Sumter County, South Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)

1798 or 1800


Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1740s / English-Welsh and
French Huguenots

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

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Coming Later

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Airports in Sumter County

Maps of Sumter County

Books About Sumter County

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A History of Sumter County

Thomas Sumter

Sumter County and its county seat, the city of Sumter, were named for Revolutionary War Brigadier General Thomas Sumter (1734-1832), who was a resident of the area. This county has changed its boundaries several times. In 1785, Claremont County was formed as a part of Camden District, which was earlier part of the original Craven County. A part of the county was later split off in 1791 to form Salem County. Claremont, Clarendon, and Salem counties were combined into the Sumter District (county) in 1798 to be effective on January 1, 1800. Clarendon was once again split off in 1855, however, and another small part of Sumter County went to form Lee County in 1902.

This part of the state began attracting English settlers from the lowcountry and from Virginia in the mid-eighteenth century. The area known as the High Hills of Santee, a narrow ridge along the Wateree River, was famous for its healthy climate and rich soil. Sumter County eventually became a leading agricultural region. During the American Civil War, General Edward Potter's Union troops raided the area, and a skirmish was fought at Dingle's Mill on April 9, 1865. In 1941, Shaw Air Force Base was established near Sumter, and it continues today as an active duty fighter base.

Confederate general Richard Heron Anderson (1821-1879) was a Sumter resident, as were opera singer Clara Louise Kellogg (1842-1916) and educator Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955).

Located in the midlands of South Carolina, Sumter County is just east of the geographic heart of the state. It lies within the fertile plains of the upper pine belt with its highest crest, located in the western portion of the county known as the High Hills of the Santee, 450 feet above sea level. Geographically diverse, the southern most part of the county is only 107 feet above sea level. Named for Brigadier General Thomas Sumter, the "Gamecock" of the American Revolution, Sumter has well earned its nickname of the "Gamecock City." Although Thomas Sumter was born in Virginia, he lived in South Carolina for almost seventy years. Almost half of Thomas Sumter's ninety-eight years were spent in the picturesque High Hills of the Santee located in the district, and then county, that bears his name. When he died on June 1, 1832, Thomas Sumter was the last surviving officer of the American Revolution.

Originally, Sumter County had an area of 1,672 miles, but that was reduced to 681 square miles due to the formation of Clarendon County in 1855, and then Lee County in 1902. The natural boundaries on the east of Sumter County are Scape 'Ore Creek, Black River, and Lynches River, and on the west are the Wateree and Santee, two sections of the same river system.

Early on, what we now know as Sumter County, was located in Craven County. In fact, much present day South Carolina, except for areas south of Charlestown were designated as part of Craven County. Early land grants describe the lands east of the Wateree River as lying in Craven County. In a modern sense, Craven County was not actually a governmental entity, but merely a geographical location. Craven County was created originally in 1664 on the coast of the state, extending from Seewee Bay for twenty-three miles northeast, and inland for thirty-five miles. Settlers gradually moved into the interior, further and further from the coast and the boundaries of Craven County moved with them, eventually extending to the North Carolina line. Craven County was an election district with representation in the provincial Commons House of Assembly that began in 1692. When the province was laid out into parishes beginning in 1706, Craven County ceased to exist as an election district. Representation after that was by parishes. The name, Craven County, did continue to be used until even after 1769, when Circuit Court Districts were established.

The earliest settlers who came into the future Sumter County were nominally in Prince Frederick's Parish, but the parish church was many miles away, near Georgetown on the coast. By the 1750s, so many settlers had come to the area that in 1757, a new parish, St. Mark's, was formed. The line which separated St. Mark's from Prince Frederick's was an extension of the northwest line of Williamsburg Township to the Santee and Pee Dee Rivers. St. Mark's embraced all of the area between those rivers, northward to the North Carolina line, and was the largest of all South Carolina parishes. The whole of St. Mark's Parish was included in Camden District which extended from the northwest line of Williamsburg Township to the North Carolina line and from Lynches River to the Santee-Congaree-Broad river system.

