In the colonial period, the land around the coast was divided into parishes corresponding to the parishes of the Church of England. There were also several counties that had judicial and electoral functions. As people settled the backcountry, judicial districts and additional counties were formed. This structure continued and grew after the Revolutionary War. In 1800, all counties were renamed as districts. In 1868, the districts were converted back to counties. The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has maps that show the boundaries of counties, districts, and parishes starting in 1682.
Counties in Districts - In 1785, the seven circuit court districts were subdivided into thirty-three counties. Inferior courts were established in some of the counties, and record-keeping began at the local level. However, the circuit court districts continued to function, and many local actions were conducted at the district seat instead of the county seat. Three districts—Beaufort, Charleston, and Georgetown—were allowed to postpone the formation of county governments, and their counties never functioned. The residents of Orangeburgh District also preferred district government to county government, and three of the four counties in that district were disused from 1791 through 1799.
While many present-day counties were established geographically between 1785 and 1799, the counties created during that period did not keep records or function as local governments equally. The county did not become the highest level of local government throughout South Carolina until 1800. See County Resources—Counties in Districts, for a complete listing of counties established and abolished between 1785 and 1799.
The listing of counties in circuit court districts includes every county formed between 1785 and 1800. Counties abolished in 1800 are identified, and the location of their extant records is detailed.
Circuit Court Districts, 1769-1800 - Circuit court districts were established in 1769 and began holding court by about 1772. Originally there were seven districts: Beaufort, Camden, Charleston, Cheraws, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and Orangeburgh. Pinckney and Washington circuit court districts were added in 1791.The listing of circuit court districts details the extant records of the nine circuit court districts created in 1769 and 1791 and where the extant records are located. The counties formed in each district are identified.
Townships - One of the early and genealogically important actions of the provincial (royal) government was the Township Act of 1731; additional townships were authorized in 1761. The act authorized eleven townships containing 20,000 acres each, and agents were sent to Europe to recruit families as settlers. The families were offered inducements such as free transportation to South Carolina, free provisions for one year, and free land. The townships neither created nor kept records; their functions were solely geographical. Townships, like parishes, were used for some tax districts and appeared as locators in grants and conveyances. The townships are included in the listing of Townships and Parishes.
Parishes - In 1706, the Province of South Carolina established the Church of England as the official state-supported church. The twenty-five parishes established from 1706 through 1778 recorded vital records and became districts for the proportioning and election of representatives in 1716; parishes were also used as tax districts. They functioned as geographic locators in grants and conveyances, but did not necessarily replace the proprietary counties in that function; some grants and conveyances mention the parish, some the proprietary county, and some give both.
St Luke's Parish, South Carolina created by the Colonial Assembly on 23 May 1767, located on Hilton Head Island and the adjacent mainland.
Proprietary Counties - The first division of South Carolina into local polities occurred in 1682 when Berkeley, Colleton, and Craven proprietary counties were established; Carteret was added in 1685 and renamed Granville in 1708. These counties neither created nor kept records; their function was geographical. The proprietary counties served as districts for the assignment and election of representatives until 1716, militia duty, and general reference in land grants and conveyances (deeds). The proprietary counties were superceded by circuit court districts in 1769, but continued to be used as geographical references until the formation of counties within the circuit court districts in 1785. The forty-six current counties in South Carolina are listed with their proprietary counties in the listing of Proprietary Counties.
Bartholomew County Formed in 1785 From Charleston District (Extinct)
Berkeley County Formed in 1682 Proprietary "County", Extinct
Claremont County Formed in 1785 From Camden District
Colleton County Formed in 1682 Proprietary "County", Extinct
Craven County Formed in 1682 Proprietary "County", Extinct
Granville Formed in 1684 Proprietary "County", Extinct
Granville County Formed in 1785 From Beaufort District (Extinct, never functioned)
Hilton County Formed in 1785 From Beaufort District (Extinct, never functioned)
Kingston County Formed in 1785 From Georgetown District (Early version of Horry County)
Lewisburg County Formed in 1785 From Orangeburg District
Liberty County Formed in 1785 From Georgetown District (Early version of Marion County)
Lincoln County Formed in 1785 From Beaufort District (Extinct, never functioned)
Marion County Formed in 1785 From Charleston District (Extinct, never functioned)
Orange County Formed in 1785 from Orangeburg District
Pendleton County Formed in 1789 From Indian land (Extinct, never functioned)
Salem County Formed in 1791 From Claremont and Clarendon (Extinct)
Shrewsbury County Formed in 1785 From Beaufort District (Extinct, never functioned)
Washington County Formed in 1785 From Charleston District (Extinct)
Winton County Formed in 1785 From Orangeburg District
Winyah County County Formed in 1785 From Georgetown District (Early version of Georgetown County)
Pendleton County Abolished when divided into Anderson and Pickens District in 1826. Records are located in Anderson County
Winston County Functioned from 1785-1800. The remaining records (1785-1791) are in Barnwell County. Renamed Barnwell District in 1800
Cheraw District created in 1769
Camden District created in 1769
Ninety-Six District created in 1769
Pinckney District 1791-1798
Washington District 1785-1798
Pendleton District created in 1789 from Cherokee lands
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