Darlington County, Brief History 1736-1900
February 22 Murfee’s Company ran from Tories
March 28 Had ye news ye Marion’s Camp taken
March 29 Camp not taken
March 31 British at Burches [Mill]
April 17 Had news of ye Tories at Cashaway
April 28 Col. Kolb is killed & 6 or 7 men, by ye Tories.
May 1 went to ye Mill & home My Horse taken
May 4 to Lides, Webbs & Home; all ye Men came home from Gel Marions Camp
May 15 …We hear Camden is burnt, Brish gone
September 13 …had ye News of a Great Battle fought at Ewtaw Springs
This muster Roll is for John H. Nettles for the 54th Massachusetts. This unit was popularized in the movie Glory. Nettles has been enslaved in Darlington County.
Pen & Ink of the Florence Stockade.
The Jacob Kelley House in Kelleytown, use as headquarters for the Union troops of Gen. John E. Smith, Commander of the 3rd Division, 15th Army Corps, in March 1865. SC.
Wines was a founding member and officer of Union Baptist Church (organized in 1866) across the street and a teacher at the Waddell School nearby. He represented Darlington County in the Legislature from 1876 to 1878, during the collapse of Reconstruction. In 1877, Democratic Gov. Wade Hampton, leader of the anti-Reconstruction movement, commissioned Wines a captain in the state militia, and from 1897 to 1904, during Republican presidential administrations, he served as Society Hill’s postmaster.
The settlement of what is now Darlington County began in earnest after 1736 when the province of South Carolina set aside a vast area of land for the Welsh Baptists of Delaware. This Welsh Track bordered on both sides of the Pee Dee River. Soon after the first settlers began to arrive they constituted the Welsh Neck Baptist Church. This church was initially located on the north side of the Pee Dee River, opposite present-day Society Hill. For almost thirty years settlers lived on the banks and small tributaries of the Pee Dee River. Beginning in the 1760’s other groups slowly made their way into the area and were granted lands on Lynches Creek (River), Black Creek, Jeffries Creek, and a host of other watercourses. These later settlers included descendants of French Huguenots, Scot-Irish, and the English. Enslaved African – Americans played a substantial role in the cultivation and success of several cash crops including rice, indigo, and cotton.
For three decades following the arrival of the first settlers, local government did not exist for the citizens of the area. All deeds, estate settlements, and other legal matters had to be taken to Charles Town to be recorded. In 1769, by an Act of the Assembly, Cheraw District was established as a Judicial District. A courthouse and gaol were built at Long Bluff (near present day Society Hill) and were operational by late 1772.
Events of a much larger scale soon occupied the attention of the Petit Jury of Cheraw District. On 19 November 1774, in one of the first official declarations of American opposition to the taxing policies of the King and Parliament, the members of the jury proclaimed, “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…for if we may be taxed, imprisoned, and deprived of life, by the force of edicts to which neither we or our Consitutional Representatives have ever assented, no slavery can be more adject than ours…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 engrafted in our Constitution, that we are determined to defend it at the hazard of our lives and fortunes….”
During the early years of the Revolutionary War, Cheraw District saw sporadic military actions against Loyalists, mostly irregular in nature. With the fall of Charleston in 1780, the backcountry area became the victim of British deprivations and Patriot military counterstrikes. Two loyalist companies were raised within Cheraw District, one led by Dr. William Henry Mills, and Harrison’s Rangers commanded by John Harrison. Dr. Mills was described in a letter to Lord Cornwallis as … “a man of good character” who had formerly served in the 46th Regiment. In addition, Mills was prominent in the area having served in the Provincial legislature. Major John Harrison enlisted the help of his two brothers, Samuel and Robert, in terrorizing the area near McCullum’s Ferry on Lynches Creek. Bishop Gregg, in his History of the Old Cheraws, called the Harrison brothers … “the greatest banditti that ever infested the country.” The troops under the command of Major Harrison were responsible for plundering patriots and for numerous murders and deprivations. The Harrisons, in conjunction with Major James Wemyss, burned a fifteen mile wide, seventy mile long corridor from Kingstree to Cheraw during the spring of 1780.