Many of the men living east of the Wateree River served in the Revolutionary War but in the area that was to become Sumter County, very few events of war took place, except for the movement of troops over the road (now Highway 261) from Camden to Charlestown. Even though few war-like events took place in the immediate area, conditions among the people living east of the Wateree River after the war ended was difficult. Supplies of every kind had been seized and carried off by the armies on both sides as they passed along the "Great Road." The nearest town, Camden, had been virtually destroyed. When the British left and set fire to their military stores, the fire spread and burned homes, businesses, the court house, and the jail. Disorder and lawlessness prevailed which made it even harder for the residents to rebuild their ruined homes, farms, businesses, and mills.

The need for a reorganization of counties and the court system was recognized. This led to the creation of counties and county courts with resident magistrates which would also relieve the overburdened dockets of the circuit courts. In 1785, a new law was passed and each of the seven great circuit court systems of the state were subdivided into counties of a convenient size. The former overarching Camden District was divided to form seven counties. The boundaries of the seven counties were established, largely on natural lines. Created were York, Chester, Fairfield, Richland, Lancaster, Claremont, and Clarendon. The last two would be included in the area of what would become the future Sumter District. Under the Constitution of 1790, Clarendon and Claremont elected one Senator, and each had two representatives in the House of Representatives. Two years after the counties were created, the county courts were set up. In 1792, some of Clarendon and Claremont counties was used to form Salem County. The part taken from Claremont known as "Upper Salem" and the part from Clarendon known as "Lower Salem." The court house in the town of Salem was probably a log building as was the court house in Clarendon. The Claremont County court house was located at Stateburg.

But the new sytem did not suit every resident of the area. Among those learned men of the legal profession, the operation of the county courts was not proving to be satisfactory. They felt that justice was not being properly served by laymen. Thus, in 1791, the county magistrates were replaced by three county court judges who were "to handle all business that came before the court." With the opposition of lawyers to lay judges continuing, the county court system was finally abolished in 1798, to be effective on January 1, 1800. The region was organized as Sumter District when the legislature of South Carolina united three of the counties of Camden District, namely, Claremont, Clarendon, and Salem; and on the first day of January in the year 1800, the district began to function in the administration of justice through circuit courts.

Mail service was begun in 1801 for a place designated as Sumterville under order of the postmaster general of the United States. About 1830, a mail route from Charleston to Camden began passing through the village as required by law, since it was a court house town. The village of Sumterville was incorportated in 1845. The first railroad through Sumter District was the Camden & Branchville Railroad, completed in 1848. The second major railroad was the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad, completed in 1854. For many years the mail to Sumter District was carried by stage, but in 1855, mail service by train was started between Wilmington, North Carolina and Sumterville.

At this time Sumter District had twenty post offices: Bishopville, Bradford Institute, Bradleyville, Brewington, Clarendon, Friendship, Fulton, Lodibar, Manchester, Mechanicsville, Mill Grove, Mount Clio, Plowden's Mill, Privateer, Providence, Salem, Stateburg, Sumterville, Willow Grove, and Wright's Bluff. The name of the county seat was shortened to Sumter in 1855. Following the fall of the Confederacy in 1868, Sumter District became Sumter County.

The War of Secession began so slowly that many people in the North and in the South believed that there would be no war. But soon many of the younger men of Sumter District left for service in the Confederate Army while the older men were organized into the Home Guard, many of whom were stationed along the coast. Before long, there were few left at home except women and children and to them fell the responsibility of raising food and maintaining order. With the assistance of their servants, the women of Sumter District made garments for their families as well as for the soldiers away from home. "They sent their silver to the Confederate government, the church bells to foundries to be cast into cannon, and cut their carpets into blankets for the soldiers."

