Laurens County, South Carolina
         
   

   

Year Established

County Seat

Population (2010)

1785

Laurens

66,537
 

First Settled

First Settled By

Significance of County Name

1753

Scots-Irish from Pennsylvania and Virginia

Henry Laurens
 

Other Significant Towns:

Clinton

Waterloo

Cross Hill

Mountville

Watts Mill

Joanna

Owings

Gray Court

Click Here - To see how Laurens County evolved each decade - includes all the known towns and villages.

Click Here - To see the known battles/skirmishes in Laurens County during the US Revolution.

A History of Laurens County


Laurens County Courthouse

Laurens County is located in the Piedmont Region of South Carolina and is a county of forests and gently rolling hills. The Enoree River separates Laurens from Spartanburg and Union counties on the northeast. Newberry County borders on the southeast, and Greenville County on the northwest. The Saluda River and Lake Greenwood separate the county from Abbeville and Greenwood counties on the southwest.

The first known European in the area was John Duncan, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who came from Pennsylvania in 1753 and settled near the modern Newberry-Laurens County line. Duncan brought the first African-American slave and the first horse-drawn wagon to the area. Duncan's settlement grew and by the mid 1760s a church was established that became known as Duncan's Creek Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Laurens County.

Four important Revolutionary Battles took place in Laurens County. On July 15, 1776, patriot forces defeated a combined Indian and Tory attack on Lyndley's Fort near Rabun Creek. At the Battle of Musgrove's Mill on August 18, 1780, a force of rebels attacked the British and Tory forces achieving a decisive victory in the two-day battle. On December 29, 1780, a Tory detachment was defeated at Hammond's Store near present-day Clinton. Near the end of the war, at Hayes Station (eight miles southwest of Clinton), Captain "Bloody Bill" Cunningham attacked a contingent of rebels, slaughtering fourteen.

After the Revolutionary War, the Ninety-Six District became the chief governmental unit of the backcountry. In 1785, Laurens County, named for statesman Henry Laurens of Charleston, was one of six counties carved from the Ninety-Six District. To select a site for the county seat, a delegation met at the distillery of John Rodgers, near the present Laurens Courthouse Square. Tradition has it that the men, after imbibing freely, climbed the hill to a level area and chose the spot for the courthouse. More likely, the site was selected for its close proximately to water and because five important roads connecting the upcountry converged at the point. A wooden courthouse, also used as a church and a schoolhouse, was constructed shortly afterwards. An improved courthouse was built between during 1837 and 1838 and subsequently enlarged in 1857 and 1911.

After the Revolution, the upcountry saw immigrants arrive from Pennsylvania seeking cheap land. By 1800, the population of Laurens County stood at 12,809, of which almost eighty-five percent were white. However, as cotton production expanded throughout the ante-bellum period, the number of slaves in Laurens increase accordingly. Laurens County produced almost 16,000 bales of cotton in 1850. Ten years later, the county population reached 23,858, over half of which consisted of slaves. Villages sprang up and briefly thrived during this period at Cross Hill, Waterloo, Princeton, Gray Court, Owings, Ora, and Mountville. However, they gradually dwindled with Laurens and Clinton becoming the dominant towns in the county.

In 1853, Laurens County resident Ann Pamela Cunningham wrote a letter to the Charleston Mercury about the deplorable condition of George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. She began the movement for restoration of this national historic site.

No military action occurred in Laurens County during the Civil War although many native sons served in the conflict. In late April and early May 1865, Union troops passed through the county in pursuit of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who spent two days and a night in the county during his flight from Richmond.

During reconstruction, white residents of Laurens County resented the enfranchisement of the newly-freed blacks, most of whom supported the despised Republican Party. Whites responded by organizing Democratic clubs that attempted to influence elections through intimidation and violence. As a result of Ku Klux Klan activity in the lower-piedmont counties and the Laurens Riot of 1870 that resulted in fighting between blacks and whites near the Courthouse Square, Laurens and eight other South Carolina counties were placed under martial law in 1871. When Reconstruction ended in 1876 with the election of Wade Hampton III as Governor, Laurens native William Dunlap Simpson became lieutenant governor and later served as governor and Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.

After the Civil War, cotton remained the main crop with sharecropping replacing the prewar system of slave labor. Like most upcountry counties, Laurens sought to revive its economy by spinning cotton rather than simply growing it. By the turn of the century, textile manufacturing had become an important part of the Laurens County economy with the Laurens Cotton Mill established in 1895 and Mercer Silas Bailey building a mill in Clinton in 1896. Lydia, Watts, and Joanna mills also began operation during this period. Company-built villages appeared around these new textile mills to provide housing for employees, and mill villages remained an important economic and social feature of Laurens County until well after World War II.

New railroads also arrived in the late nineteenth century, including the Charleston and Western Carolina Railroad, the Columbia, Newberry and Laurens Railroad, and the Georgia, Carolina and Northern Railroad.

Education expanded in Laurens County during the late nineteenth century. Pratt Suber became the first county superintendent of education in 1874, Clinton College (now Presbyterian College) was established in 1880, and privately-sponsored libraries were formed which evolved in to a county library in 1929.

During the twentieth century, Laurens County experienced slow but steady growth and retained predominately rural. From a population of 37,382 in 1900, the county grew to 46,974 (69% white, 31% black) in 1950 and to an estimated 63,300 in 1999 (71% white, 29% black).

Until World War II, textiles and agriculture almost totally dominated the economy of Laurens county. A major exception was a large glass bottle manufacturing plant in Laurens. Small one or two-room schools still dotted the countryside. During World War II, soldiers were trained on the campus of Presbyterian College and at a small airfield near Laurens.