Near the end of this raid, Major Wemyss encountered Adam Cusack a civilian who lived near Black Creek in present-day Darlington County. Wemyss demanded that Cusack ferry the British across the Black Creek. Cusack, with unusual courage, refused to assist the British. For this he was arrested and taken to Cheraw. There Cusack was tried and convicted by Major Wemyss, taken to Long Bluff, and hung in the presence of his wife and children.
Cheraw and Long Bluff (near present-day Society Hill), because of their strategic locations, served as British staging areas in the period after Charleston’s surrender. Major McArthur of the 71st Regiment (Highlanders) was stationed alternately in Cheraw and Long Bluff with the task of subduing the backcountry between Camden and Georgetown and keeping communications open with the Cross Creek settlement in North Carolina.
British Major McArthur related in a letter to Lord Cornwallis dated June 13, 1780 that he had gone to the Court House at Long Bluff and met with several of the “Principal Inhabitants who immediately submitted & gave their Paroles – Most of the Rebel officers of the Militia Regt. of this district have come in & given their Paroles.” McArthur perceived that rebel opposition to the British was crumbling and observed to Lord Cornwallis that “…the Country people in general seem desirous to return to their Allegiance & form a Militia as the only means to prevent Plunder from the Banditti that are robbing indiscriminately…”
The residents of Cheraw District were of two minds during the summer and early fall of 1780. Some saw the fight for Independence as lost and cooperated with the British occupiers. Rev. Evan Pugh, and at least 150 others, took an oath of allegiance to the crown and were released on parole. Others were enraged and roused into action by the barbarous actions against Adam Cusack, and numerous other atrocities committed by the British and their Tory sympathizers. Local patriot militia forces under the command of Major Robert Lide, Major Tristram Thomas, Colonel Abel Kolb, Major Lemuel Benton, and others used these sentiments to recruit additional militia members. The American militia often clashed with Loyalist militia and British regulars. Intense partisan warfare spread across Cheraw District during the summer and fall of 1780 and through mid-1781.
Small patriot victories were soon overshadowed by the defeat American forces suffered at the Battle of Camden August 16, 1780. As American General Horatio Gates began to move his troops from North Carolina toward Camden, South Carolina, the Pee Dee region saw a flurry of activity. Gate’s army marched through Cheraw District in early August, and took the opportunity to replenish its supply of rations. American and British forces clashed at Camden on August 16th. The Americans were forced to withdraw from the field of battle in a wild panic after a resounding defeat at the hands of the enemy. On September 25, in the chaos which followed the American defeat, some 500 Tories with British officers reoccupied Long Bluff. The surrounding countryside responded to the occupation with fierce opposition to the British.
In a report to Lord Cornwallis, Major Wemyss commented upon the state of the rebellion in Cheraw District: “…I have burned & laid waste about 50 Houses & Plantations, mostly belonging to People who have either broke their Paroles or Oath of Allegiance, & are now in Arms against us.” The entire area between the Pee Dee and Santee Rivers was now in full revolt against the British.
In December of 1780, General Nathanael Greene assumed command of the American southern army in Charlotte, N.C. Greene quickly realized that while the British controlled towns and outposts, the open countryside was contested by American militia and local Tories. This provided Greene with an opportunity to exert a measure of American control over a wide area of South Carolina. In a gamble, General Greene divided his army and moved a portion of it to Cheraw. He established a “camp of repose” across the Pee Dee River, just opposite the town of Cheraw. This location provided Greene’s troops with a food supply and logistical support. Greene’s men were able to improve the condition of their health during this five week stay. In addition, the British garrison at nearby Camden was threatened by Greene’s army at Cheraw.
Lord Cornwallis withdrew from South Carolina in the winter of 1781. This withdrawal only intensified the struggle between native patriots and Loyalists. Rev. Evan Pugh’s diary portrays the sense of urgency during this period. Reports of local military actions were cited. Rumors were often chronicled, only to be refuted by subsequent events.