As the years of war lengthened, wounded soldiers from distant battlefields came by train to hospitals set up in the Baptist and Presbyterian churches, in the hotel, and in the court house. Many soldiers were taken into private homes to be cared for. Civilian refugees came to Sumter to escape the bombardment of Charleston. The Sisters of Mercy transferred their convent from the beleaguered city of Charleston and opened St. Joseph's Academy in Sumter. Sumter District became a center for army stores. Hundreds of freight cars loaded with the supplies of war left to roll north through Camden or northeast to arrive in Wilmington. Charleston fell in February of 1865 and Union General William Tecumseh Sherman marched north from the sea. Columbia, 45 miles away, was sacked by his army and the residents of the town of Sumter could see the glare of the burning homes in the night sky along the "Great Road" as General Sherman's troops traveled toward Camden.

Rumors soon came to Sumter about another march from the sea. On the 5th of April 1865, Union Brigadier General Edward E. Potter left Georgetown with total of about 2,700 fighting men. He followed the path of the river road, burning mills, gins and cotton, and stripping the farms and plantations of their livestock and food supplies. Here at the very end, the war and its horrors entered the boundaries of Sumter District. An order came from headquarters in Sumter for the local militia to assemble. "In response to the order, came old men, teenage boys, and convalescent soldiers from the hospitals. With assistance from neighboring towns the Sumter force totaled about 575 strong. At the news of Potter's approach, everyone was busy hiding food and valuables in safe places. Those responsible for the court house and its contents, saved the public records by having them sent ten miles out into the country and hidden.

Brigadier General Potter left Manning in Clarendon County on Saturday morning, April 9, 1865, This was the same day of General Robert E. Lee's surrender in Appomatox, but no one in Sumter knew that the war had ended. Brigadier General Potter set out for Sumter and its defenders marched out the Manning Road to meet him at Dingle's Mill. About 2:00 p.m. the enemy came within range and the small force defending Sumter opened fire. Although Brigadier General Potter's first and second charges were driven back, further resistance became impossible and a general retreat was called. Brigadier General Potter did not pursue. He knew that he had opened up the road into Sumter and his men were weary. Late in the afternoon of the next day, Brigadier General Potter's cavalry rode up Main Street into Liberty Street and then to the train depot where they camped.

The infantry camped on Liberty in the Catholic grove and a third camp was made on the road toward Providence. Party after party of Union soldiers went from house to house, supposedly searching for contraband and hidden Confederates, but they also took away food, clothing, and anything of value that they could find. The shops in town were broken into and stripped. Before leaving town, the Union soldiers ruined all of the printing press machinery and scrambled all of the type.

On Tuesday morning, April 11th, Brigadier General Potter's army left Sumter, and marched the twelve miles to Manchester where Potter established his headquarters at the Richard Singleton plantation. Potter's mission was thoroughly accomplished. Systematically, any and all railroads, engines, cotton gins, lumber, governmental stores, bales of cotton, and more were blown up or burned and destroyed. He took between 300 and 500 horses and mules and innumerable vehicles such as wagons and carts. On April 13, Brigadier General Potter sent a detachment to Statesburg and destroyed some stores. The next week was devoted by the Union army to destroying or confiscating whatever could be found.

Milford Plantation

A number of families had sought refuge at Milford Plantation. Milford stands to this day, located in the sandhills near Poinsett Park not far from St. Mark's Church. On April 21st, Brigadier General Potter was nearing Milford on his way back to the boats at Wright's Bluff on the Santee River for his return to Georgetown on the coast. No injury was done to the estate. It may have been because former Governor John Laurence Manning said to Potter, "It was built by a man from New England by the name of Potter and I suppose that a man from New York by the name of Potter will destroy it." Potter replied, "No sir, that is not my intention." Potter's army passed by Milford, doing no harm. Within twenty minutes of their departure, a Confederate courier arrived with the news that the war had ended. The courier was sent on under a flag of truce to give the news to Brigadier General Potter who was only about a mile away by that time. Potter continued on to Wright's Bluff and he ceased to lay waste to the countryside but in the two weeks that he had been in residence, Sumter District was ruined and Potter's Raid became a swan song of the final day of the of the War Between the States.

