The American Revolution in South Carolina

Colonel Joseph Kershaw

The following account is from Historic Camden by Thomas J. Kirkland and Robert M. Kennedy, 1905, with minor edits.

Three brothers, Joseph, Eli, and William, sons of Joseph Kershaw, of Sowerby, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, came to seek their fortunes in American about the middle of the eighteenth century. They seem to have settled first in Charlestown.

Joseph was a clerk in the store of James Laurens & Co., Charleston. His initial advertisement in his own name, offering for sale "Exceeding good Bohea Tea, Bristol Beer, &c.," appears in the Gazette of May 6, 1756. He went to Pine Tree Hill about 1758 as the agent of Ancrum, Lance & Loocock. Two years later, this firm advertised "Fine Carolina Flour fresh from Pinetree Hill," in the making of which they were "concerned." This would indicate that Kershaw, who probably had learned all about flour milling in the Old Country, had been sent to establish mills on Pine Tree Creek, and we are of opinion that he was a pioneer in this industry in South Carolina.

Certainly his flour became famous, and was probably the foundation of his fortune. In a few years, by dint of fine executive ability, he had acquired lands, built saw, grist, and flouring mills, indigo works, a tobacco warehouse, a brewery and a distillery, and established large mercantile businesses at both Camden and Cheraw. In short, by the Revolution, he had become, both in wealth and influence, the leading man of the district. Mainly under his direction, the wilderness about Pine Tree Hill was converted into the well-planned and prosperous town of Camden.

Catholic in spirit, he gave lands for the erection of places of worship, not only to his own church, the English, but also to the Presbyterians, to the Baptists, and to "God's Antient people, the Jews."

The ferry across the river, at the site of the old bridge, was chartered by him and Samuel Wyly, prior to the Revolution. Upon his plantation on the other side, near the ferry (now the Savage lands), he attempted to found another town, which he named "Westerham." Streets were laid out and some lots were sold, but not a trace of this projected city, except the title applied to the plantation, now is left.

As chairman of a committee in the Assembly of 1768, he recommended the division of St. Mark's into several parishes, the building of convenient churches and schools, and the payment of schoolmasters out of public funds, on condition of their giving free instruction to a certain number of indigent children - a suggestion of our modern free school system. Late, in 1787, we hear of him as a charter member of the Camden Orphan Society, whose object, in part, was to provide such free education.

In 1772, he was appointed Sheriff of Camden District, in place of Roger-Peter Handasyde Hatley, Esq., who died in Camden, at Mr. Kershaw's house.

Johnson says of Col. Kershaw's Orderly book, containing accounts with each officer serving in his regiment during the Revolution, was, in 1851, in the hands of the late Judge J.B. Kershaw. It is now lost, and with it, forever, perhaps, definite information about Kershaw's troops.

A throrough patriot, he suffered much during the war, sacrificing time, talents, wealth, even liberty for his adopted country. He was captured at the fall of Camden, cast into prison, loaded with irons, and later, with his brother Eli, banished to British Honduras, being afterwards permitted, on account of Eli's health, to go to Bermuda. Here, for fifteen months, he lived in exile, until exchanged about the end of the war.

While in Bermuda, Kershaw conceived the idea of furnishing the colonies with much-needed supplies. To accomplish this enterprise, which had to be undertaken at his own risk, his estates around Camden were mortgaged to the Bermuda merchants to the sum of £9,000. A shipload of clothing and other militiary stores was sent out, but was captured and confiscated by the British. In later years, Congress was petitioned for some redress, but the enterprise not having been official, all in vain. The merchants in Bermuda instituted proceedings to recover their advances, and thus Joseph Kershaw's possessions, or what remained of them after the war, were sold out by degrees until there was little left.

His son, John, as the agent of the creditors, spent a good part of his life closing up these matters. Efforts were made to have South Carolina reimburse him, even partially - but, these requests met with poor response.

Joseph Kershaw was married about 1763 to Sarah, daughter of Daniel and Sophia Mathis, early Quaker settlers. They had eight children - James, John, Joseph, Mary, George, Sarah, Rebecca, Samuel Godfrey. Col. Joseph Kershaw died on December 28, 1791, in his 64th year of age. His wife died in 1789. He is buried in his family inclosure a little below the old Courthouse and above the grave rises a modest marble shaft commemorative of his many virtues.

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