The Tragic Story of Charles Hamberg: Gun Violence in South Carolina

Last week I wrote about Samuel Hamberg, the twelve year old boy who appeared in the household of my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal in 1880 as his adopted son.  As I described in that post, I had determined that Samuel was the son of Charles Hamberg of Columbia, South Carolina; he appeared on the 1870 census living in Charles Hamberg’s household along with a woman named Tenah Hamberg and a servant also with the first name Tenah.

Through my research, I concluded that Charles Hamberg was in fact born Baruch Hamberg, the son of the first Samuel Hamberg, my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg Schoenthal’s uncle, her father’s younger brother.

Relationship of Henrietta Hamberg and Charles Hamberg

Baruch had left Breuna, Germany, in 1852, with his first cousin Abraham, who died in Savannah, George, in 1854.  Baruch, I postulated, became Charles and had married a woman named Mary E. Hanchey in New Hanover, North Carolina, in March, 1853.

Charles Hamberg and Mary Hanchey marriage record 1853 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

Charles Hamberg and Mary Hanchey marriage record 1853 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

But why did Samuel end up with my great-great-uncle Henry in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1880? What had happened to his father? His mother? And who was his mother? Was it Mary Hanchey, the woman Charles married in 1853 and with whom he was living in 1860? Or was it “Tenah,” the woman he was living with in 1870?

First, I focused on Mary, the first wife.  Searching on Ancestry, I found this entry:

Record of Deaths in Columbia South Carolina page 80 [p.80] Mrs. Mary A. Hamberg , wife of Charles Hamberg died in Col’a So. Ca. Novr 18, 1866, having been shot [page 166] by a man, Toland A. Bass, a few days previous.

Unfortunately, the database had no further information about this terrible incident, but I was determined to learn more about Mary’s death.  Was it accidental? A murder? What happened to Toland Bass?

After much searching, I found this article from the November 20, 1866 issue of The Daily Phoenix, the Columbia, South Carolina, daily paper (p. 2):

Daily Phoenix article 11 20 1866 p 2


Coroner’s Inquests.—On Friday last, a difficulty occurred between Toland R. Bass and C. Hamberg.  The latter went into the house to get his pistol, but on coming out, was stopped by Mr. Jos. Burdell, when Mrs. H. took the pistol away from him and went to the door, holding the pistol in both hands, but not attempting to use it, and said to Mr. Bass, “Do not shoot Mr. H.; if you want to shoot any one, shoot me.”  Bass attempted to take the pistol from her, but failed.  He then stepped several paces from her, presented his pistol three times and the fourth time fired, the ball taking effect in the abdomen of the unfortunate woman. 

She called to a friend near by to take care of her, as she was shot and ready to faint.  Mrs. H. was taken into the house apparently suffering greatly.  Dr. Talley was called in and rendered all possible medical assistance.  She lingered until Sunday afternoon, when she expired.  A jury of inquest was empannelled by Coroner Walker on Sunday afternoon, and after a full and careful investigation, rendered the following verdict: “That Mrs. Mary E. Hamberg came to her death, on the 18th of November, 1866, from the effects of a ball fired (willfully and maliciously) from a pistol by Toland R. Bass.” Warrants have been issued for the arrest of Bass.

Who was Toland Bass, and why did he kill Mary Hanchey Hamberg? Why did Mary suggest that he should shoot her, not her husband?

The only thing I could find about Mr. Bass was that he served as a private in the Confederate Army during the Civil War in Company H of the South Carolina Cavalry Regiment.


Charles Hamberg, on the other hand, appears to have been a private citizen in Columbia, South Carolina, during the Civil War, selling provisions to the Ladies Hospital.  Here is an example of an invoice he submitted:

Page 15 Confederate Citizens File - Fold3

Page 15 Confederate Citizens File – Fold3


I don’t know what might have precipitated this altercation between Bass and the Hambergs; all I can do is speculate.  Columbia, South Carolina, had suffered much damage during the Civil War.  The Union Army occupied the city during the last months of the war in 1865.  As described in Wikipedia:

On February 17, 1865, Columbia surrendered to Sherman, and Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry retreated from the city. Union forces were overwhelmed by throngs of liberated Federal prisoners and emancipated slaves. Many soldiers took advantage of ample supplies of liquor in the city and began to drink. Fires began in the city, and high winds spread the flames across a wide area. Most of the central city was destroyed, and municipal fire companies found it difficult to operate in conjunction with the invading army, many of whom were also fighting the fire. The burning of Columbia has engendered controversy ever since, with some claiming the fires were accidental, a deliberate act of vengeance, or perhaps set by retreating Confederate soldiers who lit cotton bales while leaving town. On that same day, the Confederates evacuated Charleston. On February 18, Sherman’s forces destroyed virtually anything of military value in Columbia, including railroad depots, warehouses, arsenals, and machine shops.

