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Local saints and sinners

Posted: June 19, 2012 4:16 p.m.
Updated: June 20, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Which current major university was once located in Winnsboro?

Which famous Baptist minister regularly preached in Lugoff, Pine Grove, Winnsboro and the High Hills?

William Sikes was the first famous person from this area. What was his claim to fame?

How did the Lord Proprietors encourage settlers to move into the South Carolina backcountry?

Which major street in Camden is named in honor of the colonial governor who led the fight against the Indians?

In the colonial times, the backcountry in South Carolina started about 50 to 70 miles from the coast. Orangeburg, Camden and Cheraw were the major backcountry settlements. In the 1750s, to encourage settlement, the owners granted free land to many European Protestants. These settlers kept many names from their origins. Dutch Fork, Saxe Gotha and Orangeburg reflected the names of German and Swiss settlers. New Bordeaux was settled by French Huguenots while the Welsh Tract is on the Pee Dee. Many Scotch Irish settled Long Canes and one will find Scottish names which began with Mc such as McLean and McCaskill settled also around the Pee Dee and Lynches Rivers.

The Irish Quakers were some of the original inhabitants of Pine Tree Hill. In one of the unusual ironies of history, the Quakers evolved into conscientious objectors to war by embracing the commandment of 'Thou Shall Not Kill.” However, there are many noted Hebrew scholars who say that the original commandment is "Thou Shall Not Murder.”

Most of the African slaves who were in the backcountry were cattlemen. It was actually an African slave who told the governor of Massachusetts how Africans used the blood of cows in order to control small pox. After the American Revolution, the slave trade became almost eliminated and at one point the importation of slaves to South Carolina was prohibited. However, that changed with the development of the cotton gin and the need for a large labor pool to work the cotton fields.

The profitability of cotton also had an impact on Camden as the major trading center in the Midlands. The Camden to Georgetown water and road trade route was the most economically navigable route. The merchants of Charleston would often send their trade goods by water to Georgetown, then on to the Midlands. However, when cotton became grown everywhere, the waterway from Charleston to Georgetown became unnavigable due to silt and the merchants of Charleston found another route which led them to Columbia. After that, Columbia exceeded Camden as a trade center and eventually became the capital of the state.

The inhabitants of the backcountry often fought Indians. Patrick Calhoun, the father of John C. Calhoun, was a fortunate survivor of a Cherokee massacre. One of the long standing story/rumors of history is that John C. Calhoun was the biological father of Abraham Lincoln. John C. Calhoun traveled through the Asheville area en route to Washington and Lincoln's mother worked as a bar maid in the travel taverns. She eventually married Tom Lincoln, a very short man, and moved to Kentucky. If you are ever in Washington D.C., compare the profile pictures of Lincoln and Calhoun.

Under the administration of Governor Lyttleton, the major Indian threat was subdued.

The British Crown was slow in developing efficient law enforcement in the inlands and so lawlessness quickly arose. Court cases were tried in Charleston and it took seven days to travel there by horse. Many of the most notorious leaders grew up in Camden including two sets of brothers. Grovey and George Black sold their land to Joseph Kershaw and became outlaw leaders. Thomas and James Moon, who were descendents of the first Quaker family, also sold their land and, like the Blacks, started stealing cattle, horses and deer skins and abducting women. There became an inter-colonial commerce ring. William Sikes broke out of 28 jails from Boston to Savannah.

Finally, the government financed and allowed militia units known as Regulators to attack the outlaw camps. The Regulators were successful and drove out many of the outlaw gangs, or at least got them to move to Georgia or the mountains of North Carolina. However, another problem arose. South Carolina was the only colony which did not have a vagrancy law, so this area became a magnet for many less desirables. As the noted Anglican minister and historian Charles Woodmason wrote about Camden, “the people lived in logg cabins like hoggs'” and that 90 out of 100 backcountry women he married already were pregnant or already had children out of wedlock. Apparently he was not impressed with the local accommodations or the people. One Sunday, Woodmason was holding services when the homes and businesses were robbed. The good people of Camden chased the thieves and fought a gun battle with the culprits on Twenty-five Mile Creek.

The powerful regulators became vigilantes and routinely flogged those who they felt needed to be “kept in line.” More judges and justices of the peace finally restored order.

The religious churches were used as marking points for judicial administration. This area was St. Mark Parish, Cheraw was St. David, and Orangeburg was St. Mathew. Courthouses were often used for religious meetings while churches were common meeting sites and polling centers. The Church of England, the Episcopalians, had not had much growth in the backcountry. One important reason was that the people did not favor the Stamp Act. There were orders of Lutherans (Newberry College), Methodist (Wofford), Congregationalist, Dunkers, Quakers, Sabbatarians. The two most popular were the Presbyterians (Presbyterian College) and the New Light Baptists.

Richard Furman, a Baptist minister, vigorously preached in this area and Furman University was named in his honor. Furman was a staunch rebel and ministered to the troops and locals about liberty. Cornwallis placed such a high bounty on Furman that he had to escape to North Carolina. Furman University was once located in Winnsboro, but a deranged student burned part of it down and they eventually moved the campus to Greenville.

I would like to thank Dean Jordan and Doug McFie for providing much of the information for this article.

Thank you for your attention.


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