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Column: Meet you at the river!

Posted: August 16, 2018 1:14 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2018 1:00 a.m.

In 1747, William Payne stood on the bank of the Wateree River at the mouth of Twenty-five Mile Creek and took in the view around him.  The river was wide here and the water flowed swiftly south toward the Carolina coast. The creek was a bold stream as it flowed into the Wateree. He had not explored its upper reaches yet, but it offered good prospects for a mill seat where he could grind grain and saw logs. The land at the river’s edge was flat and fairly low, but it rose gently to a moderately high bank as he made his way up through the woods. Plenty of good timber for building on this land, he thought. There would be fish a plenty in the river and game in the forest.  He was startled as a deer made a mad dash through the trees and underbrush ahead of him.

Yes, Payne decided, this was the tract he wanted. His family of five would be entitled to apply for 300 acres.  He would ask the surveyor to include as much of Twenty-five Mile Creek in his plat as possible. The surveyor, Abraham Kerslake, told him that there weren’t many applications for grants around this tract just yet. Best move on this quickly.

William Payne received a grant for his 300 acre tract in 1751. Long ago, the Native Americans had cleared the low lying land along the west side of the river for agricultural fields, using them to plant corn. This low river land was rich earth, having received the silt of the upstream forests during the frequent freshets, or floods, along the banks of the Wateree. Those freshets were a hazard to the settlers, as well as a blessing. Some years, their entire crop would be destroyed. But, in other years, the fertile ground produced abundant harvests.

Remnants of the Native Americans’ presence were all around his land. Across the river stood a large mound enclosed by a circular earthen ring. The mound was 34 feet high and a 100 yards from this river. Downstream at the mouth of Big Pine Tree Creek were numerous mounds clustered together. Across the northwest part of Friends Neck, where the two great bends in the river came near each other, the Native Americans had dug a large ditch and built a corresponding earthen wall which cut off the isthmus of Friends Neck and created a large alluvial field covered with that fine, rich river soil. Spear and arrow points perked up out of the earth.  These river bottom lands were the site of an ancient inhabited and cultivated settlement.

William witnessed the founding of the Pine Tree Hill settlement by Joseph Kershaw in 1758 and experienced the benefits of living across the Wateree from that growing village. There, he could obtain all sorts of goods from Kershaw’s store and purchase ale from Kershaw’s brew house. Grist and saw mills sprung up all around the area. Good, industrious people settled all around him and tolerable roads led from one settlement to another. Joseph Kershaw laid out the streets for a new town he called Westerham just to the south of Payne’s tract. A ferry crossed the river at the mouth of Belton’s Branch on the Camden side of the river to a landing near the site of Westerham. William worked this land until his death sometime prior to 1768.

At his death, William Payne’s land passed to his sole heirs, William Devaul [or Devall] and his wife, Jemima, who then deeded it to Samuel Scott in 1768. By 1788, Payne’s land became the property of William Lang, one of the leading citizens of Camden. Lang was born in England and settled in Camden around 1770. In 1775, he married Samuel and Dinah Wyly’s daughter, Sally, and consequently came into possession of Wyly’s extensive acreage at Camden. During Lang’s lifetime, he witnessed the growth of river traffic as Camden became an important center of trade in the backcountry. Lang’s bottom lands were quite valuable. Robert Mills reported in the early 1820s that these river bottom lands sold for $30 to $60 per acre while the upland acreage brought only $5 to $10 per acre.

William Lang died in 1815 and his son, James W. Lang inherited the tract. The Lang family had consolidated 1,071 acres surrounding William Payne’s tract during their ownership. When James visited the river bank of their holdings he could see the Port of Camden as it developed across the Wateree River. Shipyards were built as river traffic increased. The river was filled with the comings and goings of pole boats, flat boats, and batteaus carrying goods up to Camden from Charleston and returning loaded with Camden cotton, wheat flour and other commodities from Camden merchants. By the 1820s, boats were being constructed at the Camden shipyards, such as the team boat built here in 1821.

Now, in 2018, when we stand on the banks of the Wateree at the mouth of Twenty-five Mile Creek we are standing in the new riverfront park being developed by Kershaw County. This 35.2 acre park will allow us easy access to a very historic part of the Wateree River -- one that has witnessed the centuries of settlement and development which bring us to the present. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the river was not an obstacle, as we see it today -- something we need to build a bridge to cross. It was a “super highway” from Camden and the banks of the river to the important trading port of Charleston and the ocean beyond.

Come explore William Payne’s river front property on Saturday, August 18, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., when Kershaw County invites you to “Meet Me at the River.” Experience the river banks and bottom lands, which were so important to generations of old, and take in the beauty of the Wateree River. Archives and Museum staffer Lon Outen, an expert on the history of the Wateree River, will offer several mini-lectures and answer questions and several visual displays will be available.

Meet you at the river!


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