Craven County, South Carolina


A History of Craven County - One of the Three Original Counties of Carolina

One year after securing their charter for Carolana, the eight Lords Proprietors established three counties within the new colony of Carolina - Albemarle County, Clarendon County, and Craven County. 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, then Charlestown, until its name was shortened after the American Revolution in 1785. 

One can argue that all of the existing counties within the state of South Carolina were eventually derived from this original Carolina county named Craven and this argument would withstand almost any counter-argument. However, it was not quite that cut-and-dried. As with all of the colonies, the establishment of counties and/or precincts was a slow and sometimes painful process as the population grew and local sentiments evolved over time. Moreover, well into the late 1700s, even after the American Revolution, many citizens of South Carolina continued to consider themselves as living in Craven County.

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 wherever.

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. The areas were somewhat defined by the rivers named, but not to the west, which extended to - who knows?

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 Craven County and established seven new "overarching Districts," with judicial seats in each district. The 1768 law was nullified by Parliament, but was approved after its resubmission in 1769. From 1769 to 1785, these judicial districts remained intact, however, the district seats did change some during that time-frame. These were : Beaufort District, Camden District, Charles Town District, Cheraws District, George Town District, Ninety-Six District, and Orangeburgh District.

But, tradition refused to be ignored. During the American Revolution, the long-held history of raising militia in each of the four old counties continued, even though the new state government really didn't want this to happen. Too many leaders wanted to keep their militia roles active and they overruled the new lawmakers.

After the American Revolution in 1785, South Carolina re-established the concept of counties and thirty-four (34) "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 U.S. 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 name Craven County was officially abolished, never to be resurrected in the state of South Carolina after the American Revolution. However, North Carolina has had a Craven County in existence since 1712 to the present day. Apparently, one is enough for the two Carolinas.

If one were to attempt to determine which of the current South Carolina counties are actually situated within the last incarnation of Craven County prior to its elimination in 1769, the best guess would have to include all of: Horry, Georgetown, Williamsburg, Marion, Darlington, Florence, Dillon, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Lee, York, Chester, Fairfield, Richland, Claremont, Kershaw, and Lancaster counties. (Thanks go out to Mr. Frank Boggs for helping me to re-clarify this in June of 2010).


© 2010 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved