NEWBERRY COUNTY — What do Newberry history, folk tales, and medicine have in common? If you asked anyone that question around 1870, they would know the answer: O.B. Mayer.
Orlando Benedict Mayer was born in 1818 and is a descendant of German immigrant Ulrich Mayer, who received his Kings Land grant near Pomaria. There are three O.B. Mayers, and they are all physicians and they are related.
One is the father, one is the son and the last one is the grandson.
The first Orlando Benedict Mayer was born near Pomaria and graduated from South Carolina College in 1837 and from the Charleston Medical College. He married Daisy Davis and settled down to practice medicine in the Dutch Fork.
However his plans of a life with Daisy were unexpectedly interrupted when his new bride suddenly died a year after they were married.
In 1844, he packed his bags and went to study medicine and other academic pursuits in Europe. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, traveled to Paris, and Heidelberg. He then returned back and set up his medical practice in Newberry.
Today we take a high school and a college education for granted. We can even look at Mayer’s travels in Europe with a smile. However in the 1840’s his education and travels were an indication that his family was quite wealthy.
While most everyone were poor farmers, and not financial well off, O.B. Mayer’s family was able to send him to high school, college, and medical school and beyond. My granddad told me that the Mayer family was once very wealthy. He said that they raised expensive horses, and when Sherman’s army came through Pomaria, they shot all of them.
To put this in a financial prospective, in 1850, $7.72 was the average income for one month. Texas had the highest average income at $12 a month. In New England, a carpenter was paid $1.40 a day.
What was college tuition? Harvard tuition in 1840 was $75 a year. I’m sure South Carolina College was cheaper than Harvard, but it was still expensive.
Mayer returned to the Newberry area set up his medical practice in and married, Caroline DeWalt and they had one son and four daughters
When Caroline died in 1861, she left her newborn baby and three other children and a grieving husband. He later married Louise Kinard.
He was a physician, writer, English Scholar and spoke German, French, Latin and Greek. He was also a good musician and was said to translate many German hymns into English and arranged the music for them.
He was familiar with a little German because until the 1830’s, the Dutch Fork was still a German speaking area. His grandparents still spoke the language from the fatherland.
In the 1830’s, Rev. Godfrey Dreher, who lived near the Lake Murray Dam, created quite the controversy in the Dutch Fork area when he preached a service in English and not German. That was a Dutch Fork sized calamity that caused quite a few church splits.
Doctor Orlando Benedict Mayer, made an historical mark on the Dutch Fork. He was very passionate preserving history, and wrote the book “The Dutch Fork” and the novel “John Pundrick.”
This love for history and the recording of the customs and the stories he heard growing up was so important to him that he finished writing his revisal of “The Dutch Fork Sketches” in the Newberry Herald and News in 1891, the day before he got sick with the illness, from which he died from nine days later.
In his book “The Dutch Fork” he records the memories of growing up in Pomaria. He remembers the time as a child when he took the 30 mile trip to Columbia riding on a wagon with a very unhappy duck, whose feet were tied to a wood box to keep him form escaping.
Mayer remembers that the duck hissed at him most of the trip. As any good German mother in the Dutch Fork, his mother hand wove a fine white linen shirt and shorts for her little boy.
He wore it proudly as he walked down the streets with his parents to the market to sell cotton, other goods and the duck. In the culture of the Dutch Fork, hand woven white linen outfits were a statement of his family’s prominence and little Benedict was proud of his attire.
His grand moment of entrance into the capitol city quickly disintegrated into embarrassment and tears when the “town boys” noticed that while he was impeccably dressed with his white, starched linen ruffle shirt and shorts, he was completely barefoot.
Mayer writes that shoes were not worn in the summer by children and they even went to church barefoot. When he returned home and through tears, recounted his experience, the advice given was simple.
When one is puffed up with pride by vanity, ambition, hypocrisy, or covetousness, all one has to do is look down at one’s feet. I think that this advice would serve us well today because it doesn’t matter if your house is worth a million dollars or a simple 1970’s brick ranch style house, if we all take off our shoes, we all have bare feet!
Mayer says that this advice saved him from “many vanities, which if I had been puffed up with them, would have been too much for me.”
He has been written up in the Encyclopedia of American Humorists for his folk tales and stories. He was a published author in the Southern Bivouac, Russel’s magazine, Charleston Magazines, and in the South Carolinian. He was mentioned in the Encyclopedia of Eminent and men of the Carolina’s of the Nineteenth Century.
He mentions that some of his folk tales include characters that are based on real people in the community. The main character in the novel, John Pundrick, may be a Bundrick he knew in the Dutch Fork as a child. T
he folk characters of “The Wizard Gunsmith” and “The Two Marksmen on Ruff’s Mountain” certainly carry with them strong hints of the cultural peculiarities of the Dutch Fork.
However, to discuss the silliness and adventurous absurdities in these two folklore tales written by O.B. Mayer is the subject for the next article. So practice your slingshot techniques, go visit Ruff’s Mountain, and of course make sure your rifles don’t have magic bullets them.
But most important of all, enjoy some German food in Prosperity, and create an historical moment for you and your family.