A History of Winnsboro, South Carolina

Fairfield County Court House - Winnsboro, SC (2008)

Several years before the American Revolution, Richard Winn from Virginia moved to what is now called Fairfield County. His lands covered the present site of Winnsboro, and as early as 1777 the settlement was known as Winnsborough.

The village was laid out and chartered in 1785 upon petition of Richard Winn, John Winn, and John Vanderhorst. John, Richard, and Minor Winn all served in the Revolutionary War. Richard Winn was a Colonel from 1780 to 1783 (later a General) and he is said to have fought in more battles than any Patriot in South Carolina. John Winn was also Colonel, from 1775 to 1780.

During the stay of Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, Colonel John Winn and Minor Winn attempted to ambush and kill his Lordship, but they were frustrated. They were captured and condemned to the gallows, but Lord Cornwallis pardoned and released them.

In December of 1832, Winnsboro was incorporated as a town to be governed by an intendant and wardens.

The Town Clock of Winnsboro, SC (2008)
Now Home to the Winnsboro Chamber of Commerce

In 1785, the General Assembly of South Carolina authorized the establishment of a public market in the town of Winnsborough on Corner and Washington Streets. This market house was a square, wooden building, painted yellow, and was topped with a belfry.

Some years later, probably between 1820 and 1830, this market house was sold to Robert Cathcart for a goodly sum; Mr. Cathcart at the same time, donated to the town his old duck-pond, a small piece of land in the middle of Washington Street, as a site for a new market house. The town council accepted the land and petitioned the legislature in due time for authority to erect the new market house and town clock. The legislature gave this authority, "Provided the building be no more than 30 feet in width." So the erection of the Town Clock was begun soon after this, probably in 1822.

The works for the new clock were ordered by Colonel William McCreight who was Intendent of the town in 1837, from Alsace, France. They were imported to Charleston by sailboat, and hauled to Winnsboro in wagons. Varied and interesting, if not authentic, are the reports of the journey from Charleston. One old African American Adam Blake (who is remembered by residents today) declared that it took fifty wagons to do the hauling! This statement is inconsistent with the belief of some familiar with local history that the works are wooden.

Whether of wood, or of metal, the works are undoubtedly superior, for the clock has run continuously for 100 years, the longest continuously running clock in the United States.

The Town Clock bell was French made also, and is said to have had silver in its composition. Its tone, we are told, was beautiful and silvery. This bell did good service until 1895; during a fire that year two young men were ringing it so vigorously that it cracked and was sent to Philadelphia to J. McShane for repairs. When after some delay it was returned and sounded for the first time, the tone was so different from the old tone that doubt was expressed immediately as to its being the original bell.

In 1875, it was found necessary to repair the clock tower, and the present tower was erected. The carpentry work was done by a African American carpenter of Winnsboro, John Smart.

The old public market occupied the ground floor of the Town Clock and had a bell of its own. Its tone was not so silvery as that of the clock, but was a very welcome one when its ringing proclaimed to the villagers that fresh meat was to be had at the market. (It is interesting to learn that this was an old custom, not peculiar to Winnsboro.)

One who was a visitor to the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, in a description of the old market house there, writes of the recorded ringing of the bell when a boat arrived up the river bringing good things to eat from England and the tropics. When the curfew law prevailed the old market bell tolled the curfew at nine o'clock every evening.

Cornwallis House - Winnsboro, South Carolina

The Cornwallis House is one of the oldest and most-historic buildings in Winnsboro. By whom it was built or to whom it originally belonged cannot be ascertained. However, it is known that it is one of the buildings that was occupied by the British when Lord Cornwallis established his headquarters in Winnsboro. It is a locally-accepted fact that this is the house in which the famous general resided during the occupation.

The house is built on a lot shaded with large old trees. The original portion of the house was built on the ground level and was two stories high. A wing and the third floor were later additions. This older portion of the house is enclosed with massive masonry walls and partitions that are coated with a hard plaster. The timber used in the framing is all oversized, and it is joined with mortises and pegs. The few nails used in its construction are hand-made. Inside stairs lead from the basement floor to the two floors above. Outside steps lead from the yard to the second-story porch. The first and second story porches are supported by columns. The lower porch is open but the upper piazza is enclosed with beautifully turned wooden bannisters.

All records of Fairfield prior to 1785 were kept in Camden District. Some of the Camden records were either lost or destroyed during the War Between the States so that now it is extremely difficult to go back any further. The first official record of this house is in 1797. At that time William McMorries, sheriff of Fairfield, deeded the place to Captain John Buchanan. This was the result of a Court action vs. Minor Winn by Hugh Milling and Alexander Caldwell, executors of the estate of Alexander Millar, to recover a debt owed Alexander Millar. The judgment granted forty-two pounds sterling, plus expenses of two pounds, five shillings and six pence. The lots (including this house) were sold at public auction, and Captain John Buchanan was the highest bidder.

Captain Buchanan and his wife later resided here. Captain Buchanan was a distinguished soldier of the Revolution and a leading citizen of Fairfield. He was one of the first Americans to greet General de LaFayette when he arrived to assist in the struggle for American independence. Captain Buchanan and the French general became close friends, and Buchanan gave him one of his servants, a man named Fortune, to serve him during the war. After the Revolution, when LaFayette visited in this country he saw the Captain and Fortune again while he was in Columbia.

Captain John Buchanan owned much property in the town and throughout the county. Among his holdings was a tavern that was located on Congress Street, almost directly behind this house. In 1807, he conveyed the tavern and some lots to his brother, Creighton Buchanan, but reserved the use of the well that was located on one of the lots for his use.

As Winnsborough, the town was granted a U.S. Post Office on April 1, 1795, and its first Postmaster was Mr. James Barkley. In 1829, the Post Office Department officially changed its name simply to Winnsboro. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

Winnsborough Town Plat 1787 - From SC State Archives

Click Here to view / download a 2017 map of Winnsboro, SC. Adobe PDF file. Fairly large.

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