South Carolina State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General South Carolina State History

The human history of what is now called South Carolina goes back more than 11,000 years when the first Americans migrated into the region, fanned out, and began to develop the individual tribal characteristics encountered by the first European explorers. By the end of the 15th century, South Carolina was the home territory for a wide variety of distinct tribal cultures. The influence of these "first" Carolinians survives in their many names for rivers and geographical features which have been absorbed into our modern English.

Spanish explorers were sailing along the present-day South Carolina coast less than 30 years after Europeans discovered America. In 1526, the Spanish made the first attempt at establishing a settlement in the state on Winyah Bay, near what is now the city of Georgetown. A severe winter, Indian attacks, and disease forced them to abandon their ambitious project.

In 1562, a group of French Huguenots landed at a site near the present-day Parris Island Marine Corps Base near Beaufort. Led by Jean Ribaut, the French were almost successful in establishing a permanent settlement. Ribaut, however had to go back to France, and when his return to the colony was delayed, the settlers thought they had been deserted. With the help of the Indians, they built a craft and sailed for home. The boat, however, became becalmed and everyone was in danger of starvation when a passing English ship rescued them.

It remained for the lords proprietors, the eight nobles who were given the Carolinas by King Charles II, to succeed in establishing the first permanent European settlement. In 1670, the English arrived at Albermarle point and ten years later moved across the Ashley River to the present site of Charleston.

From the very beginning of European settlement in South Carolina, black servants and slaves were brought into the colony to clear the land and work the crops. This introduction of slavery would forever shape the history and culture of South Carolina. For much of its early history, South Carolina was, in fact, a black majority community.

By the mid-1700s, new townships were developing inland as well. The German, Scots-Irish and Welsh settlers were a different kind of people by inclination and background from the planter class of the tidewater area.

With the influx of pioneers from other areas, the Upcountry people of the Piedmont Plateau began to develop governmental ideas along the same lines as their neighbors in the Lowcountry or Coastal Plain region. Although all of the settlers were required to pay taxes to the state, only the Lowcountry residents who made up the landed aristocracy and were in firm control of the government had actual representation before 1770.

South Carolinians were leaders in the resistance to the Stamp Act and took and active part in the American Revolution, with at least 299 battles and skirmishes fought here. The initial overt act of the Revolution occurred in South Carolina at Fort Charlotte in McCormick County on July 12, 1775. This was the first British property seized by force by American Revolutionary forces. The first decisive victory of the war involving land and naval forces was won at Fort Moultrie, near Charleston. The battles of Kings Mountain (1780) and Cowpens (1781) are considered by many historians to be the turning points in the Revolution.

On May 23, 1788, South Carolina became the eighth state to ratify the Constitution. By the early 19th century, talk of secession mounted proportionately with rising tariffs. The touchy situation led to the state's adoption of the nullification method of dealing with unpopular Federal laws. Originated by John C. Calhoun, a South Carolinian, this innovation figured prominently in the 1833 compromise on tariff regulations in time to avert actual warfare.

Over the next twenty years, however, white South Carolinians felt increasingly threatened and isolated by a rapidly industrializing and expanding nation. Efforts on all sides to avoid conflict failed and on December 20, 1860, in Charleston, the Ordinance of Secession was passed, making South Carolina the first state to secede from the Union. The federally garrisoned Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, fell soon after to the Confederates and remained in their hands until the evacuation of Charleston in 1865.

That same year, General Sherman left a scorched-earth trail from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia, then through South Carolina, burning Columbia as he returned north.

Post-war South Carolina was in a ruinous condition and the state was occupied by federal troops until after the election of Wade Hampton as governor in 1876. With the withdrawal of federal troops by President Hayes in 1877, the traditional white elite returned to power and black South Carolinians found themselves once again relegated to second class status. But no political action could undo the physical damage of the war, and South Carolina continued to suffer economically for decades.

In the 1880's, the textile industry began to flourish in the state, It was not until after World War II, however, that South Carolina began pulling out of the economic depths to which it had sunk. Today, the state is a leader in the manufacturing and tourism industries and has a diversified economy. Numerous giant industrial companies, both domestic and foreign, have plants in South Carolina and the state is rapidly regaining the place of prominence it formerly held in the nation.
South Carolina Historic Figures

James F. Byrnes
1879-1972: From Charleston, earned the title "Assistant President" because of his service to President Frankin D. Roosevelt. A member of the Supreme Court (from which he resigned during World War II to serve as Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization and later as Director of the Office of War Mobilization, ) he was later appointed Secretary of State. He also served as Governor of South Carolina from 1951-1955.


John C. Calhoun
1782-1850: Born near Abbeville. He served as Vice President of the United States from 1825-1832. He was also a member of the House of Representatives and Senate and was appointed Secretary of State in 1845.


Andrew Jackson
1767-1845: He was not only the first United States President born in a log cabin, but he was also the first South Carolinian to be elected President. Jackson was the founder of the Democratic Party. He began practicing law at the age of 20, became a U.S. Senator at 30 and a judge at 31.


The Reverend Jesse Jackson
1941-Present: Born in Greenville, has been a leader in the Civil Rights Movement since the 1960's. Following in the footsteps of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, he is an active clergyman, civic leader and founder of the Rainbow Coalition.


Strom Thurmond
1902-2003: Born in Edgefield, became the first-and-only United States Senator to be elected by a write-in vote in 1948, and has returned to office ever since.