History of Edgefield County From the Earliest Settlement to 1897
by John A. Chapman
While most every county has a county history which was a life-long labor of love for someone and is generally of little interest beyond inhabitants of the county, Edgefield County, SC is unique for several reasons:
1. It was the end of the Great Wagon Road which stretched from New England all the way down the east coast. As people pushed west, the choices were to cross the Appalachian Mountains at Cumberland Gap or come south, bypassing the mountains and then go west into Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, etc. Thus in the early days many families came through Edgefield and lingered for a short time before moving on. My own Hammond and Butler families were some of the first to settle there and some of the family still resides there today, but many are spread across Georgia and Alabama.
2. Edgefield District once comprised much of the upstate of South Carolina. Augusta, GA at the navigable head of the Savannah River became the major trading post for the Indians and later the corridor for shipping products to market through Savannah.
3. Edgefield has played a key part in the politics of South Carolina and indeed for the entire country. From the earliest times before the Civil War, James Henry Hammond’s “Cotton is King” set the narrative for much that followed leading up to Secession. Sen. Strom Thurmond dominated the political scene for most of the 20th Century. Edgefield County boasts 8 governors and 6 senators.
Other and later books have been written on Edgefield County, but Chapman’s work covers in details the early years of the County. Chapman lived and documented most of the 19th Century. He served in the 27th South Carolina Infantry in the Civil War and includes rosters of all the units formed in Edgefield. He also includes rosters of the earlier Revolutionary War soldiers, the War of 1812, The troops for Florida and the War with Mexico.
The book is not all about rosters though. Chapman gives detailed narratives of many of the earliest families without necessarily focusing on his own as many of these county histories tend to do. The book runs 500 pages. The last few chapters are somewhat disorganized reflecting the fact that he did not complete editing before his death, but none-the-less the book is well written and is evidence of a man who was well, though not highly educated.
One of the little known details of American History is the fact that the men and women who were killed at the Alamo were from Edgefield. Here is Chapman’s description of Col. Travis.
“In the good old days there lived on Mine Creek an industrious man named Travis. His wife bore him no children and she was frequently begging her neighbors to made her a present of one; but the neighbors did not feel like parting from one of their own in this way. At last, however, her importunate prayer was gratified in a way she had not anticipated. Going out one morning to the cow pen as usual to milk her cows, she found hanging on the bars a little bundle carefully done up, which on examination she found containing a fine baby boy. She adopted him at once and named him Bar Travis from the place where he was found. He grew up a fine, healthy boy; became an active, energetic man, an honor to those who had adopted and reared him. In due time he married and finally settled a place one mile north of Bethlehem church - a place lately the home of Hon. W. J. Ready. It was here that Colonel William B. Travis, the commander and hero of the Alamo, was born in 1809. The grave of Bar Travis is still to be seen. William B. Travis emigrated to Alabama and from that State went to take part in the Revolution in Texas and was there murdered in the Alamo, March 6, 1836, by order of General Santa Anna, with all the other defenders of the place.”
Another snippet from the book:
During nullification times Press Bland was quite a prominent and influential character in Edgefield, though he never held any office nor aspired to any. He was a strong nullifier, and being a man of considerable wealth and strong will his influence was very decided and submissionists found no favor in his eyes. He left several daughters who were much esteemed. I have heard it related of Mr. Bland that he would sometimes on horseback, booted and spurred, visit Aiken, which in his day was a small railroad village. When ready to leave, inspired by the potent influence of John Barley Corn, he would mount his horse and ride through the town singing at the top of his voice:.
Barnwell District, Aiken town;
O Lord in mercy do look down!
The land is poor, the people too;
If they don't steal what will they do?.
You will find that the History of Edgefield is not only a well written history of Edgefield County, but a fun book to read and most likely you will find some family ties there. Many other books have been written on Edgefield County history including my two volumes on “The First Families of Edgefield County” but few come up to the bar set by Chapman.