Skip to main content

John Gary Evans papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-1649

The collection consists of approximately 7.5 linear feet of materials (plus two oversized folders) that primarily document the legal and political career of John Gary Evans (JGE). In date, the collection ranges from approximately 1793 to 1940, with the bulk of the papers ranging from 1880 to 1934. The collection is composed primarily of correspondence but also includes a photograph album, newspaper clippings, essays, and materials pertaining to Evans' participation in the Spanish-American War. The collection is divided into three series: correspondence, Spanish-American War materials, and miscellaneous materials. Series I, Correspondence

This series consists of incoming and outgoing correspondence relating to JGE's lengthy career as a lawyer, as well as some materials pertaining to his participation as a member of the House of Representatives, governor of the State of South Carolina, and as a candidate for election in the South Carolina Senate. For the most part, the outgoing correspondence reflects his career as a lawyer. In early years, JGE worked to collect debts, and most of the letters reflect this activity. In later years, he acted as more of a corporate lawyer. Outgoing correspondence consists of his letter copybooks plus letters that were bound together at the South Caroliniana Library in later years.

The incoming correspondence reflects JGE's legal career, but it also offers significant insight into his role as a South Carolina legislator. In particular, there is a great deal of correspondence from 1894, the year he successfully ran for governor. Correspondents include family members (on both the Gary and Evans side of the family), political peers, lawyers, businessmen, temperance advocates, dispensary system advocates, suffrage advocates, and education reformers.

The series contains the political correspondence of John Laurens Manning Irby (Representative, 1886-1890; Senator, 1891-1897) and Benjamin Ryan Tillman (Governor 1890-1894; Senator, 1894-1918). Irby, Tillman, and Evans were political allies for several years until the relationship splintered in the 1890s. The dynamics of the split are evident in their correspondence. Early letters from Irby to JGE reveal the former's support for the young politician. Irby candidly discusses both South Carolina and national politics, the role of Tillmanites in politics, federal patronage, the Democratic party, and JGE's chances of winning elected positions. Irby also discussed his personal and professional feelings for Tillman in many of his letters to JGE. On February 8, 1892 he wrote of Tillman's habit of talking too much: “That disposition of his of horning to the right and left friend and foe will play hell with him if he don't stop it.” In later years, though, due to the strain in their relationship (professionally and personally), Irby and JGE corresponded much less.

Tillman also wrote very frequently to JGE. While JGE was active in the South Carolina legislature, Tillman wrote to him about policy and about the political platform/position of Tillmanites. In later years, Tillman offered him advice and urged him (after JGE unsuccessfully campaigned for Senatorial election four times) to assume less of a prominent position in South Carolina politics, that his presence could still be felt in other ways and in other areas.

Correspondents include South Carolina and national figures representative of the Southern political climate of the Progressive Era. The following is a selective list of individuals (primarily South Carolina personages) with whom JGE corresponded:

Benjamin Livingston Abney T. H. Ketchin Robert Aldrich John G. Landrom J. A. Banks J. J. Littlejohn W. Christie Benet R. J. Manning Governor Cole L. Blease J. D. Marshall James F. Byrens W. C. McGowan W. C. Cathcart J. J. McMahan Niels Christensen Honorable Henry Morgenthau David R. Coker A. Howard Patterson Cyprian Melanchton Efird George T. Pringle Barnard Bee Evans J. P. Richardson Gary T. Evans Franklin Delano Roosevelt (June 3, 1924) George H. Fearons S. W. Scruggs Eugene Blackburn Gary W. O. Tatum Frank B. Gary T. B. Thackston Martin Witherspoon Gary J. William Thurmond James H. Glenn Benjamin Ryan Tillman Senator Thomas P. Gore Henry C. Tillman Walter Hazard James H. Tillman W. H. Ingram R. J. Wade John Laurens Manning Irby A. L. Walsh J. C. Jeffries W. Gibbes Whaley General Wiley/Wilie Jones President Woodrow Wilson (October 7, 1914)

Series II, Spanish-American War Materials

Although JGE originally opposed the war in Cuba, when America entered it, he volunteered and received the rank of Colonel. Contained in this series are military publications that he must have referred to while stationed in Havana. Also included in this series is JGE's certification of military commission stating that he received the rank of Colonel. Governor B. R. Tillman signed and sealed the document on December 6, 1890.

Series III, Miscellaneous

Materials found in this series form a seemingly disparate collection. On the one hand, some documents pertain specifically to JGE and his family; on the other hand, several older legal documents might represent materials that JGE obtained as a lawyer or possibly from distant relatives.

Materials pertaining to JGE and his family include an unattributed essay (“The Ancient and Honorable Lineage of Governor John Gary Evans”) on the Gary and Evans families' lineages; a biography of Martin Witherspoon Gary compiled by JGE and his aunt, Louella Pauline Gary, but never published; calling cards collected by JGE; newspaper clippings and article reprints pertaining to JGE's legal career and his involvement in the South Carolina dispensary; and the text of a commencement address JGE delivered at Leesville College on June 15, 1893. The series also includes a certificate of articles of incorporation entitling JGE and several associates to establish the Times Publishing Company in Aiken, South Carolina, in 1892. A certificate of admission for JGE to practice law in the state of Georgia (from 1885) is also found in the series. The series also includes a cabinet-style photograph album which includes numerous photographs of JGE. The album, which primarily contains cartes de visites and formal portraits, also includes many images of unidentified individuals.

