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William G. Whilden Collection: Biography

Born on August 6, 1828, to Joseph and Elizabeth Whilden, William Whilden was raised the youngest of seven children in a middle class Charleston family that lived modestly and owned only one slave, a black woman affectionately known by the name “Maumer Juno.” From a young age, Whilden learned to not only respect his caretaker Juno but also to invest much pride in his rich Revolutionary and Baptist heritage—he was related to Rev. William Screven, founder of South Carolina’s oldest Baptist church (First Baptist Charlseton), and Rev. Oliver Hart, pastor of that same church after the Revolutionary War. By the 1860s, Whilden was partner in a firm, Hayden & Whilden, which imported British jewelry and silverware. Today, Confederate antiques with the Hayden & Whilden mark are some of the most coveted in the world by collectors.

Whilden’s successful business afforded him a comfortable life with wife Ellen Amelia, their three daughters, and of course Maumer Juno.

However, the onset of the Civil War brought many changes to Whilden’s life. For two years, Whilden was away from home facing sporadic combat along the coast. Finally, in 1863, he secured a furlough to visit home and tend to business affairs. Hayden & Whilden had become a struggling endeavor and both partners agreed to close their firm. Whilden returned to service at John’s Island, southwest of Charleston, and was there when the federal bombardment of the city began. By September that year, his wife and girls had fled to Graniteville in Aiken County. Ellen chose to hide some of their most prized possession in a ditch behind the house, which she then covered with logs of timber. She sent their family silverware to a friend in Columbia, where it was later stolen by Sherman’s troops.

After the war, Whilden chose to remain in Charleston for another fifteen years before moving to Greenville. In Charleston, he opened a new firm, Wil. G. Whilden & Co., once again importing silverware and jewelry. When he came to Greenville in 1880, he began selling insurance. Maumer Juno remained with the family until her death in 1883. Immediately following the war, Whilden gave Juno permission to leave the household. Her response was, “You say that I am free now? I never belonged to any of you children; no, all of you children belong to me, and if I was to leave you now, I think I would be disgraced, and if you were to give me up, I think that you would be disgraced. I am going to keep on as I have always lived.” Whilden died June 8, 1896, and is buried at Springwood Cemetery.