A History of Ashley River Ferry Town, South Carolina

From "Some Forgotten Towns in Lower South Carolina," by Henry A.M. Smith, published in The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 4, October 1913, pages 198-208, published by: South Carolina Historical Society [with minor edits]:

Sometimes called Butlers Town and Shem Town.

At a very early date a ferry was established over the Ashley River at the point later known as Bee's ferry and where the present railroad bridge of the Atlantic Coast Line Railway crosses the river. In 1711, an Act was passed establishing the ferry and laying out a road through the land of Mr. Shem Butler, on the south side of the river to be the road and landing place for the ferry. On the north side of the river the road and landing place were on the plantation of Landgrave Edmund Bellinger (the second Landgrave of the name) then or afterwards called "Stony Point" or "Rocky Point" from the outcrop of the marl near the surface of the land on the river bank.

Several grants had been made to Shem Butler of land at that locality, viz:

- 15 July 1703.........418 acres
- 16 July 1703.........1,332 acres
- 5 May 1704..........700 acres

Exactly upon which of these grants the town was laid out cannot well be ascertained. The existing copy of the "Model" or plan simply says it is on land previously granted to Shem Butler, deceased. The same map states also that the map was made in September, 1724, by the desire of Shem Butler, but apparently after his death. Shem Butler left a will, dated 9 October, 1718, which was probated 9 May, 1723, about which date was the date of his death.

By his will, Shem Butler directed all his property to be equally divided between his children and his wife, and apparently the division as made among them was after the town was laid out, as after that date the lots are found as owned by different distributees.

On 12 July, 1732, his widow, Esther Elliott (who had married since Butler's death, William Elliott) conveyed to Daniel Cartwright twelve of the town lots at Ashley River Ferry. On 14 June, 1745, Joseph Butler, one of the sons and devisees of Shem Butler, conveys to Benjamin Whitaker eleven lots in "Butler's Town" on the South side of Ashley River.

Daniel Cartwright, on 27 Nov., 1738, conveys to John Steel, vintner, lot No. 90 at Ashley River bounding on Broad Street "the said lot is bluff to the river," and on 26 Nov., 1739, conveys to John Lee, Chairmaker, lot 81 at Ashley River Ferry.

In the release from Joseph Butler to Charles Crubin 4 April, 1732, it is "Ashley River Ferry Town (called by the name of Butlers Town)" and so also in the release from Joseph Butler to John Biggs, Blacksmith, 26 April, 1732. In the Release from Elizabeth Bellinger to Charles Pinckney, 4 Jany., 1743, the lot is styled as situate in "Shem Town, also Butler Town, at the ferry on Ashley river. On the copy of the map of the town in the posses sion of the writer it is styled "Shem Town."

On 15 Feb., 1723, an Act was passed entitled "An Act "for settling a Fair and Markets in Ashley River Ferry "Town in Berkeley County for the better improvement of "the said Ferry, it being a principal Ferry leading to "Charlestown." [see below]

This Act provided that public and open markets should be held in Ashley River Ferry Town every Wednesday and Saturday without toll for three years, and that two fairs should be held annually on the first Tuesday in May and last Tuesday in September, and that a majority of the inhabitants and residents should purchase and establish a public market place in the town.

By an Act passed 22 Sept. 1733, a grant was made to Edmund Bellinger of the right to maintain the ferry called "Ashley Ferry" from Stony Point, he having for several years maintained a causeway leading to the ferry.

To what extent the town grew it is now impossible to say. There were transfers of lots between parties and as late as 1751 William Cattell in his will dated 8 August 1751 devises a "House at Ashley Ferry." Probably there was always there the usual tavern, inn, or rest house for travel lers over the ferry with a blacksmith shop, and general store, the usual accompaniment of such places, but the place is not mentioned as a town in any of the descriptions of the province at or near that time and seems to have soon lost all claim to being a town. In December, 1821, the ferry was granted to Joseph F. Bee, and for many years prior and subsequent to 1860 was generally known as "Bee's Ferry" in contradistinction to the ferry over the Ashley River from the city of Charleston, where the bridge now stands.

It was at this ferry that occurred the incident related in James's "Life of Marion," where Col. Benjamin Thompson of the British Army (afterwards Count Rumford) with a view of crossing the river for the purpose of surprising and capturing General Greene, who was at his headquarters a few miles higher up the river, ordered his cavalry to swim across. The tide was at ebb and the banks on each side miry. Upon the protest of his next in command Major Fraser, that it was impossible, the attempt was directed to be made by a sergeant, the best trooper and swimmer in the corps, but in the attempt the horse was drowned and the sergeant himself barely saved, and the attempt to cross abandoned.


The following extracts from the South Caro lina Gazette, August 9 and 16, 1760, show "Shem Town," to have been at that date, a place at least large enough to accommodate the General Assembly; at that time Smallpox was an epidemic in Charles Town, and the Cherokee Indians had renewed hostilities.

So. Ca. Gazette, August 9, 1760.

''On Wednesday last his honour the lieut. governor was pleased to adjourn the general assembly till Wednesday next (the 13th instant), then to meet at Shem-Town, Ashley-Ferry, in order that all our representatives (many of whom have been prevented from attending by the Small-pox) may assist in deliberating on affairs of the greatest weight and importance to this province."

S. C. Gazette, Aug. 16, 1760.

"We hear from Shem-Town, Ashley-Ferry, that a bill has been brought into the Commons House of Assembly there, and had two readings, for forthwith raising a regiment of 1000 men to act against the Cherokees."

In "The Statutes at Large of South Carolina - Volume III," Pages 217-219 identifies "An Act for settling a Fair and Markets in Ashley River Ferry Town, in Berkeley County, for the Better Improvement of the said Ferry, it Being a Principal Ferry Leading to Charlestown," passed on February 15, 1723. Click Here to view the entire Act included herein.

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