The intensity of the struggle in Cheraw District can be seen in the accounts left by veterans after the war. Brothers Gabriel and Clement Clements, under the command of Lemuel Benton and Captain Andrew DuBose, served for three years in the militia. During that time their house was burned by the Tories and both were severely wounded during a skirmish in Darlington County in 1781. Bentley Outlaw, another member of the local militia, related how he was captured by a “gang of Tories” while eating a meal at the home of an “old Whig” named William Weatherington. The Tories proceeded to take Outlaw to Camden to be housed in the jail, but he escaped into the woods and eluded recapture.
Gradually the patriots gained the upper hand. On May 3, 1781, articles were agreed upon by American and British forces for an exchange of prisoners. The agreement was signed at the home of Claudius Pegues in upper Cheraw District. By June the British were unable to adequately defend Georgetown at the mouth of the Pee Dee River and abandoned the town, withdrawing to Charleston. Later in June the Tory leader Micajah Gainey agreed to a cessation of hostilities with General Francis Marion. The agreement stated that a truce would be imposed in the area between the Pee Dee River and the North Carolina line. This area became known as Major Gainey’s Truce Land and attracted a number of loyalists from North Carolina. The truce did not end the warfare in the area as many refused to abide by its terms. Numerous skirmishes and actions continued, particularly along Black Creek.
Events on the Yorktown peninsula in Virginia soon brought good news to the patriot cause. On November 1st, 1781, Rev. Evan Pugh recorded these words, … “had ye News of CornWalis taken.” At long last the war was winding down but the patriots could not let their guard down. Deprivations were still a threat and the local militia continued to patrol and chase Tories.
Darlington County Established
After the Revolutionary War, in 1785, Cheraw District was divided into three counties, Marlborough, Chesterfield, and Darlington. Darlington County was bounded by Cedar Creek, the Pee Dee River, and Lynches Creek (River). To this day there is uncertainty concerning why the county was named Darlington. Initially Greeneville (Long Bluff) served as the county seat of government. The Cheraw District Circuit Court was also held in Greeneville. Later a new county seat was established near the center of the county, Darlington Court House. By 1801 a post office located here.
After 1798 the designation “county” was changed to “district.” In the 1868 South Carolina Constitution, the designation reverted back to county. The county suffered a significant loss of records on 19 March 1806 when the county courthouse burned. The fire destroyed most of the district’s early records, including those of Cheraw District. Fortunately most of the records from the Court of Ordinary (Probate) survived the fire.
Darlingtonians served the new republic during several conflicts in the early 19th century. One of their own, David Rogerson Williams, served his state militarily and politically during this period. Williams served as a congressman (1804 – 1813), a general in the War of 1812, and as governor of the State of South Carolina (1814 – 1816).
Cotton became the primary cash crop during the antebellum period, although the 1850 Agricultural Census of Darlington District reported that fifty persons reported raising significant amounts of rice.
Out migrations began after the Revolutionary War and increased during the early decades of the 19th century. Georgia and Alabama were popular destinations as settlers sought fertile soil and new opportunities. Most states of the Deep South saw an influx of settlers with Darlington ties.
On the eve of the Civil War the 1860 Census of Darlington District enumerated 8,421 whites, 52 free people of color, and 11,877 slaves. Seventy-two individuals held slightly over 50% of the slaves with the remaining 5,900 slaves owned by over 850 individuals. Slightly less than 2,000 white males were of military age, roughly ages 15 – 49. This accounted for 9.5% of the enumerated population.
The 1 May 1861 issue of the Darlington Southerner published two weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, contained articles on the return of the Darlington Guards from the SC coast, a call for volunteers to go to Virginia the defend the Confederacy, and a rendering of the new Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars. Recruiting notices, accounts of faraway battles and casualty lists would soon become commonplace in the local papers. With the coming of the Civil War, Darlington District saw many young men enlist or be drafted into the service of the Confederate States. Military units from Darlington District served on the South Carolina coast, in the Virginia Theater, and in the Western Theater. For most of the war, the district remained untouched by the fighting, however in other ways Darlington District played a role in the war.
