HISTORICAL PROFILE OF HAMPTON COUNTY
Depiction of profile as reported by Martha Bee Anderson.
A spirit of independence created South Carolina's 33rd county. By act of the South Carolina General Assembly February 18, 1878, the northern portion of Beaufort County was cut away to form Hampton County, South Carolina.
In 1877 Hampton County was carved from the northwestern portion of what was known as the Beaufort District. As a result of an act of the South Carolina legislature, Hampton County was officially established and named in honor of the renowned General of the Confederacy, Wade Hampton, III, then serving as Governor of South Carolina.
An 1877 petition of "memorialists" living in the northernmost sector of Beaufort District submitted a plea to the state legislature for an independent, new county with a courthouse to call their own and within reasonable travel time. The county seat of Beaufort County was relocated in 1868 from Gillisonville near the center, to the Town of Beaufort, making the distance to the courthouse more than 60 miles. Residents of the area could not endure this hardship and expense. "This amounts to a denial of justice to your memorialists," the document declared. Names of petitioners included ancestors of many present Hampton Countians.
Crossing Beaufort County from its eastern boundary at the Coosawhatchie River to its western boundary at the Savannah River, petitioners designated the Charleston and Savannah Railroad as the dividing line. This is the present Amtrak north-south line through Yemassee which left one part of the town in Beaufort County and the remainder in the new county of Hampton.
The birth of Hampton County occurred during the post-civil War "Reconstruction" period. South Carolinians were struggling to regain their government after radical rule. Federal forces "carpetbaggers" and others had been in control some 15 years. In 1876, a great and respected general of the Confederacy and member of a pioneering Southern family of planters, Wade Hampton, III, was elected governor of South Carolina. It was his difficult task to restore order under chaotic conditions.
When first submitted, "the petition for independence used first "Washington" and later "Palmetto" as proposed county names. In the final version filed with the General Assembly, petitions had changed the name to Hampton, choosing a hero of regional standing to memorialize. Governor Hampton signed the act creating Hampton County into law February 18, 1878.
A handwritten copy of the act in the South Carolina Archives appointed W.J. Causey, William Stokes, B.F. Buckner, Southwood Smith, and John I Morrision commissioners, "...to designate and establish the county seat and to provide suitable buildings for the several court and county offices and to select and puchase or procure sites for the usual public buildings and to contract for and superintend the erection of the courthouse and jail thereon and that said public buildings shall be built at the expense of citizens of the said County of Hampton..."
A two-mill tax levy was prescribed and the first election ordered for the first Tuesday in November, 1878, and the first term of criminal court was held in January 1879.
Since these former Beaufort Countians were breaking away for the very purpose of having their own courthouse, it was of extreme importance to them to seat their new government in a place that was convenient and pleasing to all.
They held a referendum and commissioners put it to the populace. The voter's choice was the geographic center of the new county. When the county was surveyed after the election, the center was found to be in a very large cypress pond!
In a second referendum, Varnville, once named Dixie, won the county seat race. Oral history has it that there were problems in getting courthouse construction underway.
While this was being debated, residents then living in or near Hoover's Station on the Charleston and Port Royal Railroad (now CSX) came up with the offer of nine acres of land for a Courthouse Square, necessary lumber and materials. George and Josephine Lewis Hoover were the land donors. Major W.H. Mauldin is credited with giving lumber. Captain A.A. Browning provided the original windmill-powered artesian (deep) well, which still flows from its Courthouse Square location. The windmill has long disappeared from the Square.
Commissioners determined that the new courthouse could be situated within two miles of the town which won the referendum. Surveyors again measured the distance from the Varnville Depot. The well-worn brass top of the benchmark they put down still may be seen in the center of the corridor in the Hampton County Courthouse. The County seat was laid out around the new courthouse and the community of Hampton, officially identified as the Town of Hampton Courthouse, was incorporated on December 23, 1879. Governor Wade Hampton, campaigning hard for re-election, traveled to Hampton to lay the cornerstone of the seat of government of the new county honoring his name and dedicated it on October 12, 1878.
Newspaper Started by Future Governor
The printer who came to the brand new county seat to start a printery and weekly newspaper was among the town's first mayors, later being elected to the legislature and eventually to the office of lieutenant governor. In 1899, Miles Benjamin McSweeney, editor and publisher of The Hampton County Guardian, became this county's first and only resident to date to become governor of South Carolina. He served until 1903.
Ravages of War
Hampton County did not escape the ravages of war, its lands seeing action in the Yamassee War, the Revolutionary War, and the War Between the States. During the Revolution, there was action both in Black Swamp section, now Jasper County, and Pocotaligo, also in that county, with Revolutionary fortification Fort Balfour near Yemassee. General William T. Sherman cut a three-pronged swath of destruction through Hampton County, with units at McPhersonville on Pocotaligo Road, Hickory Hill, Lawtonville section and along Old Orangeburg Road through Brunson.
Time was when what now is Hampton County was mapped as "Indian Lands," this northwestern sector of old Beaufort District being so designated when subdivided in 1717. Yamassee and Creek Indians, migrating from Florida, and others had trading posts, trails, burial grounds and ceremonial grounds throughout these pine woods and swamplands. Creeks inhabited a section along the Savannah River with a post, Palachuchola, near what now is Stokes Bluff. The area is now a South Carolina Wildlife management area. Numerous Indian names have survived to remind us of the Native Americans who were here first: Salkehatchie, Coosawhatchie, Huspah, Caw Caw, and Combahee.