English: The Burning of Columbia, South Caroli...

English: The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 1865 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can read more about the Columbia fires here and here.  In the aftermath of the war and during Reconstruction, places like Columbia struggled to rebuild their economy and their infrastructure.  There was widespread poverty.  Perhaps Toland Bass was an embittered Southern veteran; perhaps he resented Charles Hamberg as a merchant who not only didn’t serve in the war but made money during it.  Or maybe it is something much more personal that created the animosity that led to the gruesome murder of Mary Hanchey Hamberg. I don’t know.

After the murder, Toland Bass ran off to avoid arrest, and the governor of South Carolina, James L. Orr, issued a proclamation offering an award of $200 for his arrest and delivery to South Carolina for trial. Charles Hamberg offered a separate award of $500 for his arrest. (Thank you to Ann Meddin Hellman of the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina for helping me locate some of these articles

Proclamation about Mary Hamberg's murder

Thursday, November 29, 1866 Paper: (Charleston, South Carolina)


Bass eluded arrest for four months until he was finally found and arrested in New York in March, 1867.

Arrest of Toland Bass


I could not find any record of a trial or any other proceeding involving Bass, but I did find this news item announcing his death from cholera on July 15, 1867.

Death of Toland R Bass


Meanwhile, Charles Hamberg had moved on.  Thanks to my blogging friend Cathy Meder-Dempsey, I know that Charles married Lena Goodman on April 6, 1867, in Charleston, South Carolina.

I believe that Lena was incorrectly entered as “Tenah” on the 1870 census and that she was the mother of Samuel Hamberg, the boy later adopted by Henry Schoenthal.  Although I do not have an exact birthdate for Samuel, the 1900 census reported that he was born in February 1868, that is, about eleven months after the marriage of Charles Hamberg and Lena Goodman.

Even after remarrying, Charles seemed to have troubles in Columbia.  In September, 1869, he was involved in another rather unpleasant altercation:

Charles Hamberg assault

There was also a dispute at his store:

CHarles Hamberg unruly customer

Charles also charged a police officer with inappropriate conduct (public drunkenness) and engaged in a citizen’s arrest.  He seemed to have a tendency to get involved in conflicts.

In the 1870s, Charles advertised his wood and coal business regularly in the Columbia newspaper, The Daily Phoenix.

Charles Hamberg coal


He also participated in a Purim celebration in Columbia, dressing up as Jocko the Ape.  (Purim is a Jewish holiday where children and adults dress up in costumes and celebrate the triumph of the Jews over the evildoer Haman who sought to kill the Jews in ancient Persia.)

The Daily Phoenix, March 26, 1872, p. 2

The Daily Phoenix, March 26, 1872, p. 2


So whatever his troubles, Charles seemed to be living a somewhat ordinary life in Columbia.

So what happened that caused little Samuel to be adopted by Henry Schoenthal? Tragically, both of Samuel’s parents died before 1880.  His mother Lena died in 1877 and is buried in the cemetery of the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society.  She was only 28 years old.  I’ve been unable to locate a death certificate or obituary yet, but will continue to look.  (I contacted the cemetery, but they did not have any further information.)


Headstone for Lena Hamberg at the Hebrew Benevolent Society cemetery in Columbia, SC


Two years later on October 16, 1879, Charles Hamberg ended his own life, apparently due to financial difficulties, although I would venture that having had one wife murdered and a second dying at a very young age might also have given him sufficient reason for some desperation.  His suicide made the papers even beyond Columbia.

Charles Hamberg suicide Charles Hamberg suicide 3 Charles Hamberg suicide 2


Can you imagine today identifying someone by their religious background for no apparently relevant reason?

Charles is also buried in the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society cemetery, next to Lena.

Charles Hamberg headstone

Headstone of Charles Hamberg at Hebrew Benevolent Society cemetery in Columbia, SC

What a hard life Charles Hamberg had once coming to the US.  He lost his cousin Abraham in 1854, his wife Mary was murdered in 1866, his second wife Lena died in 1877, and he suffered financial problems and took his own life in 1879.   I imagine that that was not the life he dreamed of when he left Breuna, Germany, in 1852.  For him the American dream did not come to be.

His son Samuel was just eleven years old and had lost his mother and his father.   He ended up in Pennsylvania with Henry Schoenthal, his second cousin.  How did he end up there?  That leads to the next mystery.

21 thoughts on “The Tragic Story of Charles Hamberg: Gun Violence in South Carolina

  1. I noted examples of knife violence and chisel violence in the blog also, why only reference “gun violence”?


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