The People, Places, Events, History, Businesses, and Music of Upstate SC

The Founding of Clemson University

Thomas Green Clemson, (July 1, 1807 – April 6, 1888) born in Philadelphia, was an American politician and statesman who served as an ambassador in the Buchanan administration as the Chargé d’affaires  to Belgium starting October 4, 1844 and ending January 8, 1852.  He was also the United States Superintendent of Agriculture in the Buchanan administration from 1860 to 1861. On November 13, 1838. At the age of 31, Clemson married Anna Maria Calhoun, daughter of John C. Calhoun and Floride Calhoun.  John C. Calhoun was the noted Senator from South Carolina and 7th Vice President of the United States.

After Calhoun’s death, Floride Calhoun, Anna Calhoun Clemson, and two other Calhoun children inherited the Fort Hill Plantation near Pendleton, South Carolina.

As the threat of civil war became a reality, Clemson resigned his post as United States Superintendent of Agriculture on March 4, 1861 and stood on the side of his  adopted state.  Following the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861,  fifty-four-year-old Clemson enlisted in the Confederacy and was assigned to the  Army of the Trans-Mississippi Department where he worked in Arkansas and Texas developing nitrate mines for explosives.  He was paroled on June 9, 1865  at Shreveport, Louisiana, after four years of service. His son, Captain John Calhoun Clemson, enlisted in the Confederate States Army and spent two years  in a Union prison camp on Johnson’s Island, in Lake Erie, Ohio.

Founding Clemson University

Outliving his wife and his children, Clemson drafted a final will in the mid-1880s. The will called for the establishment of a land-grant institution  called “The Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina” upon the property of the Fort Hill estate. He believed that education, especially scientific education, leads to economic prosperity. He wanted to start an agricultural college because he felt that government officials did not appreciate  the importance of an agricultural education.

Although the college was de facto an all-white, all-male college when it opened, Clemson did not explicitly ban women or African-Americans from attending, unlike  the founders of Vanderbilt, Tulane, Rice and other southern universities. The military college, founded in 1889, opened its doors in 1893 to 446 cadets. Clemson Agricultural College was renamed Clemson University in 1964.  A statue of Thomas Green Clemson, as well as the Fort Hill house, are located on the campus. The town of Calhoun that bordered the campus was renamed Clemson  in 1943.

Richard Wright Simpson (Dick) was Clemson’s lawyer and per Clemson’s wishes and his will, Mr. Simpson helped to set up the land grant university. He served as the University’s first President of Trustees .  Richard’s father, Richard Franklin Simpson, was a  member of the U.S House of Representatives and was also a signer of the Ordinance of Secession when South Carolina seceded from the Union. Richard Franklin and his brother Taliaferro (Tally) were both students at Wofford College in Spartanburg when the war broke out and both were granted early graduation.  They enlisted in April of 1861 in the Confederate Army.

Richard Wright survived the war but Tally was killed at the battle at Chickamauga on September 20th, 1863 at age 24. Tally had a body servant with him at the battle and the servant took his body and buried him in the woods, returning later with the family to recover the body and bury him near his home in Pendleton. A book written by Ed Simpson (no relation) entitled “Far, Far From Home” is a collection of the wartime letters Dick and Tally sent home describing their camp life and battle experiences. It makes for very interesting and enlightening reading.

Other notable individuals associated with the University and the Pendleton area are:

 John Heisman for whom the coveted trophy is named. He was head football coach from 1900 through the 1903 season.

Confederate General Bernard E. Bee , Killed at age 37 at the first battle of Manassas , is buried at the Episcopal Church in Pendleton very near Thomas Clemson.  It was General Bee who gave Stonewall Jackson the name “Stonewall” during the battle that would claim his life.

To read the entire October 2016 issue of Upstate Exposures Magazine, please click here.

Randy Simpson, Contributor

Randy is a graduate of Clemson University and veteran of the U.S. Airforce. He is a 10th generation South Carolinian and history buff. He also plays bass for Loaded Toad. Randy will be covering Upstate history for Upstate Exposures. You may contact him directly at

The Founding of Clemson University
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The Founding of Clemson University
A brief history of the founding of Clemson University
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Upstate Exposures Magazine
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