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Henry P. Kendall, collector

Posted: October 2, 2017 1:58 p.m.
Updated: October 3, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Along Camden’s eastern border flows Little Pine Tree Creek. A textile mill and lake named Wateree had been located on that creek since 1899. In 1916, Henry P. Kendall, an industrialist from Massachusetts, purchased this mill and thereafter it became known as the Kendall Mill and lake. He purchased a home in Camden called the Sycamores in 1924 and lived there for 35 years until his death in 1959.

Over time, Kendall acquired 16 mills and amassed considerable wealth. He believed mills should be located as close as practical to the source of their raw materials, in this case cotton, and of a labor supply. He found both in Camden.

Very early, Kendall had developed an interest in collecting South Carolina historical materials, especially early maps of the state and region. To locate Caroliniana, he had tapped into the network of dealers and collectors in the northeast. Later when he located in South Carolina, he also tapped into the local networks. He often visited James Thornton Gittman’s book store on Main Street one block from the State House in Columbia. This store likewise was frequented by such local collectors as Yates Snowden, head of the University of South Carolina (USC) History Department; USC President J. Rion McKissick; and Columbia collector August Kohn.

Kendall became a friend of Dr. Louis C. Karpinski (1878-1956), a fellow collector and cartographer at the University of Michigan. In 1930, Dr. Karpinski compiled and published a catalog of Kendall’s collection entitled Early Maps of Carolina and Adjoining Regions: Together with Early Prints of Charleston. The Kendall collection was exhibited at the University Library (now the South Caroliniana Library) that year. In 1937, this collection also was placed on exhibition at the Gibbes Art Gallery in Charleston.

At his death in 1959, Kendall left his collection of maps, books, pamphlets, manuscripts and newspapers to USC. On October 31, 1961, USC’s board of trustees formally received the Kendall collection and named the large room at the back of the reading room of the South Caroliniana Library, the Kendall Room. This room became the home of the collection. At his death, he also gave Kendall Lake and park to Camden.

I was present at the October 31, 1961, event and received a copy of the multiple page program prepared for the occasion. To this point, this collection was the most extensive and important research collection received by the University Libraries.

The Kendall Family continued to collect Caroliniana. After Mr. Kendall’s death, his widow acquired the William Gilmore Simms’ collection of papers of Henry and John Laurens from the Long Island Historical Society. After owning the collection for 90 years, that society had determined the collection no longer matched their collecting policy. The Kendall Family made microfilm of this collection available to the editors of the Laurens papers at USC.

Simms -- author, collector, historian and one of the foremost antebellum South Carolina “literary figures” -- had amassed his Laurens collection prior to the Civil War. As Sherman burned his way across South Carolina in 1865, Simms’ 10,000 volume library was reduced to ashes. Fortunately, his Laurens collection was stored elsewhere and escaped destruction.

After the war, Simms needed to raise money to rebuild his home at Woodlands. At this time, he sold his Laurens collection to the Long Island Historical Society for the princely sum of $1,500.

Simms had recognized Laurens as being one of the “founding fathers” of our nation. In 1760, Laurens owned four plantations in South Carolina, two in Georgia and several large tracts of land. He also was a merchant in Charleston and owned trading vessels. Laurens had become one of the wealthiest individuals in the colonies through his merchant and planting enterprises.

Laurens served in the S.C. Commons House of Assembly, was a militia officer, elected to the first provisional congress, helped write the S.C. Constitution, and became vice president of the colony. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1777 and served as its president for a year.

In a journey to Holland to raise money, the British captured and imprisoned him for 15 months in the Tower of London. After his release, he became one of the representatives to draw up the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War.

In 2001, the Kendall Collection of Laurens papers and the remainder of the Kendall collection of early Caroliniana were given to the South Caroliniana Library. The papers of Henry Laurens featured approximately 350 original letters of Henry and John Laurens; Henry Laurens’ letter book, 1783-85; and letters of such Revolutionary War-era figures as Baron DeKalb, Lachlan McIntosh, Richard Henry Lee, Rawlins Lowndes, John Jay, John Lewis Gervais, John Rutledge and William Moultrie. The collection also contains papers concerning affairs of Congress, relations with various Indian tribes, and petitions and memorials. This collection represents a major documentation of the Revolutionary War generation and of South Carolina’s role in the events of that time.

The Kendall book collection includes 18th and 19th century pamphlets, a bound volume of the South Carolina Gazette (1737) and a third edition (1771) of Mark Catesby’s Natural History of South Carolina.

If you wish to understand and more fully appreciate the Kendall Family’s contributions to Camden, go there and visit the Kendall Mill and park site, ride around Kendall Lake, and drive through the former Mill Village and see many fine restored, refurbished and enlarged homes. In 1948, Kendall had sold the Mill Village homes to employees living there. Then, go to the Camden Archives and Museum and examine their collection of information, photographs and other items pertaining to the Kendalls.

Making such a tour and reading this article leads one to the conclusion that Camden, Kershaw County, USC, historians and the public should be forever indebted to the Kendalls for their contributions.

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