“By as much as you prefer freedom to slavery, by so much ought you to prefer a generous death to servitude…..Hence, by all the ties which mankind hold most dear and sacred; your reverence to your ancestors; your love to your own interest; your tenderness to your posterity; by lawful obligations of your oaths; I CHARGE YOU TO DO YOUR DUTY; to maintain the laws, the rights,, the constitution of your country, even at the hazard of your lives and fortunes.”
On this day, November 15, 1774, nineteen months before the National Declaration of Independence, the Grand Jury of Cheraws District denied the right of Parliament to levy taxes on them and declared themselves ready to defend with their lives and fortunes the right to obey only those laws made by their own elected representatives. They issued and published their own Declaration of Independence.
(The Long Bluff Declaration of Independence from British rule and law is one of the FIRST definite Declarations of Independence to be proclaimed ANYWHERE in the Colonies. Long Bluff, of the Cheraws District, is today Society Hill, South Carolina, Darlington County.)
by HEWITT A. SOMPAYRAC King Billy, and his hunting party, had followed and watched the strange scene in stark silence for several days. The small pole boats moved slowly against the flow of the murky waters of the Pee Dee River. Billy was King of the Pedee Indians, a small nomadic tribe, who along with their neighbors, the Cheraws, and the stronger Catawbas to the north, had lived in this area for unknown years, perhaps ten thousand. The news spread fast that more of the strangers from the coast were moving into the Upper Pee Dee. These strangers were bringing along with them the dread spirit that caused much sickness and death. The Indians had been devastated by epidemics of smallpox. Half of their population had died in the past three decades. The Pedees and Cheraws had roamed, hunted, and made the river, the forest, and a few miles north, the sandhills, a pleasant home. It would not be too many years before they would leave this area and find a new home far beyond the sandhills. They left behind the markers of their dead, their burial mounds.
Here and there, as a reminder that they once were here, are found pieces of pottery, arrowheads, and other tools that tell of a life that used to be.
The boats had pushed to the bank of the river whenever the terrain would allow. The men, as if looking for a lost member, would venture onto land for a brief time then return to the boats. Upon reaching the big bend in the river, the boats inched to the east bank and put ashore. November in South Carolina is a month of many moods and colors. Warm bright hues of autumn can change suddenly to a grey damp cold. ‘The sounds of nature fade as echoes. The wilds nestle quietly and wait for the sun to pour warmth into the air and the pulse of life timidly begins again to ride the sylvan breeze. This was one of those bright golden days and the sun was still well above the western horizon. The men did not return for some time, when they did return, they dragged the boats onto the small flat area of land. Many things were removed that they had not removed on previous stops. Here they stayed the night, and when the morning sun moved higher into the sky, it became apparent that here they planned to stay.
The group was small in number but was well organized. The men climbed the embankment and began to clear the immediate area. Sounds of chopping and felling of trees filled the day and many days to follow. The women began to remove and unpack the bags, boxes and trunks for easier transport up the steep incline. Welsh Neck, on this November day of 1736, was settled by a group that had come to the Upper Pee Dee from Pennepec in Pennsylvania-Delaware. The undergrowth and insects begin to disappear during this time of year, and it seems logical that this is the reason that this time was chosen to make their settlement.
“Welsh Neck” was surveyed as early as January, 1736, and extended from Crooked Creek above, to the “Red Bluff’ below; James James was the leader of this sturdy, brave and noble group. Their values were deep rooted in piety and intellect. This attribute began to abound from the very beginning and in later years gave character to this entire area of South Carolina.
In 1734, Craven County was finally agreed to comprise the area now encompassing Marion, Dillon, Florence, Darlington, Chesterfield and Marlboro Counties. This area was called the Cheraws District named after the Cheraw Indians. This area of the Upper Pee Dee was called by this name until after the war, probably until 1785. In this District was Chatham, now Cheraw, and Long Bluff, now Society Hill.
