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A 21st Century View of 18th Century Camden:a Geophysical Study of Historic Camden
Free Lyceum Program at Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site
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Once upon a time, around 1968, a band of Camden’s boldest visionaries (the original trustees of Historic Camden Foundation) set out to find treasure more precious than a chest brimming with doubloons -- the town site of 18th century Camden. They knew from legend (plus visible scatterings of brick rubble) that the booty was buried under the cotton fields bracing Broad Street south of Bull.

Guided by a map detailing British occupied Camden known as the Greene Map, a rare survivor of General Nathanael Greene’s time in Camden during the Revolution, the group bought the parcels of land that comprised the old town. Today those grassy fields are preserved as part of the 106+ acre outdoor museum complex known as Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site.

Kicking off Historic Camden’s annual free Lyceum series, Dr. Jonathan Leader of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology will present "A 21st Century View of 18th Century Camden: a Geophysical Study of Historic Camden," Sunday, Oct. 11 from 3-5 p.m. at the Kershaw-Cornwallis House. The slide-illustrated program is open to the public and will be followed by light refreshments.

While archaeological investigation of the town site over the years has proved fruitful, primarily conducted by Historic Camden’s lead archaeologist, Kenneth Lewis, recently retired professor of anthropology at Michigan State, yet much remains undiscovered. In June 2015, Dr. Leader led a team to find out what really was buried in the sands of time -- all without uprooting a single tuft of grass.

Using advanced technology in the shape of a Bartington 601 Gradiometer, the group was able to map the remains of 18th century Camden, noted by scholars as one of the most valuable and untouched colonial settlements left in America today. Covering 28,800 square meters, they were able to "see" the streets and houses, outbuildings and paddocks of Camden during the time of the Revolution. This is the Camden which bore witness to the struggles of Kershaw and Cornwallis and of Tarleton and Greene. The town surrendered to the invading army without firing a shot, her citizens forced under martial law. This is the little village that Gates never reached, fleeing from the defeated troops on his fleet-footed thoroughbred. The one that cradled noble Baron de Kalb as he lay dying, and into her earth he was finally put to rest.

A veritable treasure trove of our nation’s early history. Indeed, a time capsule. "Basically, we found the town," Leader said, "The streets, the buildings, the outbuildings -- all of it is there." But he was quick to note, "there is no Confederate gold buried out there, nothing like that. Nothing anyone can dig up and sell on the internet," He continued, "But if you’re talking about seeing how people lived, that is very discernible -- and that makes it priceless."

Although early research has Nathanael Green’s comment at face value that Camden was "little better than a heap of rubbish," following the British evacuation, evidence shows something quite the opposite. As Lewis has noted, "The immediate use of Camden as a base to support the American army’s offensive operations further implies that enough of the town had escaped the fire to provide shelter for personnel and storage for equipment and supplies. Numerous Continental and militia units moved through the town as the seat of war shifted closer to the low country, and Camden became an important logistical center for Greene’s southern campaign." Such a campaign could not have been led from a smoldering refuse pile.

The primary source material Lewis has combed, combined with Leader’s on-site findings, is helping not only Historic Camden, but the city, county, and state make wiser, more responsible decisions about how and when further digs should be planned.

Join us for a new bird’s eye view of Camden’s buried treasure. For more information, please call 432-9841 or email hiscamden@truvista.net.