Cap Moorer and the Anatomy of an Error

Cap Moorer House before repairs and renovation.

In April 2023, I met with staff at the Calhoun County Museum in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Among the pictures I had for reference was this one. When the photograph had originally been shared with me in 2014 by a family member, it was labeled as the home of John Lewis Moorer c. 1850. John was frequently referred to with the honorific of “captain” and this was “Capt. Moorer’s Home.” Except I was about to discover that it wasn’t. For context, I should mention that John Lewis Moorer was white, part of the German-Swiss community of the area. All of his children were biracial. This makes research challenging at times for a number of reasons, from the lack of records to the tendency towards omission by narrators of the past. For example, I’ve included John L. Moorer’s obituary, which makes no mention of his immediate family, not even the son who was a respected local doctor.

The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina) · 18 Dec 1908, Fri · Page 8
John Lewis Moorer (1822 – 1908)

Intimately familiar with the area, my host with the museum was skeptical and asked when John lived. No, no, the house wasn’t from that time period. It wasn’t right at all. It was from much later, about 1900 or 1910. The house was the “Cap Moorer” house. “Cap Moorer?” How weird. Why would it be called “Cap Moorer” but not have been the home of Captain Moorer?

Later that day, we were speaking with a gentleman who grew up in the area and, after a notable military career, returned and was quite involved in the community. He agreed with the museum director, yes, of course, that’s the Cap Moorer House. Cap was before his time, but he knew Fannie lived there and then her children. Yes, all of Fannie’s children, they grew up in that house.

I went back to my AirBnB for the night and then home early the next day, slightly confused but overall extremely satisfied with how everything had gone.

John Lewis Moorer’s son, John Capers Moorer was about 45 years old at the turn of the twentieth century. “Cap” was married to a woman named Fannie and together they had at least ten children. According to the 1900 census, everyone in their household over the age of 8 could read and write, one daughter attending school at age 16 and another a school teacher at age 18. They owned their farm with no mortgage. Fannie lived until May 1945, six years after the birth of the man I was speaking with in 2023. It’s not the house of Capt. Moorer. It’s the house of John Capers “Cap” Moorer.