Clarendon County, South Carolina History  

A Brief History of Clarendon County

Clarendon County is the most northern portion of the Santee Cooper Region of South Carolina. The name of Clarendon for a county in South Carolina was first proposed in 1783 when the legislature of South Carolina first suggested that the state should be divided into seven court districts. It has been assumed that the county derives its name from Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, one of the original eight Lord Proprietors of the Carolina. A legislative act passed in 1785 which created the county of Clarendon. Old Camden District was divided to form Clarendon and six other counties. At that time, the boundaries of Clarendon County were as follows: beginning; on the Wateree at Pearson's Island, thence by the widow Grimes's plantation straight to Lynch's Creek, then along Santee River to the beginning. " In 1790, Clarendon County shared a senator with Claremont County (now included in Sumter County). In 1792, Salem County was created from the eastern part of Clarendon County and Claremont County. In 1798, the three counties of Clarendon, Claremont, and Salem were combined to form Sumter District. Clarendon remained part of Sumter District until a legislative act passed on December 19, 1855, established the Clarendon District with the same old boundaries as the act of 1785. The greatest local political excitement in Sumter District during the summer of 1855, was the agitation by the citizens of old Clarendon County for separation from Sumter District. Lawyers in Sumter fought the plan. They viewed it as a loss of a large share of their business which would be diverted to new courthouse. They lost the battle when the state legislature voted for the plan. In 1868 the State Constitution changed the name from Clarendon District to Clarendon County.

Soon after Clarendon County was reestablished in 1855, Captain Joseph C. Burgess was chosen to locate the geographic center of the county. The exact center fell on the east side of Ox Swamp but enough suitable land was not available. It was decided to build the courthouse and village of Manning about a mile east of Ox Swamp. Clarendon's county seat, Manning, had its beginning on a tract of land that had originally been granted to George Statia on August 7, 1768. In 1791, he sold the land to William Ridgeway and the land remained in the Ridgeway family until 1834, when it was then sold to William Steadman. Steadman sold 50 acres of the property to Captain Joseph C. Burgess that same year. On May 16, 1856, Captain Burgess deeded six acres of the land over to the State of South Carolina for the building of a courthouse and jail. Court was held in the Clarendon County Courthouse for the first time on April 19, 1858. Clarendon County began its separate existence once again in October of 1856. The post office was established in June of 1856. In January of 1857, a separate judicial district was established in Clarendon County. The county seat, Manning, received its charter on January 28, 1861. The town was named for John Lawrence Manning, who served as Governor of South Carolina from 1852-1854. Clarendon County has produced six governors for the state of South Carolina. Manning's motto is "Matchless for beauty and hospitality." Reporter Walter Winchell described Mannning as "the prettiest town from Maine to Miami." Manning is complemented by the nearby Clarendon County towns of Summerton and Turbeville and by the communities of Davis Station, Wilson, Foreston, Jordan, Paxville, and Bloomville. The town of Summerton dates back to 1737 when it was known as Summertown. The village was a summer resort used by planters along the Santee River who sought a retreat to escape the mosquitos which thrived in the swamps near the river.

The first white settlers in the area, now known as Clarendon County, were French Huguenots who came up the Santee River. The Santee River has played a major roll in the history of Clarendon County. Transportation of goods by land was very difficult. Canals were a solution to the problem. The earliest and most notable of canal enterprises of its era was the Santee Canal. Chartered in 1783, construction began in 1793. The 22 mile long canal opened in July of 1800, but with the coming of the railroad by 1850, the canal closed. In 1938, the Santee was once again turned to for use a a natural resource. A large man-made lake was formed after dikes and dams were constructed along with giant hydroelectric plants. Known as Lake Marion on maps, locals speak of a fishing, boating, or swimming trip to the area as " going to Santee." The origin of the name of the Santee River is debatable. Some say that the word has Indian origins, " Zantee," and means" the river." Others say that the river was named from the French word," Sante'," meaning health.;"

Highlights of Clarendon County


Lake Marion, Santee-Cooper; Country" is even more important today for its value to sportsmen than for the hydroelectric power that the dams and dikes were built to produce. The Santee-Cooper lake system consists of two lakes. Lake Marion, named for the " Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution, Francis Marion, contains 110,600 acres and is joined to Lake Moultrie by the 6.5 mile Diversion Canal. The two rivers, the Santee and the Cooper, lend their names to the area known as Santee-Cooper;" which spreads across a number of South Carolina counties including, Clarendon, Sumter, Orangeburg, Berkeley, and Calhoun. The fishery resource at the Santee-Cooper lakes has been acclaimed as being among the very best in the country since the lakes were first impounded. Rated among the top three fishing areas in America, Santee-Cooper country is world famous for its sports fishing. Here may be caught giant catfish and the only landlocked striped bass in the world, locally known as rock fish. The lakes hold eight state and two world fishing records and welcomes water skiing and boating enthusiasts as well as fishermen. Lake Marion was not completely cleared and as a result there are thousands of stumps and standing dead trees which make for a fish haven.

