BRIEF HISTORY OF GREENVILLE COUNTY
While the lower parts of South Carolina had been settled for many years,
Greenville County remained part of the old Cherokee hunting grounds and white
men were strictly forbidden to enter the area. The Cherokee ceeded these lands
to South Carolina in 1777. The Indians remained in their mountain homeland for
several years after signing their grant, however, and not many white people
ventured into the beautiful Cherokee country before the Revolution.
first white settler in present Greenville County was Richard Pearis, an
Irishman, who came from Virginia about 1765 as a trader. He married a Cherokee
woman and became so highly thought of by the Cherokee tribe that tradition
records their repeated gifts to him of land that finally covered a tract 10
miles square. On part of this estate now stands the city of Greenville and Paris
Mountain, it's name a corruption of Pearis. The enterprising settler called his
acres "Great Plains.' He built a home, a mill, storehouses, and a trading post,
and lived the life of a prince. He served with the British forces in the French
and Indian War and had the distinction of being the first Britisher to enter
Fort Dusquesne. When the Revolution began, Pearis's allegiance was sought by
both sides. It is said that he had promised his help to the Americans, but,
disappointed at the military rank offered him, turned to the King's party. He
was probably more disappointed in how the Cherokee Indians were being treated.
Held prisoner in Charles Town nine months, he became on his release a captain of
the loyalist militia and attained the rank of colonel after performing several
daring exploits. While he was in prison (1776) his plantation was captured and
destroyed by Colonel John Thomas's Spartan regiment, on the grounds that it was
a Cherokee and Tory stronghold. Ironically enough, after the fall of Charles
Town, May 1780, Colonel Pearis received the 'submissions' or surrenders of
General Andrew Pickens and, possibly, of Colonel Thomas. After the Revolution,
Pearis settled in the Bahama Islands on a grant from the British Government.
Greenville County was established in 1784. From this time thousands of settlers
migrated to the area. It's name is variously said to honor General Nathanael
Greene of Revolutionary fame or to recall Isaac Green, an early settler. Most
evidence points to the last inference.
Lemuel J. Alston, a brother of Governor Joseph Alston, the husband of the
beautiful and ill-fated Theodosia Burr, came to the county in 1788. He bought
400 acres, 'a portion of the former plantation of Richard Pearis, and including
his mill seat,' and there in 1797 laid out a village called Pleasantburg. Alston
built a stately mansion in his little town, sure that settlers would soon be
attracted, not only because of the proximity to the mountains, but because of
the dawning possibilities for planting cotton and building mills.Edward Hooker,
who visited Pleasantburg in 1806, gives this picture: "We. . . arrived at Col.
Alston's home, which is the most beautiful I have seen in South Carolina. The
mansion is on a commanding eminence which he calls Prospect Hill. From the
village six hundred yards distant, there is a spacious avenue formed by two
handsome rows of sycamore trees."
1816 Alston sold his holdings to Vardry McBee. Born in Spartanburg County in
1775, McBee was called 'The Father of Greenville.' He leased the Alston house to
Edmund Waddell for a hotel and summer resort until 1835, when he made it his own
home, famous for hospitality until his death in 1864 at the age of 89. McBee's
gifts included lands for the first four churches and the first academies. A
constructive thinker, he recognized the potential sources of wealth in the
country's climate and water power, and erected on the Reedy River one of the
earliest cotton mills. He was instrumental in removing Furman University from
Edgefield to Greenville in 1851, and in securing for Greenville in 1853 its
first railroad, the Columbia and Greenville, later serving as its president.
Pleasantburg flourished as a resort, connected even in its early days by what
were then considered good roads leading toward western North Carolina and
Tennessee, and toward Charleston and Augusta. The falls of the Reedy River were
soon utilized to furnish power for iron works, corn, and cotton mills. Robert
Mills commended the community in 1825 for its beautiful site, its two well-kept
taverns, and its new courthouse. 'So much wealth, intelligence and leisure are
collected annually at the village,' said Mills, that he could not but
'anticipate a favorable result to the interior of South Carolina.' Pleasantburg
then had 500 inhabitants.In 1831 a progressive fever seized the town and its
placid existence as a summer resort was disrupted by restless activity; stores,
mills, and foundries sprang up. Citizens now wished their courthouse town to
bear the county name. Accordingly, in 1831, little Pleasantburg vanished in the
incorporation of Greenville and future industrialism was foreshadowed in the
stir that replaced quietude. A busy factory, the predecessor of modern
Camperdown Mills, usurped the young people's favorite swimming hole, opposite
the site of Pearis's old mill.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1853, Greenville's growth was assured. In
the years preceding the War between the States, the community was a hot-bed of
Union sentiment with Benjamin F. Perry, respected throughout the State, as the
leading spirit. When war broke out, no battles were fought in the vicinity and
the city did not lie in Sherman's path. Wayside hospitals were established and
women labored to comfort and supply the needs of war-weary Confederate soldiers.
The mountainous area surrounding Greenville was overrun by deserters. In
organized bands they preyed so persistently on the property of citizens that
Major A. D. Ashmore requested a cannon to destroy one of their blockhouses in
the 'Dark Corner'.
In June 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Perry provisional governor of
South Carolina. James L. Orr of Anderson County succeeded him the following
districts in South Carolina were replaced with counties.