Three railroads intersected at the small Darlington District village of Florence, the Wilmington and Manchester, the Northeastern, and the Cheraw and Darlington. The Wilmington and Manchester Railroad extended from Wilmington, NC through Florence to Kingsville, SC. The Northeastern Railroad extended from Florence to Charleston, and the Cheraw and Darlington connected Cheraw to Florence, SC. Throughout the war these railroads ferried men and supplies from the Carolinas and Georgia to Virginia. In September 1863 the Pee Dee region saw thousands of Confederate soldiers pass through Florence as General Longstreet’s corps was transferred from Virginia to Tennessee.
Hundreds of Darlington District farms, once under the direction of husbands, fathers, and sons, were now directed by wives, mothers, and daughters. The small farmer had always exhibited a spirit of independence and most endeavored to carry on in spite of increasing problems brought by war. Mix in the volatility of possible insurrections in an area in which a majority of the population was enslaved, and a picture emerges of extreme hardship. Many letters home from soldiers in Virginia, particularly early in the war, were efforts to direct the planting and harvesting of crops from afar. As the war progressed, the women left in charge of the family farms, became more adept at handling the details of farm management. The fears of insurrections by slaves were not without merit. At least one Darlington District uprising was reported during the war.
The Journals of the SC Executive Council indicate that on September 25, 1862 a petition was presented from Darlington District citizens expressing apprehension concerning a slave insurrection in the area. A company of soldiers was ordered to the district and the council allowed Capt. Hoole’s company to remain home in Darlington for an additional week. Another petition from the citizens of nearby Chesterfield District (Sept. 16, 1862) stated that there were signs of insubordination among slaves and asked that citizens be given powder and shot to defend themselves.
The Confederate Naval Yard, located in neighboring Marion District on the Great Pee Dee River was supported by Darlington planters by hiring out slaves and supplying material, supplies, and food. The extent of this operation can be seen by the fact that W.P. Collins dismantled a steam saw mill in Effingham and transported it to the naval yard. The Naval Yard was established in November 1862 a short distance from the Pee Dee River Bridge. Confederate Navy Lt. Edward J. Means supervised a force consisting of over 100 shipwrights and artisans, a surgeon, and a commissary. Their goal was to construct a wooden gunboat which would protect the Pee Dee River basin from Union incursions. The C.S.S. Pee Dee was 170 feet long with a beam of 28 feet with double propellers. One engine was run through the blockade from England, while the other was manufactured at the Confederate Iron Works in Richmond, VA. The engines produced 250 horsepower and could propel the craft at an estimated nine knots. The armament reportedly consisted of four 32 pound guns and two pivot guns. In late November 1864, a Confederate report indicated that the Pee Dee was not the only vessel under construction at the Naval Yard. In addition, there was also on the stocks a small side-wheel steamer and a torpedo boat.
In Florence, at the corner of Front and Coit Streets, is a historical marker for the Wayside Hospital. The Wayside Hospital was originally established and supplied by the women of the Pee Dee to provide assistance to needy soldiers passing through Florence on the way home. By the end of the second year of the war, the Confederate government was given control of the hospital due to the large number of soldiers who passed through the area. Doctors Theodore Dargan and P.B. Bacot were assisted by Dr. James B. Jarrott. Numerous soldiers were nursed back to health at the Wayside Hospital. It is also recorded that some sixty-four soldiers died at the hospital and were buried in the Florence Presbyterian Church Cemetery. These graves were later moved to Mount Hope Cemetery.
Darlington District slaves were hired out by their masters to help in the construction of military batteries, the Florence Stockade, as well as the Confederate gunboat, the Pee Dee. By August of 1864, ads in Darlington newspapers indicated that slave-owners in the Pee Dee region were required to supply one-half of their slaves to work on fortifications near Charleston for thirty days. In additional 2000 slaves (statewide) were called for monthly for unspecified labor by the authorities.