Legal documents found in this series include a bond, a deed, and several grants. Several of the materials pertain to members of the Collins and Tyler families. It is not known whether these were distant relatives of Evans or if they at one time owned land that eventually became Gary or Evans family land. Lastly, this series contains a revised copy of a plat (originally drawn in 1937) pertaining to a proposed re-subdivision in Edgefield, South Carolina, where Martin Witherspoon Gary had lived. Late in his life, JGE made the decision to turn the home into a historic house. This plat may have represented part of his involvement in this process. Series List

I (Boxes 1-5) - Correspondence, 1793-1940 (bulk 1880-1934). II (Boxes 5-6) - Spanish-American War Materials, 1897-1899. III (Boxes 6-8) - Miscellaneous, 1888-1938, nd.


  • 1793 - 1940
  • Majority of material found within 1880 - 1934


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.


7.5 Linear Feet (6 cartons)

Biographical / Historical

It has truly been said that of all the States of the Union the citizens of South Carolina are possessed of more characteristic individuality. . . . We are South Carolinians from birth and choice, Southerners from principle, and Americans from force of circumstances. We cannot compromise principle, we will not surrender our birthright, and we must make the best of our surrounding circumstances.*

On December 4, 1894, Governor John Gary Evans spoke these words to South Carolina in his inaugural address. His election and subsequent term in office represented the high point in a long and sometimes tumultuous career in South Carolina politics. John Gary Evans was born into a long line of prominent and eminent South Carolinian men. His name reflects his heritage. Gary was his mother's maiden name; his Gary uncles all fought in the Civil War and had long careers as lawyers in South Carolina and Georgia. His surname also reflects a lineage of South Carolina Civil War heroes, legislators, and men of law. From an early age, it appeared that Evans was destined to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors in his life as a lawyer, legislator, governor, and Spanish-American War veteran.

John Gary Evans was born on October 15, 1863, in Cokesbury in Abbeville County, South Carolina. His father was Nathan George Evans, a decorated Civil War soldier, and his mother was Ann Victoria Gary. He was one of four children: a sister, Mary Martin, and two brothers, Nathan George and Barnard Bee. In 1869 Evans' father died. John Gary Evans grew up at the Edgefield home of his uncle and guardian Martin Witherspoon Gary. He graduated from Cokesbury Conference School in Cokesbury, South Carolina. From there, he enrolled at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He was to graduate in 1883; however, his uncle died in 1881 and Evans had to withdraw from the college for financial reasons.

Evans returned to the South and studied law under another uncle, William T. Gary. Around 1887, Evans was admitted to the bar in South Carolina, and established a practice in Aiken. He began his career as a collector of unpaid accounts for local merchants. He also represented the poor farmers of the area (both white and African American) in suits against railroads to seek restitution for loss of livestock killed by moving trains. By 1890 Evans evolved into a corporation lawyer. The Carolina, Cumberland Gap and Chicago Railroad retained him as counsel. He also acted as counsel for several Aiken (and later Spartanburg) local banks.

Evans had political aspirations from the start of his legal career. From an early point in his career, he established relationships with Benjamin Ryan Tillman and John Laurens Manning Irby, two prominent South Carolina legislators. Evans probably owed a great deal of his political success to the support and backing of these two men. Evans was a staunch supporter of Benjamin Tillman and Tillmanism. As a Tillmanite, Evans supported agricultural reform at the state level. Ironically, Evans was always a bit of an anomaly to Tillmanism, as he seemed to represent the very forces they fought against. He was from a wealthy family, was educated, and practiced law. By all accounts, he appeared to be a southern aristocrat; however, he captured the attention of Tillmanites with his pledge to help the plight of poor, white, Southern farmers.

In 1888 he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. At age twenty-five, Gary was the youngest member of the House. His tenure as a state representative was a successful one – in the eyes of the Tillmanites. He worked for the repeal of the Reconstruction Civil Rights Law and supported a Jim Crow law that provided for segregated coaches on trains. He worked for the introduction of the Separate School Act (allowing school districts to levy extra taxes for school purposes), the County Government Act (designed to meet the growing protest against the convict lease program), and supported an act opening South Carolina College to women. He also supported a bill to regulate hours of labor in factories.

During the years Evans served as a representative, he never failed to show his support for Tillman. He supported Governor Tillman's proposal for the establishment of a dispensary system as the most feasible plan for limiting the sale of alcoholic beverages; in fact, in 1892 Evans campaigned for and won the nomination to the Senate partially on the basis of his position regarding the dispensary system. From 1892 to 1894, while Evans represented the state in the Senate, he worked closely with Governor Tillman. In 1892 the South Carolina Liquor Law (also referred to as the Tillman Liquor Law) was passed. This law set up the dispensary system in South Carolina. The Supreme Court of South Carolina declared it illegal the following year, but Tillman, Evans, Irby, and other supporters continued to fight for it.

