South Carolina - From Statehood to 1800

Overview of Early Statehood to 1800

Santee Canal - Construction Began in 1793

The seeds for independence had been sown for over a decade with the passage of the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, the Tea Act, as well as many other events. In early 1775, the Patriots of South Carolina began taking concrete steps towards self-government and throwing off the onerous control of the British Empire. In April of 1775, Patriots seized all of the arms and ammunition contained in the State House, and this touched off many subsequent actions that quickly resulted in the Royal Governor William Campbell taking refuge aboard the British Man-of-War HMS Temar on September 15, 1775, effectively ending English rule in South Carolina.

The first eight years of early statehood were long years of hardship, conflict, skirmishes, and major battles fought on the soil of the new state of South Carolina. There was a very large population of Loyalists in South Carolina, and they were steadfast against giving up British control of the colony. Initially, the Loyalists and the Patriots were poorly organized and the conflicts were mostly small skirmishes all over the state. The British Army had focused its attention in the northern colonies of Massachusetts and New York and gave only a token interest in the southern colonies.

In 1776, General Sir Henry Clinton made a feeble attempt to take Charlestown, but the Patriots handily repelled this attempt and the British returned their focus on the northern colonies - for a while. From 1776 to 1780, there were dozens of Loyalist versus Patriot engagements in South Carolina - some pitting brothers against each other. In February of 1780, the British Army returned to South Carolina with a vengeance. General Clinton appointed Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis his second in command, and ordered him to take Charlestown and subdue the Patriots, whatever it took.

The Siege of Charlestown began on March 28, 1780. The Patriots fought a great fight, but they were clearly outnumbered and outgunned. On May 12, 1780, Major General Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army Southern Department finally surrendered Charlestown and his entire army to the British. Many of the Continental Army and a handful of the Patriot Militiamen were prisoners for well over two years.

1780 through the middle of 1781 was touch-and-go for the Patriots, and it looked like the British would succeed in completely retaking control of the state of South Carolina. On August 16, 1780, the British forces overwhelmed Major General Horatio Gates's Continental Army at Camden, SC. After this humiliating defeat, the Continental Congress appointed Major General Nathanael Greene to lead the Southern Department, and he came to South Carolina with a vague plan of splitting up the British troops across the state. He arrived in North Carolina on December 4th, and it was not long before he organized his thoughts and decided to move into South Carolina.

Major General Greene sought the assistance of the growing Patriot numbers and their leaders, and these combined forces slowly turned the tide of the Revolutionary War in the state of South Carolina. Patriots such as Andrew Pickens, Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, Isaac Huger, John Laurens, and ultimately the imprisoned William Moultrie proved themselves and their citizen-armies time and time again between 1780 and 1782. Between 1776 and 1782, there were well over 400 battles and skirmishes in South Carolina, the most number of any state in the Revolutionary War.

With a resounding defeat of the enemy forces at Kings Mountain in October of 1780 and another significant win at the battle of Cowpens in January of 1781, the Patriots finally had the British on the defensive for the first time since their return in February of 1780. There were setbacks in 1781 and 1782, but the combined forces of the Continental Army and the many South Carolina Patriot Militia units finally forced the British to leave Charlestown in December of 1782. A year earlier, the entire British Army surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia and the war was essentially over, however the final peace treaty took almost two more years to secure.

With the American Revolution behind them, the South Carolinians turned their focus on establishing an independent State that provided many new rights for it citizens, and a new focus of making sure that the new United States of America was a confederation that they wanted to join. Five years after the American Revolution ended, the state of South Carolina joined the United States in 1788, the eighth state to do so.

Between the end of the Revolutionary War and the end of the century, South Carolina proceeded to revamp and refine its form of internal government. In 1785, thirty-four new counties were created all across the state. Those in the upcountry and backcountry quickly succeeded because many of the citizens had previously been part of North Carolina, which had a well-established system of county government and many people were accustomed to making it work. However, the new counties that were created in the lowcountry of the coast did not succeed. Those older areas had citizens who were quite content with how things had worked for decades and did not want another layer of government crammed down their throats. Along with this, the state of South Carolina did not actively push for these new counties to actually function - they created no court houses and appointed few judges, justices, sheriffs, etc.

Therefore, all of the new counties in the lowcountry were abolished in 1791, and the lowcountry continued to accept the "overarching District" concept that had been in place since 1769. During all of this, the state capital was removed from Charleston to the new, planned city, of Columbia, which continues as the the state capital to this day.

In the 1790s, new conflicts with the Cherokee in the northwestern part of South Carolina were promptly taken care of, and the Cherokee finally gave up and ceded all of their lands to South Carolina. These areas were quickly settled by many newcomers, and by the end of the century, what is the present-day boundaries of South Carolina was finally all settled, although quite sparsely in many areas.

In 1800, the year that ends this period of discussion, the state once again revamped and reorganized its internal form of government, and all "overarching Districts" were finally abolished for good. South Carolina adopted the "county concept," and many new counties were created, or recreated, from those that had been established in 1785. However, to be true to the nature of South Carolinians, they chose to call these new counties as "districts," a term that remained in place until after the American Civil War in 1868, when South Carolina finally went along with the majority of the other states and began using the term "county," from that point forward.

In a relatively short quarter of a century, South Carolina transititoned from a Royal Colony, completely under the control of the British government, to a new independent state, to join the confederation of the United States, to a burgeoning economic powerhouse of the new nation. The Patriots who fought for their right to self-government and self-determination moved forward in short order to establish a sound government and to give the citizens a stable economy with which they could go forth and do wonderful things. This they did.

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