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Local footprints of history
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The S. C. Confederation of Local Historical Societies held its 2011 annual convention in Walterboro April 14-16. Its conventions consist of a business meeting, presentations on historical topics, tours of local historic sites, and an awards banquet. The theme of this convention was the Revolutionary War.

Charles Baxley attended and conducted tours of Revolutionary War sites in the area. Yours truly attended to soak up some more local history and to represent the Kershaw County Historical Society. Joan and Glen Inabinet attended and received an Award of Merit from the Confederation for “A History of Kershaw County,” the new county history.

The theme of this convention matched the history of Kershaw County very well. The Revolutionary War Battle of Hobkirk Hill was fought inside the present-day city limits of Camden. The Battle of Camden took place six miles north of town and the Hanging Rock and Rugeley skirmishes occurred within the county. The British army occupied Camden for about a year and burned it when they left in May 1781.

All of these local Revolutionary War connections have given birth to one of our sister organizations, Historic Camden. They have created a Revolutionary War “Mecca” in Camden. Annually, thousands of people from all across America and elsewhere flock to Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park to participate in activities there and to see and retrace the “historical footprints” in the area left by Lord Charles Cornwallis, General Horatio Gates, Baron De Kalb, General Nathaniel Greene, Barnastre Tarleton, Thomas Sumter, Col. Buford, Andrew Jackson, Samuel Mathis, Joseph Kershaw, and others.

Speaking of Joseph Kershaw, while at Walterboro we retraced some of his steps and his footprints to an extent. We visited Jacksonboro where the General Assembly met in January and February 1782 while the British continued to occupy Charles Town and its environs. Joseph Kershaw along with nine others represented the area “east of the Wateree” in this General Assembly.

The General Assembly meeting at Jacksonboro and the re-establishment of civil government in S.C. produced an unusual historical footprint, a footprint in printing itself. The first newspaper ever printed outside of Charles Town, The Gazette, occurred March 1, 1782, at Jacksonboro. No copy of this paper survives.

By April of 1782 the South-Carolina Gazette was being printed at Parker’s Ferry, some 8 miles from Jacksonboro. One issue, May 15, 1782, survives and Joseph Kershaw advertised a slave auction in it. The earlier paper at Jacksonboro and this paper were likely the same with just a name change. The printing press would have been the same since the existence of a second press is inconceivable. Parker’s Ferry was also a site we toured while at Walterboro.

The third newspaper printed outside of Charleston was the Camden Intelligencer of June 5, 1803. Georgetown’s newspaper of 1797 was the second.

At some point in 1780-81 General Greene came into possession of a small printing press which was used by him, used by the S. C. government led by Governor John Rutledge, and used by someone else to print newspapers. The press survived the war and was in use in the 1820s for printing the Pendleton Messenger.

Due to breakdowns, rugged terrain, taking the wrong road or just incompetence, Lord Cornwallis abandoned several wagons loaded with various items when he left Charlotte in October 1780. These wagons and their contents quickly fell into Patriot hands. One wagon contained a small printing press. This may have been the press Greene had at Jacksonboro.

While at Walterboro we also retraced and walked in some of General Nathaniel Greene’s footsteps. He commanded the American troops at the Battle of Hobkirk Hill and occupied Camden on May 10, 1781, after Lord Rawdon burned the town and retreated south toward Charles Town.

To protect the meeting of the General Assembly, Greene placed his army on Col. William Skirving’s plantation across the Edisto River on Charles Town Road four and one-half miles north toward that city. He located his headquarters adjacent to Skirving’s home and placed his army just across the Charles Town road. That site is known as Encampment Plantation today.

The cemetery of some of the families who lived here is located just below the Skirving home site. This plantation, known as Oak Lawn today, was not scheduled for a tour but I gave the Inabinets a quick private one during some spare time. 

In a serendipitous manner, General Greene planted another footprint on the history of Kershaw County, S. C., and the nation -- the footprint of the cotton plant. Revolutionary War debts owed General Greene were paid off by land grants in South Carolina and Georgia. On Greene’s Georgia plantation after his death, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. The gin enabled the quick separation of cotton fibers from their seeds.

The rapid increase in the growth of cotton created by the gin produced an accompanying increase in demand for slave labor. As a result, the history of the South and the nation was dramatically changed forever.

The Revolutionary War is just one of the historical footprints that have had an impact and left its imprint on our rich history. A historian may posthole by just addressing a particular footprint such as the Cleveland School fire. He may write “The Illustrated Recollections of Potter’s Raid” as Allan Thigpen did or as John C. Parker Jr. has done with his “Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina.”

When the Inabinets wrote their “A History of Kershaw County,” they did not have the luxury to treat a single footprint but were required to treat all local footprints of individuals and events created over time, then access their impact or imprint on our history.

To complicate matters further, everything that happens leaves its footprint. Some of these footprints are small and insignificant while others are much larger and more significant. Also, many footprints overlap and obliterate each other.

By examining the chapter headings in “A History of Kershaw County,” and scanning the book, one quickly concludes the Inabinets have synthesized and consolidated this massive amount of historical “footprints” or pieces of information into very readable and understandable blocks of content. One comes away from reading their book, not only with an understanding of our history, but an appreciation of who we are and why we are as we are.

In the end, they pointed us optimistically toward a future where we all can continue to generate our own “footprints of history,” and in the process, leave it to future historians to discover, record, and assess them.

(The Kershaw County Historical Society provided this column, written by historian Harvey S. Teal, to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)