Lee County, South Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



General Robert E. Lee


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

Click Here

1730s / Scots-Irish, Welsh

Click Here

Click Here

Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Click Here

Coming Later

Click Here

Airports in Lee County

Maps of Lee County

Books About Lee County

Genealogy Sources

Click Here

Click Here

Click Here

Click Here

A History of Lee County

Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden - Lee County, South Carolina

Lee County was named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870). The county was formed in 1902 from parts of Darlington, Kershaw, and Sumter counties, and the county seat is Bishopville. A Revolutionary War skirmish took place on March 6, 1781 at Radcliffe's Bridge, and during the American Civil War, Confederate and Union troops skirmished at Mount Elon and Spring Hill in 1865. Lee County was also the site in 1880 of the last fatal duel fought in South Carolina. Cotton farming has long been associated with this area. U.S. Senator Ellison Durant Smith (1864-1944), a native of Lee County, was nicknamed "Cotton Ed" because of his support for cotton farmers.
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 Statesburg, 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 Georgetown District 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 Greene 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 the Sumter District (county). 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 Bowen.

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, Radcliffe, 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. Radcliffe's Bridge is the earliest establishment on a map.

Early Scots-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 longer 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 girls' 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 for new counties. The minimum size of existing counties was reduced from 625 square miles to 500 square miles. More new counties would give more members to the state General Assembly.

The section of Sumter County known as Old Salem voted to leave Sumter County, and by an 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 court house 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.

Lee County was formed in 1902 from parts of Darlington, Sumter, and Kershaw counties, and was named for Robert Edward Lee, that peerless leader of the Southern Confederacy who taught his departing soldiers that they were the sons of the eagle that Washington enthroned, and that when they had retired from the conflict they were never to entertain ideas of renewing the contest over the question of secession.

The area of Lee County is 407 square miles. The population consists of 8,753 native born whites, 24 foreigners, and 18,050 colored people. The incorporated towns besides Bishopville, the county seat, are Lynchburg and Elliott.

The soil varies from the low, level land, sparsely inhabited, in the southern part, to the higher and fertile region around Bishopville and Stokes' Bridge, perfectly adapted to cotton cultivation, and the sand hills in the western part. The Spring Hill section consists of hills of red clay with outcroppings of sand rock, and is quite free from mosquitoes, with cool nights prevailing all summer.

Since Lee County has as many as 220 frost-free days, any temperate zone vegetation can be grown. The cotton production has reached as high as 54,000 bales, with a minimum of 35,000 under boll weevil conditions. In 1925, there were planted 77,000 acres in cotton, 30,000 in oats, and 5,000 in hay. There are in the county 3,000 head of cattle; 1,300 milch cows, 8,000 hogs, and 4,700 mules. Oats, rye, and pedigreed cotton are to some extent grown for seed dealers.

Lee County has intelligent, reliable, and well-disciplined labor. The large cotton crop is promptly prepared for market by modern ginneries. The cotton of this county has a distinctive reputation for color, length, and strength of fiber, which, in addition to abundant production, attracts many buyers. In 1919, the banks of Lee County, in comparison to their capital and surplus, held the greatest percentage of deposits of the counties in the Richmond Federal Reserve district.

Railroads traverse the county in such a way that no farm is farther than six miles from a station. There are 600 miles of well-maintained highways, which place any point in the county within an hour's ride of the court house.

Over the Lynches River and its many tributary streams and the Black River are substantial two-way bridges of iron, cement, or treated timber. The court house, its grounds and the Confederate monument are models of lasting beauty. The church buildings show dignity and grace of architecture, most of the people worshipping as Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists.

In Lee County are seven accredited state high schools with a sufficient number of easily reached grammar schools to care for the 2,764 white and the 5,160 black pupils. The school property of the county has a valuation of $366,000, not including 80 acres of land sites. There was expended during the school year of 1925-26, to operate the schools the amount of $119,774, and for bond and interest payments and buildings, $236,600.

Lee County citizens hold membership on the trustee boards of the following colleges in South Carolina: Chicora, Columbia, Clemson, Winthrop, the University, and the Medical School.

Among the distinguished sons of Lee are the present United States Senator, E. B. Smith, and former Governor Thomas Gordon McLeod. This county boasts of the best politically informed people in the state, the campaign meetings in Bishopville always being more attentive, orderly and largely attended than those in other agricultural sections of the state.

Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. In the Public Domain. [with minor edits]


© 2021 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved