Lee County, South Carolina History


South Carolina was discovered by Sebastian Cabot in 1497. The first settlement was made at Port Royal in 1562. In the year 1663, King Charles granted to eight of his noblemen "Carolina." South Carolina grew from a settlement made on the Ashley River in 1670. Lee County's section of of the new Province of Carolina was included in what was laid out as Craven county in 1682. There were few settlers in Craven County. The area that would become Lee County was settled as early as 1740. Prior to 1740, there were few white people in the area. Before and during Colonial days, small tribes of Catawbas, Santee, Seratees, Waterees, and Kadapaws, lived and camped in the area. At first the region was part of the vaguely defined and unorganized, Craven County. Travel was limited to Indian paths and waterways. In 1750, a large colony of settlers came down from Virginia and the North. Most of them settled near Stateburg, in present day Sumter County. By 1769 what is now Lee County became part of the Camden District for court purposes. In 1792, Salem County was created from portions of Claremont and Clarendon Counties. The boundaries of the county started with a line beginning at the District of Georgetown on Black River and then the line ran to Lynch's Creek and up the creek to the line of Kershaw, then on 'Scape Whore Swamp and down 'Scape Whore to Black River and down the river to its beginning. Salem was not the name which the residents of the area had chosen for their new county. In a petition to the Senate in 1791, they asked that the county be named Green County. The legislators chose Salem. A few years later, on January 1, 1800 Salem County, along with Claremont and Clarendon Counties were combined to form Old Sumter District. The court functions of Salem County were transferred to Sumter.

In 1786, 465 acres of land was granted by the State of South Carolina to Jacob Chambers. The property was sold to Daniel Carter and in 1790 it was once again sold to William Singleton. From that time until the name was changed to Bishopville, the settlement was known as Singleton's Crossroads. Singleton and his wife owned a tavern which was a stopping place for the stage coach between Georgetown and Charlotte. The tavern was located at the intersection of Mecklenburg Road, now known as Church Street, and McCallum Ferry Road, now known as Main Street. When Singleton died in 1798, his wife took over the tavern until her death in 1820. The following year, the family sold the land to Dr. Jacques Bishop. Known as Singleton's Crossroads, the town was renamed, Bishopville in honor of Dr. Bishop. Dr. Jacques Bishop moved into Singleton's Crossroads along with William Bowen. Bowen was married to Eliza Kimbrough Brockington. Eliza was the daughter of Penelope Benton Brockington Bishop, Jacques wife. Charlotte Crosswell Stuckey was a Bowen before she married Howell Stuckey, after the death in 1841 of James Spearman Bowen. Dr. Bishop died in the home of William Bown.
Prior to the American Revolution, the area that now constitutes Lee County was mainly a wilderness with only a few primitive houses scattered over a large area. Even as late as 1900, the few homes located in Bishopville were found mainly on each end of the present day Main Street with others located along Church Street and Dennis Avenue.
Many nationalities are reflected in the names of the early settlers. Names such as Bells, Bishop, Bowen,Wards, Wolf, Hickman, Whitley, Shaw, Ellis, Getengages, Williams, Roberts, Ervin, Carnes, Ratcliff, McKenzie, Singleton, Dixon, Crosswell, Kennedy, Underhill, Rembert, Robertson, Woodward, Stuckey, Alexander, Watson, Jordan, Barrett, Lee, Fraser, and Stokes. Later are found the names DuRant, English, Green, Bradley, Dennis, Rogers, Cousar, James, Muldrow, Boykin, DuBose, McCutchen, Smith, McLeod, Scarborough, and Wilson. The Bell name is the oldest name mentioned in records of Lee County. He was a surveyor for the Lord proprietors and owned 3,000 acres of land near Lynches River. As early as 1750, there were a few settlements along Lynches River. These were probably trading posts. The general settlement of the area began about 1770. Ratcliffs is the earliest establishment on a map.
Early Scotch-Irish settlers in the Williamsburg County area spread their religious influence into present day Lee County. The first settlers in the lower section of the county had to travel to worship in adjoining counties. The first organized church in present day Lee County, was New Hope Presbyterian. New Hope is located in the Manville area. No long in existence, this church was organized in 1803. Mt. Zion Church, near the St. Charles community was organized in 1810, with Bishopville Presbyterian being built in 1838.
Methodism was also spread in the area. Old Rembert Church, near Woodrow, has existed since 1786 and is one of the oldest Methodist Churches in the United States. St. John's Methodist at Spring Hill had its beginnings in the year 1799 while Bethlehem Methodist near Bishopville was organized in 1814. The church was once located near the present day Bethlehem Cemetery.
The oldest of the Baptist churches was Piedmont Church which was organized in 1810. It was located across the road from Piedmont Cemetery. Another early Baptist Church is Bethany which was organized in 1828. Still located near St. Charles the congregation worships in a building erected over 100 years ago. First Baptist Church of Bishopville was organized during the 1880s.
St. Phillips Episcopal Church, which is now a "Chapel of Ease" is located in western Lee County. St. Phillips was organized in 1840 as a place of worship for summer residents of the area who moved to the hills to avoid the heat. Many prominent citizens are buried in the cemetery.
Before the War Between the States, blacks worshipped in the white churches. After the war black churches were formed. Some of the early black churches which are still active are Barnettsville Baptist, Mt. Hermon Baptist, St. John's A.M.E., and Spring Hill A.M.E.
In 1803, John Fraser built the first school in Bishopville. In 1839, Bishopville Academy was established. During the early 1800s, Presbyterian minister, Julius DuBose, established a girlsÍ school. The school failed financially and by 1849, a school called the Bradford Springs Female Institute was in operation. It too failed. In 1853, Reverend Gilbert Morgan, of North Carolina bought the property and established Harmony Female College. The college continued operation until 1863, when the main building was destroyed by fire. In 1924, the last building was also destroyed by a fire.

The state constitution of 1868 provided "that the Judicial District shall hereafter be designated as counties and the boundaries of the counties remain as they are now established." In 1895, restriction on the formation of other counties was eased by reducing their minimum size from 625 square miles to 400 square miles. The minimum size of existing counties was reduced from 625 square miles to 500 square miles. New counties would give more members to the State Legislature. 

The section of Sumter County known as Old Salem voted to leave Sumter County and by act of legislature in 1897 was made into Lee County. The boundaries, taking land from Sumter, Darlington, and Kershaw Counties, were surveyed, officers for the county were elected, and legislative delegates seated. But, Darlington County brought suit to contest the legality of the act and it was annulled by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it had not been certified by the Commissioners of Elections. Under the constitution, no further effort could be made for four years.
In the election of Februray 25, 1902, the citizens once again voted in favor of the new county with Bishopville as the county seat. Once again an injunction was carried to the Supreme Court. After much delay, it was ruled that all requirements had been met. The act named commissioners to mark the boundaries of the county and to provide for a courthouse and a jail. The natural boundaries were defined as along Lynches River, Black River, Scape Ore Swamp, Sparrow Swamp, Long Branch, and Screeches Branch. The main limits followed old roads and artificial lines as surveyed in 1898 through the parent counties.
On Monday, December 15, 1902, word reached Bishopville of their success. The town and county celebrated with speeches and the shooting of an old cannon many times over and over. (The old cannon is now located on a concrete base in front of the Lee County Court House.)

Lee County is located on the Coastal Plains of South Carolina. The county is mainly rural and has been historically a leader in cotton production in the state. The two major towns are Bishopville, the county seat with about 3,500 residents and Lynchburg with about 600 residents.

The American Revolution in Lee County

Battle of Ratcliff's Bridge - On 7 March 1781, General Thomas Sumter along with a force of 250 men was attacked by a British detachment from Camden commanded by Major Fraser about three miles northeast of Bishopville at the head of Stirrup Branch. In a running fight the Gamecock general retreated along a road through Bishopville to Ratcliff's Bridge on Lynches River, three miles southeast of town. By burning the bridge, Sumter escaped into the swamp which in now part of the Lee County State Park. Both sides claimed a victory. Thomas Sumter's family was with him and he was said the have been retreating to the north when after burning the bridge.

Henry Durant - Lynchburg -Near the Dick Scott home on Highway 341 stands a marker in honor of Henry Durant, Revolutionary War soldier. It is located at the site of a former two-story house, believed to have been the home of him and his descendants. He served under General Francis Marion against the British forces who had overrun the area. Many of the people in Lee county are descended from Henry Durant.

The Civil War in Lee County

Battle of Mount Elon - Cypress - On the night of February 7, 1865, three miles south of Mount Elon, one-quarter mile south of Cypress Crossroads, a mounted union detachment led by Captain William Duncan encountered a superior force of confederate calvary commanded by Colonel Hugh K. Aiken. After hand to hand fighting, Captain Duncan was forced to fall back across the Lynches River. Colonel Aiken was killed.

Go to Lee County Queries

Return to the Lee County Page

© 1997 Cynthia Ridgeway Parker