort Branch and Hilton Head Island Branch libraries for the customer who loves reading old newspapers. [It can take awhile, but oh, it is ever so much fun!]
You can read plenty about the Reconstruction era financial difficulties in "Bankless in Beaufort: A Reexamination of the 1873 Failure of the Freedmans Savings Branch at Beaufort, South Carolina," by John Martin Davis, Jr. in the South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 104, January 2003, pp. 25-55. The author is both an attorney as well as an accountant. It takes both skill sets to figure out what really happened!
  • You can find the South Carolina Historical Magazine in the Beaufort District Collection and at our Hilton Head Island Branch Library.
  • If you want to see Freedmen's Bank Records, it is a part of the Ancestry Library Edition subscription database available at all our Beaufort County Library branches.
  • When the Freedmen's Bank failed, it left behind some crucial records for anyone doing African-American family research. Although the extent of the information can vary widely, it is one of the best sources of genealogical information to get you ever closer to that key 1870 Census.
  • Ask any of our Reference staff for assistance in using Ancestry Library Edition and one or more of its 3000+ databases.

For 20th century bank failures, let's visit the year 1926.

Beaufort County had 3 banks at the start of the year. By September, only 2 survived. 7 persons were tried in Federal court for the Bank of Beaufort failure. When W.J. Thomas was appointed Receiver, it took 6 cars to tote the books, records, papers and documents to Columbia for the trial. You can follow what transpired through the backfiles of the Beaufort Gazette, available at both our Beaufort and Hilton Head Branch libraries.

Here's an excerpt from the front page of the Beaufort Gazette's January 12, 1928 issue to whet your appetite:

Some of the defendants are also listed in our Online Obituary File index. The obituary cards are on file in the BDC. You can come read the appropriate cards and make photocopies of them for yourself during our regular hours of operation.

According to Alexia Helsley in Beaufort: A History (2005), p. 175:

"On 10 July 1926, the Bank of Beaufort closed, never to reopen. Its failure was unexpected with a wide-ranging effect. Individuals’ savings disappeared, as did business accounts and credit opportunities. The bank closing cost several of the Beaufort churches their savings and checking accounts....According to Judge Thomas, the bank failure plunged Beaufort into a depression that lasted until 1939.”
How can you learn more the history of banking or other economic activities in Beaufort County?

  • Check out Helsley's book from any of our five Local History sections at the Branch Libraries. The call number is Local History 975.799 HEL.
  • Come to the BDC to read the contents of the Banks [BDC Vertical File]. It contains newspaper clippings on preservation paper to give you a quick start to your research.
  • You can use the Martin Newspaper Index to locate additional news articles from the Palmetto Post (1882-1906) and the Beaufort Gazette (1903-1936). Copies of the Martin Newspaper Index are available in the Beaufort District Collection, the Beaufort and Hilton Head Island Branch Libraries.
  • You can read and print articles from the Palmetto Post and Beaufort Gazette at both the Beaufort and Hilton Head Island Branch Libraries. We charge .25 per photocopy of microfilm page.
  • Review the blog post for May 19, 2008 "Interested in Industry?" -- gmc

The Beaufort District Collection is a division of the Beaufort County Library, a department of Beaufort County Government of South Carolina.

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