Joseph Travis Walsh

By Catherine H. Lewis

"Go to Horry County, Joseph. I lived with its people many years of my life and made a good living and found them though poor and primitive, yet true as steel." Joseph Travis Walsh represents in the Horry tradition those born elsewhere who came here to make their homes and who contributed significantly to the welfare of their adopted county. In his autobiography he he recorded this advice from Circuit Judge Munro of Barnwell, his mentor in whose office Walsh had studied law. He came to Conwayborough in September, 1856 to hang out his shingle when he was just twenty years old.

Joseph Travis Walsh was born in Charleston January 26, 1836. His father, a commission merchant, died when Joseph was a very small child, and he was raised in the strict Presbyterian household of his grandmother Vardell. He attended South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) and Princeton, graduating in 1854 at age nineteen. He taught school and read law in Barnwell and was admitted to the bar in May, 1856.

His practice built rapidly. “I had many friends in Charleston,” he recalled, “who were merchants and soon had a very good collecting practice. In April, 1857, I married Mary Frances Congdon, a granddaughter of my landlady, Mrs. Jane Norman, a sister of Col. James Beaty, called the King of Horry, while the county was called the Republic.”

This marriage to a member of the Beaty family provided him solid entree into the most powerful circles in the county seat. Judge Walsh became one of the leading citizens of the town and county.

A devout Presbyterian, Walsh was one of the founders of Kingston Presbyterian Church. His grave is beneath the extension of that church behind the choir loft and is noted on the marble plates embedded in its wall..

Because of his lameness he was not able to serve the Confederate forces, but instead became the mainstay of families whose menfolk were fighting. He took responsibility for the widows and orphans of those who died in the war. Since most of the ministers were away on the front lines, he performed many of the duties of clergy during that time. He spoke movingly in his autobiography of burying the many children who died in epidemics during that time.

In 1865 he was elected to the legislature without actively seeking the position. He served only briefly before he was elected district judge on December 21, 1865. In 1870 he was the first postwar commissioner of education responsible for establishing schools for both races. He continued to practice law, but in his own words the people were “too poor to go to law” in the postwar years and his income fell off. In 1881, he left Conwayborough, moved briefly to Marion, SC, and then to Wilmington, NC, before he ultimately settled in Brooklyn with a married daughter.

After he died on July 14, 1904, his body was returned to Conway for burial at Kingston Presbyterian Church. One of his eulogists wrote, “He was an ardent churchman and rigid in his views of religious duty. Be it said to his praise that he was never too busy to worship or too proud to offer a prayer.”

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