Free persons of color were in a precarious position during the war. Whites were naturally suspicious of this class, and wartime increased the scrutiny. Many free blacks served the Confederacy as cooks and drivers. Members of the several Darlington mulatto families, notably the Penn family enlisted in the Confederate army. There were complaints however concerning a free mulatto, Bill Nowden, of Darlington, who chose to conduct business during the war. His offense was to gather up “eggs, chickens, turkeys, geese, butter, all kinds of vegetables, including potatoes, apples, peaches, and in fact, every thing else that he could gather up and ship off to his partner in Charleston that would bear a profit.”
At least one Darlington District slave ran away and joined the famous African – American unit, the 54th Massachusetts, popularized in the movie Glory. This man’s name was John H. Nettles. Upon his enlistment in Boston, MA on 4 March 1863, Nettles stated he was born in Darlington District, SC and was aged 27. Nettles died of wounds approximately five months later in the General Hospital in Beaufort, SC. He had been wounded during the famous assault on Battery Wagner near Charleston.
Sherman’s march through and occupation of the upper Pee Dee region afforded an opportunity for other slaves to leave their owners and travel along with the Union Army. Some newly freed African – Americans enlisted in the Union Army and served the latter part of the war in blue uniforms.
The Florence Stockade was in operation for approximately five months during the final month of the Civil War, September 1864 – February 1865. Most of the initial prisoners at the Florence Stockade were moved from Andersonville, Georgia after the capture of Atlanta by General William T. Sherman. Between 15,000 and 18,000 Union prisoners were held captive in an enclosure of less than 24 acres in size. Of these POWs it is estimated that some 2,800 died and are buried in unmarked graves at the Florence National Cemetery. The National Cemetery is one of the most visible remnants of the Civil War in the Pee Dee region.
Due to its proximity to three rail lines (the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad, the Northeastern Railroad, and the Cheraw and Darlington Railroad), Florence, SC was chosen as the site of a new prison stockade. Major Frederick F. Warley, a resident of nearby Darlington before the war and a recently exchanged prisoner, was ordered to Florence to construct a stockade. On September 14, the first of some 5,000 to 6,000 prisoners began to arrive in Florence from Charleston. The prisoners were gathered in an open field and guarded by a small contingent (some 125 men) of the South Carolina Reserves.
The Waccamaw Light Artillery was ordered to Florence on September 17th and on the next day Major Warley reported by telegram that the prisoners were in a “state of mutiny” and he feared that the guard would be overpowered and the rail lines destroyed. Before the Waccamaw Light Artillery, arrived some 400 to 600 prisoners managed to escape and plunder the citizens who lived nearby.
Most of these escaped prisoners were recaptured, but the seriousness of the situation was certainly not lost on Confederate authorities. Major Warley made an appeal to local plantations to supply slaves to complete the construction of the stockade. An appeal was also made for citizens from surrounding districts to come to Florence to help guard the prisoners. A postwar account published in the Unionist Darlington New Era newspaper indicates that Warley … “seized supply trains on their way to the rebel armies in Virginia; appropriated [illegible] supplies, everything that could be found, and that his own purse could purchase, to ameliorate the sad condition of his charge…”. Finally, according to the newspaper account, Warley telegraphed Charleston with the plea, “‘For God’s sake do not send any more prisoners here until preparations are made to receive them.’ Still they were sent, and he immediately requested to be relieved from his position…”. Colonel George P. Harrison, Jr. of the 32nd Georgia was ordered to proceed to Florence to relieve Major Warley. Harrison was authorized to make impressments upon local citizens if the “interests of the service demand it.”
By early October the Florence Stockade was completed. The stockade site covered 23½ acres and was rectangular in shape. A small stream, Pye Branch (a tributary of nearby Jeffries Creek) bisected the site. In mid-October there were 12,362 Union prisoners (mostly enlisted men) imprisoned at the Florence Stockade. The death rate among these prisoners averaged between 20 and 30 per day. Three-quarters of the prisoners had no blankets and most were poorly clothed.
Confederate authorities continued to experience difficulty in supplying the prisoners, as well as guards, with adequate food. In an effort to alleviate this problem, the most severely ill prisoners were offered parole in late November. Some 1,000 prisoners were sent to Savannah, Georgia and given parole on November 30th. On December 7th other Union prisoners selected for parole were examined and the 1,080 who qualified were sent by rail to Charleston. All total, there were five such groups of prisoners, of approximately 1,000 men each, who were paroled in the late fall of 1864.