Clarendon County Courthouse: Located in the Town Square in Manning, the present day Clarendon County Courthouse was built in 1908-1909. It stands on the spot that was selected as the center of the county in 1855. The first building which was erected was destroyed during the Civil War by General Potter's Raiders. Until 1878, court was held in various buildings around town. In 1878, a frame structure was built. It was damaged by fire so it was demolished in 1908 to make way for the beautiful Georgian style, stately brick building of today.

The Old Manning Library: The Old Manning Library was built in 1908 at the same time and by the same architects who built the Courthouse. The building was donated by Manning citizen, Moses Levi, in memory of his wife, Hannah. Today the building houses the Clarendon County Historical Archives.

The Wolfe House: The Wolfe House is located at the intersection of Keitt and Church Street in Manning. Built shortly after the town was first established in 1855, it is one of the oldest buildings in Manning. First located on the corner of Keitt and Brooks Street, the house was moved to its present location at 14 Keitt Street in 1896. The house has been wonderfully restored by Joe P. Moore who bought it in 1964. It contains the original flooring, pine siding, and nails which were made by the village blacksmith. A covered well has been built in the side yard and there are a hitching post and carriage step at the curb in front of the house.

Pocotaligo Swamp Park: The Pocotaligo River has its head waters in Sumter County from the streams: Green Swamp, Pocalla Creek, Nasty Branch, Brunson Swamp, Long Branch, and Hatchet Camp Branch. It flows across Clarendon County to join the Black River, flowing through Williamsburg County. Pocotaligo moves through miles of concealed silent swamps, wild and shrouded in secrets since the days of the Indians, its wildlife sequestered. A glimpse into its murky magnificence can be made from a board walk trail at a small park on the north edge of Manning. From the half mile boardwalk can be seen native trees such as bald cypress, willow oak, red maple, black gum, bay, and water tupelo.

Woods Bay State Park: Woods Bay State Park encompasses 1,541 acres, most of which are open savannah near the pointed end of the exhaled Carolina Bay, and dense cypress swamp elsewhere. At the edge of the bay are sandy flats with loblolly pines and turkey oaks, and on the north side adjacent to the bay is the Mill Point Pond. The park was named after Andre Woods, who once owned a gristmill at the pond. Wildlife is prominent, including numerous species of wading, perching, and preying birds. The facilities are limited to nature study, hiking, picnicking, and fishing.

Carolina Bays: There are hundreds of shallow, elliptical depressions known as bays in South Carolina's coastal plains. The bays are also found in southeast North Carolina and northeast Georgia. Some of the depressions are dry; others are swamp, and a few others are beautiful lakes. They range in diameter from a few hundred feet to five miles. Attempts to explain this natural phenomenon include the meteorite theory, the ancient ocean springs theory, and the ancient ocean lagoons theory. A number of these bays can be found across Clarendon County.

Santee Wildlife Refuge: With 15,095 acres, the Santee Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941. There are 1,425 acres of cropland, 2,350 acres of forest, 9,000 acres of open water, and 2,320 acres of shallow impoundments which include ponds, marsh, and swamp. A hydroelectric reservoir borders on Lake Marion. More than 200 species of birds live or migrate through the refuge each year. Ducks and Canadian geese spend the winter there with January being their peak month. Mammals living in the refuge include bobcat, deer, raccoon, squirrel, mink, otter, and fox. Alligators can be found living in the marshes and swamps. Sport fishing is permitted year round in the refuge but there are certain areas that are closed from November 1 - February 28.

Clarendon County Revolutionary War Stories

Battle of Nelson's Ferry: August 25, 1780- Captain Joseph Roberts and his soldiers were camped at General Thomas Sumter's home near Nelson Ferry. Francis Marion and his men, after Gates' defeat at Camden, were burning boats up and down the Santee River in order to cut off connections between Camden and Charleston. From a deserter, Marion learned of Robert's camp. He, along with Major Hugh Harry, attacked the house. In a brief struggle, they killed or captured 23 of the British escort and Tory guides. They rescued the 150 Maryland prisoners, who, thinking the war was over, decided to continue to Charleston and freedom. After the battle, this was the first time that Cornwallis heard of Francis Marion. Marion's name would become very well known to Cornwallis as the Revolutionary War continued

Battle of Tearcoat: October 25, 1780- General Francis Marion heard that Colonel Samuel Lynes had moved his men from Nelson's ferry to Tearcoat Swamp. Fearing that spies were in his camp, Marion did not enlighten his men of his plans. On October 24, 1780, he scouted the Tory camp and found it in casual disarray. He attacked at midnight on October 25, with a three pronged approach. It was a complete rout. Three were killed, fourteen wounded, twenty-three captured, together with a capture of arms, supplies, and equipment.