The land on the west side of the Pee Dee was higher and thus drier and more healthy. By the year 1747, a settlement began to form on the western bank and inland stretches and hills. In a few years, most of the residents on the eastern bank of the river had moved across the river. Long Bluff was the name given the settlement being located on the longest bluff of the river. Long Bluff was soon to become an important center of trade, justice, learning, and culture.
Long Bluff was the first settlement in Darlington County. St. David’s Free Academy and Reading Society were started by these men who realized the importance of an education of a kind far ahead of its time in this area. When the Long Bluff Court House was built, young men from St. David’s Academy studied law in the offices of the several lawyers in the area. Members of the St. David’s Society raised the equivalent of $30,000 to endow and establish a public school to cultivate in the youth of the area principles of religion, and every social virtue, as by enabling them afterwards to fill with dignity and usefulness the most important departments of the State.
Their church, the Welsh Neck Church, now the Welsh Neck Baptist, had been founded across the river in 1738. This Church served as the Mother Church for approximately thirty Baptist Churches in this area. The Welsh Neck Church was moved to the present location at the crest of the Society Hill in 1798.
With the passage of the Circuit Court Bill on August 2, 1769, it was decided that a Court House and Jail should be built at Long Bluff. On November 16, 1772, the first court sat at Lo
ng Bluff (prior to this time all cases had been tried in Charleston, 135 miles away. A “sessions sermon’’ was preached on the morning of the 16th by the pastor of the Welsh Neck Baptist Church, Reverend Nicholas Bedgegood.
Henceforth, Long Bluff was to become the resort of judges and lawyers. Here evenhanded justice was administered and Punishment meted out well calculated to awe would-be wrongdoers.
The brilliance of the learned arguments, its eloquent appeals, and learned mental conflicts of the sessions at Long Bluff, only little knowledge remains. With men, the caliber of Judge Waites, Brevard and Drayton, a more talented group cannot be found.
Today only a few scattered bricks are all that remain of the Long Bluff Court House. The plough, for many years, made deep furrows over the ground on which the old Court House stood. We can only wander back in our imagination to its earlier days, and solemnly, but proudly reflect on the past.
One thing that does remain to stir our sense of pride in the heritage that has passed to us, and this is the record of the burning words that our forefathers at Long Bluff expressed to the world. Theirs was the opening chapter of the manly declaration of their rights.
Judge William Henry Drayton left Charleston on his November Circuits, first delivered his Charge to the Grand Jury in Camden on November 5, 1774. The Charge was met with great enthusiasm. The response of the Camden District Grand Jury is recorded above in the first three Presentments. Judge Drayton appeared at Long Bluff upon the opening of the Court, on Tuesday, November 15,1774, and delivered the very same Charge to the Long Bluff Grand Jury. Judge Drayton called for a fulfillment of their duty. He said, “By as much as you prefer freedom to slavery, by so much ought you to prefer a generous death to servitude…..Hence, by all the ties which mankind hold most dear and sacred; your reverence to your ancestors; your love to your own interest; your tenderness to your posterity; by lawful obligations of your oaths; I CHARGE YOU TO DO YOUR DUTY; to maintain the laws, the rights,, the constitution of your country, even at the hazard of your lives and fortunes.”
NOTE HERE IN THE RECORD FROM THE “AMERICAN ARCHIVES,” THE PRESENTMENT NUMBER FOUR IS THE LONG BLUFF DECLARATION. THIS THEY REGARDED AS A MOST POSITIVE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. THERE CAN BE NO MISTAKE THAT THIS STATEMENT EXPRESSES INDEPENDENCE!
The response by the Long Bluff Grand Jury, and noted in the “American Archives” above, follows: “We present, as a grievance of the first magnitude, the right claimed by the British Parliament to tax us, and by their acts to bind us in all cases whatsoever. When we reflect on our other grievances, they all appear trifling in comparison with this; for if we may be taxed, imprisoned, and deprived of life, by the force of edicts to which neither we or our Constitutional Representatives have ever assented, no slavery can be more abject than ours.