A report in January 1865 indicated that general discipline was good in the stockade and the hospital was “ample and comfortable,” however the Subsistence Department was “entirely deficient and the ration issued daily amounts almost to starvation.” The report continued that there had only been 2 issues of meat in the last two months. Seven thousand five hundred and thirty-eight prisoners were reported to be imprisoned, of this total nearly 550 in the hospital. Mortality was six prisoners a day with diarrhea accounting for most deaths, although a few cases of small pox and typhoid fever were reported. The guard force was described as “inefficient, without proper discipline.” These Reserve troops consisted of older men and teenagers.
Other events slowly began to overshadow the situation at Florence. General William T. Sherman had begun his Carolina’s Campaign and indicated on January 19th a possible scenario for operations over the next several weeks. Sherman wrote: “If I find sufficient forage and subsistence for my army and meet with no reverse, I may move with rapidity to Florence, S.C., in hopes to rescue some 10,000 prisoners confined there.”
Confederate authorities determined that the prisoners should be removed to North Carolina. The able-bodied prisoners were sent to Greensboro via Cheraw and paroled, while the sick and wounded prisoners were taken in two groups to either Richmond, Virginia or the Northeast Ferry near Wilmington and paroled. The vast majority of these prisoners were finally paroled near Wilmington on February 27th, 28th, and March 1st, 1865. Thus by the time an expedition consisting of some 550 men from Sherman’s command struck toward Florence on March 5th, the Stockade was empty.
Upon leaving Columbia on February 20, 1865, Sherman’s army was ordered to proceed to Fayetteville, NC by way of Cheraw. General Hardee’s Confederate troops evacuated Charleston on February 17 and 18 and began the journey to Cheraw via Florence by rail. For two weeks these troops were transported through Florence and Darlington to Cheraw. As these troops began to arrive in Cheraw on February 25, they were ordered to deploy along the two most likely paths of Sherman’s army, the Chesterfield – Cheraw Road and the Camden – Cheraw Road. Sherman’s troops encountered the rain-swollen Catawba River near Camden and a similarly swollen Lynches River prior to moving into Chesterfield District on February 27 and 28.
The Federals slowly advanced towards Cheraw in the face of Confederate resistance. On March 2 General Sherman entered the town of Chesterfield and burned the courthouse. In the midst of the Federal advance on Cheraw, the C.S.S. Pee Dee was ordered to proceed up the Pee Dee River to Cheraw in support of General Hardee. Although the gunboat did reach a few miles below Cheraw, it provided no real support to Hardee.
During Sherman’s visit to the Pee Dee, several related raids and skirmishes occurred. These included demonstrations in Society Hill, the brief occupation of Kellytown (at the Jacob Kelley House) and Darlington, the destruction of the rail bridges between Cheraw and Florence, and skirmishes at Mount Elon and Florence. Captain William K. Duncan of the 15th Illinois Cavalry was ordered in late February to destroy the railroad bridges over Lynches River and Sparrow Swamp, continue to Florence and destroy the railroad property there, and to liberate the prisoners at the Florence Stockade. Duncan did not know that the prisoners had recently been moved from Florence. Colonel Hugh K. Aiken of the 5th SC Cavalry intercepted the Union force about three miles from Mount Elon Post Office and forced the Duncan to retreat. Unfortunately, Aiken was killed in the encounter. On March 5th, another Union force consisting of nearly 550 men from the 7th and 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry and the 29th Missouri Mounted Infantry advanced towards Florence after occupying Darlington. (While in Darlington some 250 bales of cotton and the local printing plant was destroyed.) They met a Confederate train, which saw the body of troops and backed into Florence giving a warning to Confederate troops there. The Federals soon captured the Florence Depot, but word was sent to General Joe Wheeler who was able to reinforce Southern troops in Florence. When some 400 Confederate troops arrived by rail, the Union forces were forced to withdraw under constant Southern attacks. Despite the Union retreat, records indicate that Union troops destroyed 500 feet of railroad trestle, 2 depots, 18 rail cars, 4,000 pounds of bacon, 80 bushels of wheat, 50 sacks of corn, and captured 32 prisoners.
