The Ellenton riot started in Aiken County, South Carolina. On September 15, a Mrs. Alonzo Harley reported two black men tried to attack her while her husband was working out in the fields, but to protect herself she grabbed a gun drove them away.
The white citizens tracked down a black man by the name of Peter Williams, when he tried to get away he was shot, but when Mrs. Hartley saw him, she said he was not the man who attacked her.
Williams died of his wounds about a week later. While the incident was initially portrayed as racially based, it was connected to several other violent political incidents in the weeks before the 1876 election, in which white paramilitary groups in support of Democrats tried to suppress black Republican voting.
A warrant for the arrest of Fred Pope, who was supposedly the accomplice of Williams was issued. A posse of 14 white men was formed the next day. Pope was defended at Rouse’s Bridge by armed black men, and the whites retreated. By September 18, it was reported that 500-600 white men from Augusta and Columbia County, Georgia, members of rifle clubs or paramilitary groups, had entered the area. They attacked part of the Port Royal Railroad tracks, tearing up a portion. The white mobs spread out and killed freedmen working in fields, or hunted down or on the street. The official record of Deputy US Marshalls indicated between 25 and 30 black men were killed. A New York Times reporter in an article stated as many as 100 blacks were killed in the conflicts, which extended to September 21, with several whites wounded.
At the trial of some black men in May 1877, numerous witnesses testified that the whites had repeatedly said: “they intended to carry the election [of 1876] if they had to wade in blood up to their saddle girths.” Other testimony said that many of the white men involved were from Georgia and had openly said they had come from South Carolina to try to win the election of Wade Hampton III.