“We are however, sensible that we have a better security for our lives, our liberties, and fortunes, than the mere will of the Parliament of Great Britain; and are fully convinced that we cannot be constitutionally taxed BUT by Representatives of our own election, or bound by any laws than those to which they have assented.”
“This right of being exempted from all laws but those enacted with the consent of Representatives of our own election, we deem so essential to our freedom, and so engrafted in our Constitution, that we are determined to defend it at the hazard of our lives and fortunes; and we earnestly request that this Presentment may be laid before our Constitutional Representatives, the Commons
House of Assembly of this Colony, that it may be known how much we prize our freedom, and how resolved we are to preserve it.”
“We recommend that these Presentments be published in the several “Gazettes of this Province.”
Alexander McIntosh, Foreman, Henry W. Harrington, Thomas Ayers, Robert Blair, William Pegues, Robert Lide, George Hicks, John Hodges, Arthur Hart, Elias DuBose, Robert Clary, Martin DeWitt, Martin Kolb, John Kimbrough, Moses Speight, Thomas Lide, Thomas James, John Wilds. Thomas Edwards.
“Whereupon the following order was passed.”
Most of these men may have lived far from the beaten path, but their fervor, patriotism, sacrifice, and courage, when the final die was cast, changed the course of the war. Let none be so naive as to believe that these brave men and women of our state’s back country did not forge the final steps to victory. Their sincere faith in their own destination, their faith in their own unswerving ability and, most of all, their undying faith in their God gave them the strength and spirit when the frailty of the human body had been made manifest.
When these men declared that they were free to obey no law not made by their own Representatives, it matters little how you look at it or interpret it, these were and ever will be, the FIRST American Declarations of Independence.
We have no desire to question the validity of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. This attitude on our part would serve no purpose, since the Mecklenburg Declaration plainly: states that it was signed on May 20, 1775. The Camden Declaration was declared Nov. 5, 1774, and the Long Bluff Declaration was written, presented, signed, on November 15, 1774, and later published. It is recorded in the “American Archives,” Volume 1, pp. 959-62; also, “South Carolina and American Gazette,’’ December 16-23, 1774. The record as it appeared in the “American Archives,” now the “National Archives,” is reproduced here.
The Long Bluff Declaration of Independence precedes the Mecklenburg Declaration by six months and the Philadelphia Declaration by nineteen months. Please let it be respectfully noted here, history is based on facts and our claims are based on documented facts. This is in no means an effort to seem overly boastful, for to do so, would be completely opposite the spirit by which these brave patriots acted. IT IS A CONCERTED EFFORT to give credit to those who not only declared their determination to defend their freedom at the hazard of their lives and fortunes, but requested that it be published in order that all should be aware of their intentions.
One has but to look at the records again to find that these men served gallantly during the Revolution and many gave their all. General Alexander McIntosh, the Foreman, served with dignity and honor under General Moultrie in the defense of Charleston. He came home to reorganize the Upper Pee Dee Militia and became Brigadier-General of Militia. An entry in the “Journal” of Rev. Evan Pugh
— “On the 18th of November, the Pedee country and the State at large sustained a heavy loss in the death of General McIntosh.” This was in 1780.
Let it be known to all who appreciate the quest for the truth and to those who wish to see recognition received where recognition is due, even though it has taken two hundred years to attain, the FIRST American Declarations of Independence were declared at Camden, Nov. 5, 1774 and Long Bluff, (Society Hill), South Carolina, on November 15, 1774.
This is not in any way designed nor meant, to distract from the importance of any other Declarations of Independence. They all served their purpose, independence was declared and gained by the lives and fortunes of many in ALL the thirteen Colonies.
May I express my appreciation to Senator Strom Thurmond for his aid in obtaining the copy of the record as shown here from the “American Archives.”
Cook, “Rambles In The Pee Dee Basin.”
Gregg, “History of the Old Cheraws.”
Mills, “Statistics of South Carolina”.
Drayton, John, “A View of South Carolina.”