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South Carolina Archives
Series Description

Petitions to the General Assembly, 1776-1883


CALL NUMBER:        S 165015

CREATOR: General Assembly.

TITLE: Petitions to the General Assembly

DATE: 1776-1883; (bulk 1782-1866)

VOLUME: 66.00 cubic ft., 0.01 cubic ft., and 109.00 microfilm reels

ARRANGEMENT: Series arranged chronologically by year and there under by assigned number with the items bearing no contemporary recording of date (N.D. or No Date items) filed separately and there under by assigned number. Oversized items are also filed and microfilmed separately.

SUMMARY SCOPE NOTE: Legislative petitions generally take the form of written requests from state citizens submitted to the General Assembly, requesting that the Assembly use its authority to redress a particular wrong. The custom of petitioning in South Carolina grew from old English practice. This series is indispensable in showing how the General Assembly thought and worked in this period, detailing much about everyday life, concerns, and problems and documenting the legislature as the most powerful and pervasive governmental entity in South Carolina.

Responding to petitions allowed the legislature to exercise power that affected the whole state and sometimes reached directly into individual lives. In this category, some of the matters they regularly considered were: divorce (which only they could grant), freedom for an owner's slaves, the amount of education a slave could receive, proper observance of the Sabbath, and citizens' upkeep of the roads near their residences. More comprehensive and wider subjects of petitions include the legal system; penal system; legislative system; slavery; internal improvements; inland navigation; religion; incorporation of churches, societies, and companies; military matters; elections; education; foreign affairs; Indian affairs; relations with other states; state finance; and banking.

Petitions are in manuscript form although a few printed petitions are also present. Information includes the problem, requested redress, and signature of the petitioner(s). There may be as few as one signer or as many as several hundred. The petition was usually given to the legislator of the petitioner's district of residence who, in turn, presented the petition to the General Assembly for consideration.

INDEX/FINDING AID: Entire series indexed at the item level to personal names, geographic locations, and topics in the repository's On- line Index to Legislative Papers, 1782-1866. Most of this series indexed to the item level in a fifteen-reel computer-output-microfilm (COM) Index to Legislative Papers made available by the repository in 1991. The numeric code 0010 003 was used to designate this series in the computer output microfilm index.

None of the names of individuals signing petitions from the "Inhabitants of" a geographic location, "Sundry inhabitants," and similar groups were indexed on petitions dated prior to 1831. Indexing of personal names was more generally limited to the first ten legible names per petition for these early petitions, with names in the text taking priority over names of signers. The same limitations on indexing of personal names apply to petitions with assigned no date (N.D.) numbers lower than 2290. The first twenty legible names were indexed on petitions dated after 1831 and or with no date (N.D.) numbers higher than 2290.

The names of businesses, manufacturing firms, specific railroad companies, similar incorporations, churches, educational institutions, benevolent and social organizations, banks, fire companies, and military organizations were indexed with topics.

Some attempt has been made to provide circa dates for those items that do not bear a contemporary recording of a date.

Six hundred and thirteen (613) petitions relating to race and slavery are also indexed on-line on the Race and Slavery Petitions project Website at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

ADDITIONAL FORM: Entire series also available on microfilm produced by the repository.

Six hundred and thirteen (613) petitions relating to race and slavery also available on microfilm produced from photocopies as part of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Thirty-two of these are published in Loren, Schweninger, editor, The Southern Debate over Slavery: Petitions to Southern Legislatures, 1778-1864 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001).  This publication is available on line at the University of Illinois Press website.

GENERAL NOTE: Seven folders, 1800-1836, boxed with Committee Reports, 1805-1879.

HIERARCHICAL NOTE: Forms part of the records of the General Assembly.