Feb. 13, 1817-Sept. 22, 1875
Anna Maria Calhoun Clemson acquired her mother’s grace and style and her father’s interest in politics. Documents show that Anna had a keen intellect and that her father valued her opinion. She was well educated and culminated her studies at a women’s academy in Columbia, S.C. John C. Calhoun encouraged Anna’s study of national events, but he noted:
“I am not one of those, who think your sex ought to have nothing to do with politicks. They have as much interest in the good condition of their country, as the other sex, tho’ it would be unbecoming them to take an active part in political struggles” (March 10, 1832).
During a visit with her father in Washington, Anna met Thomas Green Clemson. Calhoun may have felt saddened as he gave his favorite child away in marriage to Clemson in the parlor at Fort Hill on Nov. 13, 1838. Anna herself had expressed anxiety to her maid-of-honor before her marriage. “You who know my idolatry, for my father, can sympathize with my feelings” (Aug. 2, 1838). She was 21, and Clemson was 31.
They lived at Fort Hill when they were first married, and three of their children — an infant daughter who died in 1839, John Calhoun Clemson (1841-1871) and Floride Elizabeth Clemson Lee (1842-1871) — were born at Fort Hill. The Clemson’s fourth child was Cornelia Clemson (1855-1858). The Clemson family later lived at the plantation Cane Brake (near Saluda, S.C.) before Clemson accepted a diplomatic post as charge d’ affaires to Belgium. Clemson was aided in being selected for the position by his father-in-law, who was then secretary of state. Anna was not as excited about the trip as Thomas. In a letter to her father she stated:
“I suppose you want to know what I think & feel about this weighty matter. In the first place were I a few years younger or my children a few years older I should enjoy the idea of visiting Europe much. … Moving about has not for me the pleasures it had & my children are at the most troublesome age. If they were old enough to be amused or profited by the trip I might enjoy their pleasure. Then I am so completely out of [the] habit of society that the idea of returning to [its] ceremonies & etiquettes especially in a position that in however small a degree renders them incumbent on me is rather irksome…” (June 1, 1844).
The Clemsons did move to Belgium, and it was during their stay in Europe that the Fort Hill portraits of Anna and her two children were painted. Anna is painted in her court dress; her children are pictured with family pets, a cockatoo and a whippet. Anna, like her mother, was welcomed into the pomp and circumstance of society life, and she was a gracious hostess to the court of King Leopold I. A souvenir from Belgium is a Spanish lace scarf from the Queen of Spain.
After the Clemsons returned to the United States, they lived in Maryland, and Anna managed their farm, the Home, during the years preceding the Civil War. In 1865, Anna and her daughter Floride lived with Mrs. Calhoun in Pendleton. Probably the most dramatic evidence of Anna Clemson’s courage and love of her children was her trek through enemy territory to visit her son Calhoun Clemson, who was in a federal prison on Johnson Island in Lake Erie. Sadly, both of Anna’s children were buried 17 days apart during the summer of 1871. Calhoun, age 30, died of injuries from a train wreck; Floride, age 28, died of a lingering illness. Anna and Thomas retired to Fort Hill in 1872 and lived there for the remainder of their lives.
Anna’s decorative influence is noticeable in the Victorian-furnished parlor. The porcelain vases, the whatnot shelf or étagère, the heavy window curtains and cornices aid in giving this room a cluttered Victorian atmosphere. Anna, like her mother, played the piano. Her large square grand piano is located inside the door of the parlor. Anna’s personal belongings were very fashionable, including her gold loop pierced earrings. Probably her most valuable historical contribution is her inventory of Fort Hill, a document providing a detailed description of the house contents.
Anna Maria died from a sudden heart attack on Sept. 22, 1875. It was her wish that her husband preserve her father’s house and use the land for a state agricultural college. Today, Clemson University occupies the former Fort Hill plantation, with the house at the center of the campus.