Berkeley County, South Carolina


A History of the Original Berkeley County

One year after securing their charter for Carolana, the eight Lords Proprietors established three counties within the new colony of Carolana. None of the three counties were ever surveyed or properly laid out; all were ambiguous geographical areas that changed over time, and none had any real governmental seat or political connotations to their existence.

Craven County was considered to be at the southern part of the Carolana colony, extending below the Cape Fear River to include present-day Georgia and northern Florida, and to extend to the west as far as the Pacific Ocean. At the time of its inception in 1664, there were no British settlers in Craven County, and there would not be until 1670 when the first group of Barbadians finally settled along the Ashley River in what is present-day Charleston, named Charles Town until it was shortened after the American Revolution in 1785. 

In 1682, the Lords Proprietors decided to establish two new counties, south of Craven, and these were named Berkeley and Colleton. Craven was deemed to lie between the Cape Fear River (in present-day North Carolina) and southward to the mouth of the Awendaw Creek in present-day Berkeley County, South Carolina. The newly-established county of Berkeley in 1682 was deemed to lie between the Awendaw Creek and the mouth of the Stono River in what is present-day Charleston County. The new Colleton County was deemed to lie south of the Stono River - to whatever.

In 1684, a fourth county was established from Colleton County, and it was named Carteret County. The new Carteret County was deemed to lie between the mouth of the Combahee River and the mouth of the Savannah River. This now made Colleton County to lie between the mouth of the Stono River and the mouth of the Combahee River.

In 1708, Carteret County was renamed to Granville County.

From 1682 to 1769, these four South Carolina counties - Craven, Berkeley, Colleton, and Carteret/Granville - were never surveyed or properly laid out; all were fairly ambiguous geographical areas with no real governmental seat or political connotations to their existence. Although some boundaries were known - such as rivers - the western boundary was never defined - they went to "who knows where?"

In 1706, the Lords Proprietors established the "Parish system" of South Carolina, which began as a means to assign jurisdiction of the Church of England (Anglican) along the lines that were in use in England at the time. Soon, these parishes effectively became the geopolitical units that not only administered the church's day-to-day activities but also administered governmental activities within South Carolina. The term "county" had no meaning other than to describe a rough geographical area until well into the Royal Period, and even during that era the term "county" was only used to help define and describe where parishes were located. There were no county courts nor any county records - all courts and records were held in Charles Town until 1769.

In 1768, South Carolina eliminated all counties, including Berkeley County and established seven new "overarching Districts," with judicial seats in each district. This law was first rejected by the Crown, but was soon approved in 1769. From 1769 to 1785, these districts remained intact, however, the district seats did change some during that time-frame. After the American Revolution in 1785, South Carolina re-established the concept of counties and twenty-three (23) "new" counties were defined and established. Each of these new counties were "subsets" of, and subordinate to the "overarching Districts" that had been in existence since 1769. Some were abolished between 1785 and 1800, whereas others were created during that period.

In 1800, South Carolina abolished all "overarching Districts" and essentially went with the county concept from that year forward. However, in 1800, all counties were now called "districts" and would continue being called districts until after the American Civil War. In 1868, South Carolina reverted back to the term "county" and this term has been used continuously since then.

With the creation of the first "overarching Districts" in 1769, the original Berkeley County was abolished.

With the "County Court Act" in 1785, thirty-three new counties were created, and sure enough, there was a second incarnation of Berkeley County with totally new boundaries and very little interest from the locals about its creation. It was abolished (again) in 1791. However, in 1882, a third Berkeley County was created from the relatively-new (since 1800) Charleston County, and it has been in existence ever since.

If one were to attempt to determine which of the current South Carolina counties are actually situated within the last incarnation of the original Berkeley County prior to its elimination in 1769, the best guess would have to include all of: Dorchester, Charleston, Berkeley, and a portion of Orangeburg. One could argue that others should be included, such as Lexington, Calhoun, etc., but one has to remember that the original Berkeley County was never envisioned to extend that far into the backcountry.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved