South Carolina State Waltz – Richardson Waltz

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SC State Waltz – Richardson Waltz

South Carolina's State Waltz: A Song – Not a Dance

Believe it or not, South Carolina's State Waltz is a song – not a dance. The music, evolved over a period of perhaps 300 years or more, has been passed down by ear through generations of the Richardson family.

The waltz is a traditional European musical form, typically identified by the 1.2.3-1.2.3 rhythm. Chances are you've heard many examples of the waltz in popular music. "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is a great example of a waltz. "Take It To The Limit" by The Eagles is another one, and even Avril Lavigne has done her version with "I'm With You."

South Carolina's Richardson Family

The Richardson family is significant to South Carolina for several reasons. For starters, it's responsible for six of our governors!

The family's founder, Brigadier General Richard Richardson, arrived in South Carolina in the 1730s. A surveyor by trade, he emigrated from Virginia and established himself as a planter at Big Home in Clarendon County. Among many other civil and military accomplishments, he served valiantly as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War.

Most notably, Richardson commanded the important Snow Campaign of 1775, in which the Americans squelched Tory sympathies in the backcountry of our state, unifying this region of South Carolina for the long fight ahead. Four years later, the war still raging, Richardson retired from the army at age 76. Soon after, Lord Charles Cornwallis, who'd found himself with remarkably fewer friends than he'd had five years earlier, sought to buy Richardson's allegiance for the British crown. Richardson refused with flourish:
I have from the convictions of my mind embarked in a cause which I think righteous and just; I have knowingly staked my life, family, and property all upon the issue. I am prepared to suffer or triumph with it, and would rather die a thousand deaths than betray my country or deceive my friends.
As a result, he was promptly captured in Charlestowne and imprisoned in St. Augustine, Florida. There, the aging hero fell ill and was returned to Big Home under house arrest. He died a short time later and lies buried in Richardson Cemetery near Rimini.

Richardson Cemetery near Rimini, South Carolina
Richardson Cemetery near Rimini © Gretchen Huggins

Richardson's son, James Burchell Richardson, served as the governor of South Carolina from 1802 through 1804 – starting a long family tradition. He was followed as the head of our state by John Peter Richardson, Jr (who also founded the Citadel); John Peter Richardson, III; Richard I. Manning; John L. Manning; and Richard I. Manning, III. (The latter three descended from Susannah Richardson, Richard Richardson's daughter. She married Laurence Manning; thus they bear her husband's last name instead.)

Head Richardsons & Foot Richardsons

Members of the Richardson clan long categorized themselves into two camps: Head Richardsons and Foot Richardsons. Head Richardsons tended to be cerebral, often becoming doctors or lawyers. Foot Richardsons, however, were certainly no laggards. Elegant and charming, they thrived at both parties and politics. As Anne King Gregorie notes in her History of Sumter County, South Carolina, "The social graces of the 'foot Richardsons' were assets, for three of the family became governors, as also did three of their cousins, the Mannings." This makes sense, especially given the fact that many of them were elected by their peers, not by popular vote. (See above; all six descended from Richard Richardson.)

Excellent entertainers, the term "foot" may well have arisen from their propensity to dance and mingle – to step through society's hoops with ease and style. It is easy to imagine gatherings at their family plantations, Big Home and Momus Hall – gatherings which would surely have centered around music. Their own special song, which they called the Richardson Waltz, was passed down from generation to generation. Originally, the song may have come over from England, but through the years, a family member would add his or her unique touch, making it more and more the family's own.

Preserving the Waltz for History

In 1985, at the urging of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mary Richardson Briggs documented this historic piece of music, translating the notes to paper for all South Carolinians to enjoy. Mary, who learned the song from her aunt, died in June of 2008. Fortunately for everyone in the Palmetto State, Mary's great-niece Gretchen Huggins filmed her great aunt playing this delightful waltz shortly before she passed away. Gretchen has generously contributed her video to SCIWAY, and for this we extend to her our heartfelt gratitude. If it were not for Gretchen, none of us would be able to hear our own State Waltz! (The song is not currently available to the public in sheet music form.)

Mary Richardson Briggs with Portrait of General Richardson
Mary Richardson Briggs with Portrait of General Richardson

South Carolina's State Legislature adopted the waltz as a symbol of the Palmetto State in 2000. The bill reads:
This waltz is a beautiful and soulful melody, is a memento of the musical tradition of the Richardson family, has for many generations played an unofficial but important role in the musical history of South Carolina, and is deserving of designation as the Official State Waltz.
Read the complete wording of the Richardson Waltz Act.

More on the SC State Waltz & The Richardson Family

In November 2008, SCIWAY had the great fortune of spending an afternoon with Gretchen Huggins, who is descended on her father's side from the Richardsons. Gretchen grew up in North Carolina, but upon moving to South Carolina several years ago, quickly became an expert in her family's history.

The videos below are chock full of interesting information. Watch them to learn more about Brigadier General Richard Richardson, who fought bravely in the Revolutionary War ... Mary Briggs Richardson, who transcribed South Carolina's State Waltz ... and a funny little family legend that just may explain why the Richardson family has produced more SC governors than any other!

"Aunt Mary" & Gretchen,
Dressed in Her Reenactment Dress

  • Gretchen Huggins talks about her forefather, Brigadier General Richard Richardson:

  • Gretchen Huggins remembers her great aunt, Mary Richardson Briggs:

  • Gretchen Huggins discusses Head Richardsons and Foot Richardsons:

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