Battle of Richburg's Mill: November 5, 1780. Francis Marion camped with 500 horsemen at Jack's Creek, ten miles above Nelson's Ferry. A spy reported the camp to Tarleton and lit a large fire hoping Marion would think Big; Home" was on fire but the Richardsons warned Marion who skirted the bogs and never checked Ball, his horse, until he has ridden across Richburg's Mill Dam. A Tory prisoner escaped and reported this to Tarelton who chased Marion and his men down the now U.S. 15, to Pocotaligo Swamp, down the Georgetown Road, and on to Ox Swamp, a distance of 26 miles. (Currently, Jack's Creek is a favorite fishing spot for local fishermen.)

Ox Swamp: Going toward Kingstree from Manning, Ox Swamp is on the right at the edge of the Town of Manning. At Ox Swamp Crossing, Tarleton halted after the 26 mile race from Richburg's Mill Dam and found that Marion and 500 horsemen had left the road there to go into the swamp. Tarleton decided that it was time to give up the chase. Marion had eluded him and it is said that Tarleton exclaimed, Come; on boys! Let's go back and fight the gamecock (meaning Thomas Sumter). But as for the Old Fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.".; The natives seized on Tarlelton's epithet and turned it into Swamp; Fox", and fastened that nickname forever on their hero, Francis Marion.

The Battle of Halfway Swamp: February 1781- Pursuing his policy of making dangerous the line between Charleston and Camden, General Marion met the 64th British Regiment at Halfway Swamp. Major Robert McLeroth, considered to be the most humane of all British commanders, accepted Marion's challenge to determine the battle by twenty selected men from each side. When the twenty men were ready to do battle, a British officer road forward, and the British army shouldered their muskets and retreated. McLeroth had used the plan as an ruse to consume daylight and slip away under cover of darkness.

The Battle of Wright's Bluff: General Thomas Sumter tried unsuccessfully to overpower the British fort at Wright's Bluff. Sumter had captured 66 prisoners and badly needed stores. He was supposed to receive some stores at a point on the river bank, just above Wright's Bluff, but a turncoat river pilot landed the stores within the reach of the British, who or course seized them. After unsuccessfully attacking the British encampment, Sumter took his men off to the High Hills of the Santee.

The Battle of Wyboo: Two British officers, Colonel Watson and Colonel Doyle, had set out to crush Marion and his force of 500 patriots. In Wyboo Swamp, Marion sprung an ambush which completely dispersed the enemy. Gavin James, a private of enormous size in Marion's ranks, distinguished himself by holding a causeway single handedly against a British party. (The Wyboo Creek area of Lake Marion is a place where many locals now have lake homes.)

The Battle of Fort Watson: In April of 1781, General Marion and General Henry Lee were in dire need of ammunition. They first harassed the fort by cutting off the water supply that the British obtained from Scott's Lake, but this failed because the British managed to get water from the river. The idea of a siege had to be scrapped. Marion's cause seemed hopeless because the fort consisted of a strong palisade erected on an Indian mound which rose about 30 feet above the plain, especially since he had no artillery. Throughout the night if April 25th, the forest around Scott's Lake rang with the sound of axes. On the morning of April 26th, the British saw themselves confronted with a tower of logs built high enough to over top the mound. As the patriots poured a withering fire down upon the fort, the British realized that their cause was hopeless. They surrendered. Thus, Marion and the other patriot forces were supplied with ammunition taken from the fort and resupplied with a good portion of the stores that General Sumter had lost. (The Fort Watson Indian Mound still exists in Clarendon County, not far from Summerton. The mound now overlooks Lake Marion. I climbed that mound many times as a child when my family would spend the day swimming, picnicking, and water skiing at the area of the lake everyone calls Fort Watson.)

Sources for the above information are Clarendon Cameos, The History of Sumter County by Anne Gregorie King, various chamber of commerce brochures, and personal knowledge.


© 1997 Cynthia Ridgeway Parker, M.Ed.

This page was last updated on July 9, 1998

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