Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Robert Elliott of South Carolina left the House of Representatives in 1874 and resumed his career in the South Carolina state house where he became speaker.
On this date, African-American Representative Robert Elliott
of South Carolina was likely born to West Indian parents in Liverpool, England. The circumstances of Robert Brown Elliott’s early life are enigmatic. He claimed to have been born in Boston, and to have attended Britain’s prestigious Eton College, before being wounded in service in the Union Navy. However, the ambitious young man may have invented his American citizenship and embellished his credentials in order to be an eligible and desirable candidate for political office. It is more likely that, after learning the typesetter’s trade in England, Elliott served in the British Navy, arriving on a warship in Boston. The historical record picks him up in Charleston, South Carolina, in late 1867 working as a newspaper editor. Elliott stood out as both intellectually gifted and well-educated when he dove into Reconstruction-era Republican politics in his new home. When he was elected to Congress in 1870, his dark skin came as a shock next to his mixed-race colleagues. “I shall never forget [my first day in Congress],” Elliott later recalled. “I found myself the center of attraction. Everything was still.” Elliott proved a gifted orator, earning national attention for his opposition to granting amnesty and defense of the 1875 Civil Rights Bill. However, Elliott abruptly resigned his seat in 1874 to return to South Carolina politics, where he was elected as speaker of the state’s house of representatives, serving from 1874 to 1876. The end of Reconstruction forced Elliott out of politics. He died in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 9, 1884.