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Historical nuggets from an account book

Posted: July 31, 2017 1:38 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2017 1:00 a.m.

About two decades ago, an inquiry came to the Kershaw County Historical Society from the public library of Farmington, Conn., concerning a 1790s Camden account book in its collection. They wished to know if we knew of any connection with Farmington that might explain why they would have this book in their collection. The letter was given to me to answer.

The account book was from the firm of [Duncan] McRae and [Zachariah] Cantey and contained accounts dating from 1792-1799. However, all but a few dated from 1793-96. Local historians and others knew of no connection between this Connecticut town and Camden. 

I relayed this information to the library in Farmington and asked them if we might borrow the account book so we could get the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina to microfilm the book to make it available for study locally and at the university. They agreed, and sent it to the library for microfilming.

I requested Allen Stokes, the director of the Caroliniana Library, to give me an hour or two to examine the book before microfilming occurred. On the day of its arrival, I began to turn each page as I searched for information of special interest. It did not take long to find a historical nugget.

On page 13, my eyes scanned this heading: Camden, South Carolina 26 March 1793. On the next line, I read with amazement the name, “Bonds Conway” and the words “delivered to him” followed by a list of purchases of cloth, thread, sugar, buttons, osnaburgs, stick twist, etc. from June 6-Dec 7, 1793. 

Staring at me was an account between the firm of McCrae and Cantey and Bonds Conway, a “free person of color,” whose ca. 1812 house became the headquarters of the Kershaw County Historical Society in 1980. This account was 1793 documentation of Bonds Conway in Camden, the year he earned his freedom from slavery from Zachariah Cantey, a partner in the firm of McCrae and Cantey. 

What were the odds of my finding such pertinent information as this to our society? Astronomical! In 1999, the library microfilmed the account book and returned it to Farmington. Researchers immediately began using the book.

Hold on -- there is a sequel! In 2001, the Farmington public library contacted me stating that since the account book was of little research value to them, would the Caroliniana Library be interested in purchasing it? They were and it is now in their collection at the University of South Carolina. 

Although others have done so, until a few weeks ago I had never thoroughly studied this account book since its purchase in 2001. The remainder of this article will detail the results of my study.

‘Nuggets’ from the account book

Other than recording who bought items from the store and the prices paid for them in pounds, shillings and pence, sometimes the store clerk(s) recorded additional information that, when compiled, helps complete a picture of Camden and the vicinity in the 1790s. 

The clerk(s) sometimes wrote by the purchasers name his/her occupation; place of residence; name of the person recommending him to the store; if a slave, the name of the slave owner; etc. Slaves were often sent to the store to pick up items for their masters. Following is a compilation of some of this information.


The customer base of McCrae and Cantey were in Camden and the immediate vicinity, but a few customers came from the Waxhaws above Lancaster, from the Lynches River area, from Wateree Creek, one from North Carolina and some from a named plantation. The customers also included other stores, plantations and individuals. These individuals were doctors, lawyers, ordinary citizens, slaves and even one Indian, John Airs. 

Occupation of customers

William Thomas worked at John Chesnut’s mill. Mr. West owned a store in Camden. John Grayham and Negro Rany (Randy) were blacksmiths. Lewis Bryant was a schoolmaster. William Whitaker was a shoemaker. John Jacobs worked on a boat. Howell, the Glover, obviously followed that trade. James Hunter was an overseer for John Kershaw. Some were haulers or wagoners.

A few others were “free persons of color” as was Bonds Conway. Joining Conway were the following, Scipio Stanley, David Sweat, Jack Webb (free Mulatto), Buck Jacobs, Jim Pemberton and Ned Harris.

Joan and Glen Inabinet, in A History of Kershaw County, South Carolina, took the names of free persons of color and craftsmen from this account book and others and compiled them on pages 84 and 103-04 of their history. Consult their history for more complete listings of craftsmen and free persons of color.

Slaves visiting the store

Note: Until after the Civil War, slaves generally only had first names.

Duncan McCrae: Dick, Sandy, Mingo, Tobey, Peter, Jim, Pompey, Will, Tina, Lewis, Hobby, Davy, Tony, Owen, Brittain, and Jimmy. Zachariah Cantey: Dick, Jack, John, Ismael, and June. Dr. Martin: Cain. James Cantey: Dick. George Helms: Jack. Mike Ganters: Jack. Charles Evans: Frank. William Lang: Stephen. Mrs. Briggs: Bob. B. Sutton: Ben. Samuel Boykin: Trane. John Boykin: Primus. A.B. Ross: Stephen. James Cantey: Dick.

Sample of what was purchased

William Baker, one pair of bridle bits; Zach Cantey, one saddle; William Cloud, two stirrup irons; Robert Singleton, six hogs; James Mayfield, gun lock; Mary Gladden, ladies shoes; Robert McKay, 3 qts. of brandy; James Hollis, ½ barrel of salt; Jesse Chaves, dozen buttons; Robert Adams, 18 lbs. of tallow; Alexander Goodale, one quire of paper; William Ware, pair of shoe buckles; Edward Halliday, pair of Morocco shoes; William McCammon, 22 bushel of wheat; John McDow, ladies beaver hat; Thomas Elliott, one hymn book. 

Bacon, barrels of pork, nails, spelling books, and salt in large quantities were sold. These are just a few of the historical nuggets to be found in this account book.


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