Ker Boyce, the early Chattanooga investor, may have been the son of a peddler, but he rose to become one of the richest men in the South with property in many different states. There are no Boyces from this line in Chattanooga today, but a section of East Chattanooga east of Amnicola Highway where his son resided is still known as Boyce.
It was the tireless Chattanooga promoter Samuel Williams who interested the Charleston,S.C., merchant and investor in the great potential borne by the remote landing in the Tennessee mountains. Ker Boyce was one of the investors in land syndicates set up by Williams at the time the Indian lands were opened up to white settlement. Boyce wanted Charleston to capitalize directly on the developing western trade. He was especially keen on the railroad, and he became a close associate of the Chattanooga attorney and legislator, James A. Whiteside, who vigorously promoted railroad connections for his hometown. Eventually, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was constructed with Chattanooga on the line.
Ker Boyce was the son of John Boyce, who was born in Ireland in 1745. He came to the U.S. when he was 20, first eaking out a living as a peddler. He married Elizabeth Miller of Rutherford County, N.C. John Boyce moved on to Newberry, S.C., where he was a merchant and farmer. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he ought under his younger brother, Alexander Boyce, who eventually fell during the siege of Savannah in October of 1779 "in a gallant attempt to carry the British lines.'' John Boyce fought on, taking part in battles at Blackstock,King's Mountain, Cowpens and Eutaw Springs. If he had not survived the war, there never would have been a Ker Boyce, and John Boyce had many close calls. He returned to his family after one battle and had sat down to a cup of milk and piece of bread when a party of Tories,including the notorious William Cunningham and his associate McCombs, rode up. Boyce tried to run their gauntlet, but Cunningham struck him, taking off three of his fingers. Boyce fled into the woods and that night raised a party to go after the Tories. The Patriots captured McCombs and 11 or 12 others and hanged them by the Enoree River. On another occasion, John Boyce was captured and tied up in his own barn.While his captors went to get a rope to finish him off, his "Negro man Old Sandy'' rose up from a pile of straw and set him free. John Boyce was "a well-informed but not a well-educated man.'' He read much and was a Presbyterian elder. He made and sold whiskey at his own distillery, but "not one of his many sons ever drank to excess.''
Ker Boyce was born in 1787 at Newberry and he married Nancy Johnston. Their children were John who died in 1848 in Florida, Samuel and Mary. After his first wife died in 1827, Ker Boyce married her sister, Amanda Johnston. Their children were James P., Nancy, Rebecca, Ker Jr. and Elizabeth. Ker Boyce and his brother-in-law, Samuel Johnston, moved to Charleston as factor and commission merchants. Boyce quickly built up his wealth, trading over a wide area and speculating in Mississippi and other states. He was in the state Senate and was president of the Bank of Charleston.
At Chattanooga, Ker Boyce joined with Col. Whiteside and Robert Cravens in purchasing 1,800 acres of coal lands at Raccoon Mountain and building the first coke furnace in the Chattanooga district in 1850 for their East Tennessee Iron Manufacturing Company. This was the Bluff Furnace located near the foot of Market Street. The property at Seventh and Market where the Presbyterians built a church was formerly owned by Ker Boyce.
Ker Boyce was described by an associate as "fun-loving and quick-witted'' and as "a very astute businessman.'' He bought property at the "Stanton Addition'' in the vicinity of the present Chattanooga Choo Choo from Col. Whiteside and Rush Montgomery. He purchased an 800-acre farm for his son, Samuel, in East Chattanooga. And he bought the Gillespie farm for Ker Boyce Jr., who had taken a bride at Augusta, Ga.,and moved to Chattanooga. He resided here from 1850-1852, then he moved to New York City where he was in business with his brother-in-law, William G. Lane. Ker Boyce Jr. was back in Augusta when the Civil War began, and he was a "gallant soldier and valuable staff officer'' with the 12th Georgia Battalion of the Confederacy. Samuel Boyce was one of the wealthiest of Chattanoogans at the start of the war, with a worth of $130,000. He stayed on here after the war and died at his East Chattanooga farm in 1877. This farm included a barn constructed by Dan Hogan. The barn was supported by massive cut stones, each pillar being made of a single stone. The foundation of the barn alone cost the Boyces $2,500. This farm, which later passed to Lewis Shepherd, was known as Altamede. The Boyce house burned in 1898, and a new house was built on the site.
The children of Samuel Boyce were Mary Boyce Bilderback, LatimerBoyce and James Spann Boyce. James P. Boyce, another son of Ker Boyce Sr., was a distinguished Baptist divine who lived at Louisville, Ky. He used part of the Boyce fortune to endow Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
When Ker Boyce Sr. died in 1854, Col. Whiteside was named as one of the executors of his will. The lengthy Boyce will is on record in the Hamilton County deed office. It was said at his death he was "regarded as the wealthiest man in the South.'' Boyce owned only a handful of slaves and was not a plantation owner. His stocks, bonds and notes were worth almost $1 million, and his real estate was valued at more than $160,000. As late as 1891, much land was still held in the "Boyce Estate.'' This included the Raccoon Mountain coal lands, the Bluff Furnace property and 73 acres at Chattanooga. In East Chattanooga, the train stop at "Boyce'' still kept the family name uplifted.