You might think you’re town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL.
Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old. That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in South Carolina? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if you’re South Carolina city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Palmetto State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Columbia (Photos)
- Camden (Photos)
- Greenville (Photos)
- Florence (Photos)
- Bluffton (Photos)
- Gaffney (Photos)
- Port Royal (Photos)
- Georgetown (Photos)
For being 232 years old, Columbia doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in South Carolina? That would be James Island — a brand spanking 25 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In South Carolina… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in South Carolina, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 53 out of 96 in South Carolina with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 55.2% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Columbia turning out to be the matriarch of South Carolina at the ripe old age of 232.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 132,537Founded: 1786
At the time of European encounter, the inhabitants of the area that became Columbia were a people called the Congaree. In May 1540, a Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto traversed what is now Columbia while moving northward. The expedition produced the earliest written historical records of the area, which was part of the regional Cofitachequi chiefdom.
From the creation of Columbia by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1786, the site of Columbia was important to the overall development of the state. The Congarees, a frontier fort on the west bank of the Congaree River, was the head of navigation in the Santee River system. A ferry was established by the colonial government in 1754 to connect the fort with the growing settlements on the higher ground on the east bank.
Population: 7,017Founded: 1786
Camden is the oldest inland city and fourth oldest city in South Carolina. It is near the center of the Cofitachequi chiefdom that existed in the 1500s. In 1730, Camden became part of a township plan ordered by King George II. Kershaw County’s official web site states, ‘Originally laid out in 1732 as the town of Fredericksburg in the Wateree River swamp (south of the present town) when King George II ordered eleven inland townships established along South Carolina’s rivers, few of the area settlers chose to take lots surveyed in the town, choosing the higher ground to the north. The township soon disappeared.’ In 1758, Joseph Kershaw, from Yorkshire, England came into the township, established a store and renamed the town Pine Tree Hill. Camden became the main inland trade center in the colony. Kershaw suggested that the town be renamed Camden, in honor of Lord Camden, a champion of colonial rights in the British Parliament.
Population: 62,776Founded: 1831
The land of present-day Greenville was once the hunting ground of the Cherokee which was forbidden to colonists. A wealthy settler from Virginia named Richard Pearis arrived in South Carolina around 1754 trading with Cherokee. Pearis had a child with a Cherokee woman and received about 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) from the Cherokee around 1770. Pearis established a plantation on the Reedy River called the Great Plains in present-day downtown Greenville. The American Revolution divided the South Carolina country between the Loyalists and Patriots. Pearis supported the Loyalists and together with their allies the Cherokee attacked the Patriots. The Patriots retaliated by burning down Pearis’ plantation and jailing him in Charleston. Pearis never returned to his plantation but Paris Mountain is named after him. The Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner in 1777 ceded almost all Cherokee land, including present-day Greenville, to South Carolina.
Population: 38,221Founded: 1890
The City of Florence was chartered in 1871 and incorporated in 1890:7 following the 1888 creation of Florence County. Prior to its charter, the city was part of one of the original townships laid out by the Lords Proprietors in 1719. The area was gradually settled through the late 19th and early 20th century. Early settlers practiced subsistence farming and produced indigo, cotton, naval stores and timber, which were shipped down the Great Pee Dee River to the port at Georgetown and exported. In the mid-19th century two intersecting railroads were built, the Wilmington and Manchester, and the Northeastern. Gen. W. W. Harllee, the president of the W & M, built his home at the junction, and named the community ‘Florence’, after his daughter.
Population: 15,765Founded: 1904
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the area comprising southern Beaufort County was known as Granville County of St. Luke’s Parish. The Yamasee people were invited to settle in the area by Lord Cardoss, leader of the nearby Scottish settlement in Beaufort. The Yamasee established ten towns with over 1,200 inhabitants in the area. In 1715, the Yamasee War broke out, and after several years of fighting, the Yamasee migrated to Florida, opening the ‘Indian Lands’ to European settlement. In 1718, the Lords Proprietors carved the area into several new baronies, including the Devil’s Elbow Barony that contained the future town of Bluffton. The first titled owner of the land was the Barbadian planter Sir John Colleton. Following the departure of the Yamasee people, colonists began building plantations in the Bluffton area in 1728. The Colletons prospered by growing cotton, corn and indigo.
Population: 12,859Founded: 1904
Michael A. Gaffney, born in Granard, Ireland, in 1775, emigrated to the United States in 1797, arriving in New York City and moving to Charleston, South Carolina, a few years later. Gaffney moved again in 1804 to the South Carolina Upcountry and established a tavern and lodging house at what became known as ‘Gaffney’s Cross Roads’. The location was perfect for growth because of the two major roads which met here, one from the mountains of North Carolina to Charleston and the other from Charlotte into Georgia. Michael Gaffney died here on September 6, 1854.
7. Port Royal
Population: 11,891Founded: 1904
Port Royal takes its name from the adjacent Port Royal Sound, which was explored and named by Frenchman Jean Ribault in 1562. Ribault founded the short-lived settlement of Charlesfort on Parris Island. The area later became the site of a Spanish and still later Scottish colony during the 17th century.
Population: 10,338 Founded: 1904
European settlers (primarily German, Scots-Irish, and English) began arriving in great numbers in the 1750s. Newberry County was formed from the Ninety-Six District in 1785. Because of its central location, the town of Newberry was chosen in 1789 as the county seat for Newberry County, which was part of an extensive area of cotton plantations. County and town politics were dominated by planters. By the coming of the railroad in 1851, Newberry had become a thriving trade center. This remained the case until the 1860s.
Population: 9,071Founded: 1904
Georgetown occupies a unique place in American history. Some historians[who?]claim that American history began in the town in 1526 with the earliest settlement in North America by Europeans with African slaves. It is believed that in that year the Spanish, under Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, founded a colony on Waccamaw Neck called San Miguel de Guadalupe. The colony failed for multiple reasons, including a fever epidemic and a revolt of the African slaves, who fled to join the Cofitachiqui Indians in the area. Having failed as farmers, the surviving Spanish built a ship from local cypress and oak trees and sailed to the Spice Islands in Maritime Southeast Asia.
Population: 8,692 Founded: 1904
The city of Bennettsville was founded in 1819 on the Great Pee Dee River and named after Thomas Bennett, Jr., then governor of South Carolina. The area was developed for short-staple cotton cultivation, dependent on the labor of enslaved African Americans. Many were brought to the upland area from the Lowcountry, carrying their Gullah culture with them. Others were transported from the Upper South by slave traders. This shift to cotton cultivation in the uplands was based on the development of the cotton gin, which made short-staple cotton, cotton with relatively short fibers, profitable. The advent of the gin in turn led to development of large cotton plantations throughout the Deep South.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In South Carolina
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in South Carolina. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in South Carolina.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Palmetto State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to South Carolina:
- James Island (Founded in 1993)
- Powdersville (Founded in 1993)
- Spartanburg (Founded in 1993)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In South Carolina
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