The effects of Sherman’s visit were felt throughout Darlington District. One local resident wrote: “I was completely broken up by Sherman’s Army when they passed through. I lost all my horses, carriages, buggies, everyone, and nearly all my meat about six hundred bushels of corn. All of my Negroes left me except three….starvation is staring a great many in the face. The army destroyed everything as they went [through]. They were here four days destroying as fast as possible every day…I did not have a change of clothing left and we lost all our bed clothing and all our cooking utensils…”
The Reconstruction Era brought numerous challenges to the existing social, economic, and political order of Darlington County. The defeat of the Confederate States and the end of the Civil War bought tremendous changes. The county suffered numerous wounds. The entire region was in ruins and hundreds of men died or were wounded during the war. With the abolition of slavery, labor for the largely agricultural economy was uncertain. The next few years would see the occupation of the former Confederate States by the military. The Freedman’s Bureau served as a lifeline for many African – Americans and poor whites supplying needed food and medical services. In many cases the Bureau arbitrated labor disputes between the freedmen and their former owners. Black Codes were quickly enacted after the war that severely limited the rights and opportunities of freedmen.
Under the South Carolina Constitution of 1868, African – Americans began to exercise their right to vote. Soon they elected representatives to all levels of government. Local government began to operate on a township system, somewhat similar to a New England system. Free schools were established, divorce was legalized, and African – Americans were eligible to serve in the militia. Numerous churches were established during this period as African – Americans left congregations controlled by whites. The American Missionary Association, contributed funds for the establishment of African American congregations and purchase of educational supplies for schools. This was a turbulent period with heated political meetings, accusations of malfeasance, violent clashes, and continued economic hardship. By 1875 African Americans in Darlington County had been elected to numerous local offices including County Commission (Isaac P. Brockington). Sheriff (T.C. Cox), Treasurer (Plato C. Fludd), School Commissioner (J.C. Wilson), Jury Commissioner (Plato C. Fludd), and Coroner (Henry Brown). Darlington County was represented in the South Carolina General Assembly by a number of African Americans during this period. These representatives included John Boston, G. Holliman, Alfred Hart, Richard H. Humbert, Samuel J. Keith, Jordan Lang, Alfred Rush (assassinated in 1877), Jackson A. Smith, and Zachariah W. Wines.
The election of 1876 was significant for South Carolina as well as nationally. In a violent and hotly contested campaign, Democrats, mainly supported by whites, were swept into office all across South Carolina. In order to resolve an electoral stalemate at the national level, Democrats agreed to award twenty contested electoral votes to the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, in exchange for the removal of troops from the state. This allowed the antebellum political order to be largely restored to white South Carolinians.
Post Reconstruction Darlington
Although African – Americans made up approximately 63% of the population of the county in 1880, gradually the political, social, and economic advancements gained during Reconstruction were eroded away. With the adoption of the 1895 South Carolina Constitution, most African – Americans were essentially disenfranchised. The state now required a literacy test and payment of a poll tax in order to vote. Numerous Jim Crow laws were passed further restricting rights.
The sharecrop system which became commonplace after the Civil War slowly evolved into a tenant system within the county. Families rented farm land, acquired a horse or mule, and were able to establish credit with merchants in town. For many families within Darlington County this system survived until the mid-20th century. The introduction of tobacco in the late 1880’s as a cash crop, changed the face of agriculture across the Pee Dee region. Florence (1891) and Darlington (1892) soon boasted tobacco warehouses where cured tobacco was auctioned to tobacco companies.
Perhaps one of the most unusual crisis during the 1890’s was the Dispensary War which occurred in Darlington County. Under the 1893 Dispensary Law, the state of South Carolina secured a monopoly on the sale of alcohol in the state. Across the state there was wide-spread disregard for the law and its harsh enforcement tactics. Dispensary agents who were dispatched to Darlington to uphold the law reported that they had been attacked by local citizens at the train depot. Two citizens and one agent were killed in the altercation with many others wounded. Governor Ben Tillman declared Darlington and Florence Counties in a state of rebellion, and troops were dispatched to quell the violence. Within a month the South Carolina Supreme Court declared the Dispensary Law unconstitutional.