Evans had served only half of his senatorial term when he won the South Carolina gubernatorial election in 1894; at the time, he was the youngest governor South Carolina had ever elected. Several issues marked his term in office: a continuance of the policies of Tillman, the maintenance of the dispensary system, the establishment of the South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1895, and the removal of the two-mill school tax. By and large, Evans continued to administer the policies and programs established under Tillman. As part of his support for the dispensary law, he provided for the establishment of the metropolitan police force in Charleston, a state force designed to enforce dispensary policies. Support of the dispensary system was a major theme that ran throughout Evans' term and office. Ultimately though, the dispensary system became the center of controversy concerning alleged fraud and scandal.

One of the highlights of Evans' gubernatorial term was his role at the 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Convention where he served as president. Evans had supported the idea of a constitutional convention since 1890. He and his supporters hoped to replace the Reconstruction constitution of 1868. The new constitution effectively disenfranchised most African-American voters, forbade interracial marriages, and legalized school segregation. At the same time it provided for stricter enforcement of lynching crimes and instituted a policy of term limits for South Carolina governors (two terms).

Evans, a confirmed bachelor, made a passing comment during his campaign for governor that he would marry upon leaving office. While on a business trip to New York, he met Emily Mansfield Plume, the daughter of David Scott Plume and Abbie Cameron Plume of Waterbury, Connecticut. The two carried on a courtship while Evans was in office. They married on December 15, 1897. Their daughter, Emily Victoria, was born in August 1899.

Evans believed that with the support of Tillman and Irby, he had a chance at winning the United States Senate race in 1896. Unfortunately, he was not successful and had already determined that he would not run for reelection as the governor. When a Senate seat opened unexpectedly in 1897, he once again unsuccessfully campaigned for it. These two successive losses marked the beginning of Evans' political demise as an elected official.

In 1898 Evans volunteered for service in the Spanish-American War. He served as a Major and as Inspector General in the First Division, Seventh Army Corps, United States Army. In Havana, Cuba, he assisted in organizing the civil government of that city after the war. After the Spanish-American War Evans and his family relocated to Spartanburg, where he reestablished his law practice.

Evans ran for the Senate again in 1902 and 1908 before he finally decided to assume a less prominent role in South Carolina politics. He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1900, 1912, and 1916. In 1914 he was chosen chairman of the Democratic State Executive Committee. In 1918 he became the National Democratic Committeeman from South Carolina, a position he held until 1928. In 1922 Evans was elected to the House one more time; he served Spartanburg in the Seventy-Fifth General Assembly from 1923 to 1924. He was on the judiciary and rules committees.

Throughout his life, Evans also remained active in civic and business interests in Aiken and Spartanburg. He was director of the Bank of Aiken for some years, director of the Bank of Commerce in Spartanburg, and director of the Carolina and Georgia Railway. Evans was a Mason, a Knight of Pythias, a Woodman of the World, and a member of the Order of Red Men. He also participated in the Delta Phi Club, the Waterbury (Connecticut) Club, and the South Carolina Historical Society.

Evans died on June 27, 1942, two months after his wife's death. He is buried in Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield, South Carolina. Throughout his life, Evans, a proponent of partisan politics, never swayed from his position as a Democrat and a Southern Progressive. Evans was hostile to the protective tariff. He supported suffrage for white women; however, he hoped to limit it for African Americans. He supported free silver. While he was not a prohibitionist, he upheld the right of the State to regulate the sale of liquor. He advocated for the direct election of United States Senators. He sought relief for factory workers through state action. He supported the notion of an income tax long before it came to national prominence. He advocated for a lower tariff. He opposed abuses of power by the federal courts and favored popular election of judges in South Carolina. He pushed for reform measures in local government. He also opposed the federal policy of imperialism adopted by the government. What most clearly identified him as a Southern progressive was his determination to overturn Reconstruction-era legislative measures and his exclusion of minorities in all of the reform measures he supported.


American Historical Society. The History of South Carolina: Biographical Volume. Volume IV. New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., c 1935.

Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776-1985. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.

Evans, John. “Inaugural Address of John Gary Evans, Governor, Before the Legislature of South Carolina, in Joint Assembly, Tuesday, December 4, 1894.” Columbia, South Carolina, 1894.

Garlington, J. C. Men of the Time: Sketches of Living Notables, A Biographical Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous South Carolina Leaders. Spartanburg, SC: Garlington Publishing Co., 1902.

Hendrick, Carlanna Lindawood. John Gary Evans: A Political Biography. Diss. University of South Carolina, 1966.

Schel, Robert and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978. Volume IV. Westport, CT: Mecker Bros., 1979.


Also includes accessions number 1001, 1938, 2869, 4115, 8014, and 9370.

Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script