Sumter adopted the City Manager-Council form of government in 1912, becoming the first city in the United States to successfully adopt this form of government. It is still in effect today. The county seat of Sumter is complemented by the nearby Sumter County communities of Pinewood, Mayesville, Dalzell, Stateburg, Oswego, Wedgefield, Rembert, Horatio, and Rimini. Primarily once a commercial and agricultural area, Sumter has become known as one of the most economically-balanced areas in the United States. Income is equally distributed between agricultural, industrial, and commercial pursuits. A prime economic factor since the World War II era is Shaw Air Force Base, home of the Ninth Air Force and the 20th Fighter Wing.

Sumter County (named for Brigadier General Thomas Sumter, whose home was at Statesburg), in the upper pine belt, was organized in 1800, has an area of 574 square miles and a population of 43,040 (census of 1920). Native born whites number 12,421; negroes, 30,508; foreign born, 100; Indians and Chinese, 11.

Between the Lynches River on the east and Santee-Watere and bisected from north to south by the Black River, with the high hills of the Santee stretching across the northwestern quarter and overlooking the fertile and picturesque valley of the Wateree, Sumter is well-watered and drained. The varied terrain and soil types have characteristics of the three sections of South Carolina - heavy black lands of the alluvial plain, sand hills, and high red hills. The altitude ranges from 107 feet on the southern border to 450 feet on the crest of the high hills, a miniature mountain range.

The predominant soil types are Norfolk sandy loam, Portsmouth sandy loam and Orangeburg clay, constituting 73 per cent of the area, the remainder being classified as swamp and Congaree first bottom. These soils are well adapted to cotton, corn, tobacco, small grains, legumes, and also all varieties of truck for shipment to northern markets and for canning factories that are in successful operation in the county.

In yield, the acre and low cost of production on account of the fertility of the soil, ease of cultivation and uniformly favorable climatic conditions throughout the long growing season of 230 days, Sumter County challenges comparison with any other part of the South Atlantic section. In the hills superior peaches are grown on a commercial scale, and in all sections pecans are profitably produced. Onions are grown as a staple crop on the Orangeburg clay soil of Wedgefield, the acreage having been increased steadily the last four years.

Tobacco is the major crop in the southeastern section, the Puddin Swamp bright tobacco being the standard of excellence in the state's markets, and is profitably raised as a supplemental crop in all parts of the county. A few farmers have demonstrated that asparagus can be produced at a profit.

Dairying has passed the experimental stage, and two creameries have been in successful operation for the last four or five years.

The supply of pure water is abundant and never failing. Except in the northern and western parts of the county bored wells 40 to 200 feet deep supply artesian running water to the homes. Everywhere pure, soft water is obtainable from ordinary wells of moderate depth, from springs and spring fed streams.

The county has a wealth of clay from which face brick are manufactured and shipped to all parts of the United States and Canada. From known deposits of clay high-grade fire brick have been made, but they are not now utilized. Extensive beds of gravel for highway construction and concrete work await development.

The outstanding manufacturing industry is dependent upon the forests of pine and hardwood that are years from exhaustion. A number of mills, large and small, are producing building materials, furniture stock, and veneer. The greater part of this output is shipped to other states, and there is opportunity here to develop a furniture manufacturing industry of magnitude.

The county is served by the Atlantic Coast Line, Southern Railway, Seaboard Air Line, and Northwestern Railroad, their lines, with a total mileage of 144, traversing all sections of the county.

The strikingly progressive feature of Sumter County is the hard-surfaced highway system completed in 1924 at a cost of more than $4,000,000. It includes the ten main highways radiating from the city of Sumter (the county seat), paved to the county line, standard concrete and asphalt surfaced construction, of a total mileage of 137.6. No resident of the county is more than five miles from a paved highway.

Supplementing the hard surface system are about 425 miles of sand-clay and topsoil roads. The paved roads are linked with the state highway system, and three of the state's major highways pass through the county, intersecting at the city of Sumter.

The county is well provided with churches and schools. The rural schools are as good as any in the state, and there are six accredited high schools.

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]


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