Born near the town of old Pendleton on September 11, 1840, Richard Wright “Dick” Simpson, Sr. was the son of Margaret Taliaferro Simpson and Richard F. Simpson, who was a South Carolina Congressman and a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. He was educated at the Pendleton Male Academy and Wofford College. Dick and his brother Taliaferro “Tally” Simpson graduated with the rest of their Wofford Class of 1861 and went on to become Confederate soldiers. Tally would not return from the war. Dick returned home in 1865 and farmed for several years. Their letters home related eyewitness accounts of camp life and warfare and are preserved in the book Far, Far from Home.
In the 1870s, Simpson studied law and was admitted to the bar before setting up a practice in Anderson. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was elected to the state legislature in 1874-1881, where he also served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Simpson was very active in Reconstruction Era politics in South Carolina. He served as attorney for the Blue Ridge Railroad, Southern Railroad, and the Pendleton Bank, but it was for his work as Thomas Green Clemson’s lawyer and confidant that he is best remembered.
Simpson shared a deep interest in agriculture with his neighbor and friend, Tom Clemson. By 1886, Simpson had become Mr. Clemson’s chief personal attorney. That year, Clemson asked several of his closest friends and advisors to meet with him at Fort Hill to complete plans for leaving his estate to found an agricultural college for South Carolina. As a result of that meeting, Simpson revised Clemson’s existing will and this final version was executed by Clemson on November 6, 1886. Simpson was named executor of the estate, and one of seven original life trustees for the college. Clemson passed away on April 6, 1888, leaving money and the Fort Hill plantation to the state for the establishment of the college. When Clemson’s son-in-law contested the will, Simpson defended it all the way to the Supreme Court… and won the case. Clemson Agricultural College was established in 1889. Simpson was elected president of the original Clemson Board of Trustees upon its formation in 1890. He served until ill health forced him to retire in 1907.
Dick Simpson, Sr. was also a published author. His book, History of Old Pendleton District, with a Genealogy of the Leading Families of the District, was published in 1913.
In 1863, Simpson had married Maria Louise Garlington from Laurens County, South Carolina. The couple had ten children. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He died on July 11, 1912 and was buried in the family cemetery about four miles east of Pendleton. It is adjacent to Clemson University’s Simpson Experiment Station which stands on land one belonging to the Simpson farm, donated by the family to Clemson University. An official South Carolina Historical Marker to Richard W. Simpson, Sr. was erected there in 1988 by Clemson University.