William “April” Ellison was a freed black slave who later became South Carolina’s largest slave owner and trader. Born as April Ellison in the late 1790’s, young Ellison worked for owner William McCreight as a gin apprentice in Winnsboro, South Carolina. By the time he married at age 21, Ellison had learned the trades of blacksmithing, machining, and carpentry.
Given his freedom at age 26, Ellison changed his name to William, after his former owner. Using the skills he had learned earlier in life, Ellison became a successful businessman and mechanic.
The 1850 United States Federal Census – Slave Schedules of Sumter County South Carolina lists a black man named Wm Ellison as an owner of thirty-six slaves; twenty-six male slaves (three ages 50, one age 48, one age 42, one age 39, one age 38, one age 35, one age 33, two ages 29, one age 28, one age 21, one age 20, one age 15, one age 12, one age 9, one age 8, one age 7, one age 5, three ages 3, one 1 year old, one 2 month old, and one 1 month old) and ten female slaves (one age 48, one age 29, one age 26, one age 25, one age 24, one age 22, one age 20, two age 18,and age 5). By 1860, Ellison owned 63 slaves.
Ellison was a supporter of the Confederate cause. After his death in December 1861, his sons and daughters continued to hold their father’s views on the war. His eldest grandson, Buckner Ellison, enlisted in the 1st South Carolina Artillery in 1863 while William’s sons and daughters invested their late father’s estate into the Confederate cause, buying bonds, treasury notes, certificates, and Confederacy currency in support of the war. Buy the war’s end, these investments were worthless and the remnants of the Ellison Estate quickly dwindled during Reconstruction.