Darlington County lost significant territory to the newly formed county of Florence in 1888 (including the municipalities of Florence and Timmonsville) and to Lee (including the rural communities of Ashland and Stokes Bridge) in 1902.
Towns and Villages of Darlington County
Four towns were well established within Darlington County by 1900, Darlington, Hartsville, Society Hill, and Lamar. Darlington, the county seat, began as a small crossroads community and gradually developed into a larger town which benefited from serving as the seat of county government. By the 1830’s the town boasted a courthouse, school, churches, and Masonic lodge. Darlington was officially incorporated in December 1835. The town welcomed its first successful railroad in 1856, the Cheraw and Darlington Railroad. Although Darlington did not suffer the fate of many county seats during the Civil War of having the town burned by invading Union troops, a fire broke out in 1866 which burned the business district and Courthouse. The town benefited during the 1880’s and 1890’s from the establishment of several manufacturing facilities within the town including a textile mill.
Hartsville is named for Captain Thomas E. Hart who settled on Black Creek in 1817. Within twenty years Hart’s settlement consisted of a large plantation (nearly 8,000 acres on both sides of Black Creek), a store, a post office, cotton gin, and blacksmith shop. By the mid-1840’s Hart’s son, John, settled near the present-day intersection of Fifth Street and Home Avenue. Around this location the town of Hartsville slowly developed. After the Civil War, Major James Lide Coker, a veteran of the war, established a highly successful mercantile business, J.L. Coker and Company. The company attracted customers from the surrounding county as well as from nearby Chesterfield County. Coker’s success continued with the founding of Carolina Fibre Company and Southern Novelty Company (now known as Sonoco Products Company), and Welsh Neck High School (now Coker College).Coker brought the railroad to Hartsville in 1889 and the resulting economic boost led to the incorporation of Hartsville in 1891 and substantial growth into the 20th century. In 1913 the establishment of Coker’s Pedigreed Seed Company by David R. Coker influenced agriculture across the entire Southern United States.
The village of Society Hill’s early history mirrors the early history of the Pee Dee region. Most early settlers to the region lived on the north side of the Pee Dee River, opposite from the location of Society Hill. By the early 1750’s an area on the south side of the river, known as Long Bluff, became a trading post. By 1769, when Cheraw District was established, Long Bluff became the seat of government with a courthouse, gaol, tavern, and several residences. Strategically located overlooking the Pee Dee River, Long Bluff was occupied by British and Patriot forces alike during the Revolutionary War. Long Bluff was renamed Greeneville soon after the war ended, in honor of General Nathaniel Greene. The unhealthy nature of this location caused future development to move farther west. In 1786 a school established by the St. David’s Society was erected on this higher ground, which became known as Society’s Hill. Welsh Neck Baptist Church moved to the same area by 1799, and the community became simply Society Hill. Governor David R. Williams operated a cotton mill powered by water during the second decade of the 19th century. The progressive nature of Society Hill continued during the antebellum period with the founding of a public library in 1822. During the Civil War many refugees from the occupied coastal areas of the state sought a safe haven in Society Hill. Although Society Hill is the oldest community in the county, it was not formally incorporated until 1883. This community is the home of many of the oldest homes in the county.
Lamar is located near Newman Swamp in the southeastern section of the county. Its early history is closely associated with the Captain George Mims family. By the 1850’s a community developed at the intersection of the road to Newman’s Ferry on Lynches River and the road to Cartersville (present-day Florence County). A post office was located here by 1859 and named Lisbon, SC. Unfortunately the post office closed in 1870, and when another attempt (1886) was made to establish a post office in the area, the name Lisbon was used by another SC community. At this point the name of the community was changed to Lamar, named supposedly for Senator Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus of Mississippi. The town’s fortunes were greatly enhanced by the coming of the railroad a few years later.
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