After World War II, small rural schools were consolidated, and economic diversification made Laurens County less dependent on the textile economy. Michelin, Milliken, and Wal-Mart established large warehouse distribution centers. Manufacturers to include CeramTec, Torrington, Avery Dennison, and Norbord built plants. Several automobile parts suppliers established facilities in northern Laurens County at Fountain Inn to supply BMW's large upstate automobile plant. Retirement centers have been built by three church denominations. Because of its upstate location adjacent to the rapidly growing Greenville/Spartanburg area, Laurens County is poised to continue to experience economic and population growth in the twenty-first century.

The original inhabitants of Laurens County were the Cherokee Indians. The first known white settler to arrive in our area was John Duncan in 1753. He liked the lush vegetation and abundant wildlife he found in this area, and he settled along a creek in the northeastern section of the county, not far from the present city of Clinton.

The General Assembly passed an act on March 12, 1785, whereby six counties were to be established out of the old Ninety-Six District. Laurens County was one of those counties. The county of Laurens owes its beautiful location to John Rogers, Charles Allen, Jonathan Downes, and others who were deputized by the fourteenth and fifty-first regiments of SC to lay a town. Laurens County derived its name from a patriot, warrior, and statesman, the Honorable Henry Laurens of Charleston. Henry Laurens was president of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, and later served as an ambassador to France to secure aid in helping the colonies with their independence. Scots-Irish immigrants out of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia became the predominate settlers of the county.

The town of Laurens (known as Laurensville well into the nineteenth century) became the county seat and the first courthouse was erected in 1786. The current courthouse was built in 1840 and enlarged in 1857.

By 1820, Laurens had become known for its trade of tailor-made clothes. Andrew Johnson, a future president of the United States, and his brother came to Laurens in 1824 and established a tailor shop. By 1840, the area was booming with establishments, including medical practitioners, a fancy confectionery and fruit store, carriage, buggy and wagon shops, tailoring establishments, building contractors, flour and corn mills, and 81 registered whiskey distilleries.

No military action occurred in Laurens County during the Civil War though many native sons who went off to war became casualties of the conflict.

By the end of the nineteenth century, textiles were becoming very important in Laurens County and the rest of the upstate area. The Laurens Cotton Mill was established in 1895. Mercer Silas Bailey built the first cotton mill in Clinton in 1896 and both Lydia Mill and Watts Mill were established in 1902. However, over the past decade, textiles have been displaced by a wide variety of industries.


Click Here for an 1825 map of Laurens District.
Laurens County and its county seat, Laurens, were named for Revolutionary War leader Henry Laurens (1724-1792). The county was established in 1785 as a part of Ninety Six District. This part of the state was settled primarily by Scots-Irish and English immigrants in the mid-1700s, and during the American Revolution quite of few of its residents remained loyal to Great Britain. Several Revolutionary War battles were fought in the county, including the battle of Musgrove's Mill (August 18, 1780). President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), a native of North Carolina, worked as a tailor in the town of Laurens for a brief time in the 1820s. Laurens County was also home to Ann Pamela Cunningham (1816-1875), the leader of the movement to preserve Mount Vernon, and educator Wil Lou Gray (1883-1984).
Laurens County was formed from the old Ninety-Six district in 1798 and named for Henry Laurens, the South Carolina Revolutionary war statesman, president of the Continental Congress. The county seat also bears his name. The county was settled by thrifty Scots-Irish in the early days of the state's history, and many of these descendants still live on the original farms granted by royal favor. Laurens county is the birthplace of Ann Pamela Cunningham, where from her home, Rosemont Manor, situated in the western part of the county, she promoted her plan for the saving of Mt. Vernon to the nation. The county is rich in history; several skirmishes of the Revolutionary war were fought within her boundaries, the massacre of Hays Station having taken place in the southern part.

Laurens boasts the favorable location of the "Center of the Piedmont" section of upper South Carolina. It is level in its lower section, gradually rolling to low, wooded hills in the northern part. It comprises an area of 690 square miles with a population of 42,560, all of whom are native born except 40. Its principal towns are Laurens, the county seat, Clinton, Cross Hill, Gray Court, Mountville, Princeton, and Lanford.

The county is both agricultural and industrial. The soil is favorable to cotton, corn, and grain; peach orchards, recently planted, also thrive and produce well. It has a growing season of 220 days in which are produced, in addition to the money crops, potatoes, melons, and vegetables for home consumption.

The Laurens County farmer, if he chooses, can completely live at home on his farm.

Chicken farms on extensive scales are also being promoted and the chickens are marketed through a cooperative association.

Six cotton mills, with a total of 200,000 spindles, are in the county. The Laurens Glass Works, one of the few glass factories in the South, is at the county seat.

At Clinton is a large photo-engraving, electrotype, and printing establishment. Sufficient power for extensive manufacturing development is available in the county through the Reedy River company, the Blue Ridge Power company, and the Southern Power company.

The Atlantic Coast Line, the Charleston and Western Carolina, and Seaboard Air Line railroads, together with a network of good highways - the Piedmont, the Calhoun, the Black Bear trail, and the Jacobs highways - give the county direct connection with all the principal cities of the South and the nation.

There are nine accredited high schools in the county, each served by a fleet of motor busses. The Presbyterian college of South Carolina is located in the county, as is also the Thornwell Orphanage, and the State Training school. Laurens has always been dedicated to the cause of education; its system of public schools is the pride of the country.

Laurens County is today the land of opportunity. Her soil offers a good investment to the farmer, her ready power is an inducement to new industries, and her fine climate is available for all who wish to establish homes.


Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. Copyright not claimed.
Population of cities and towns within Laurens County (2000 Census):

City of Laurens - 9,833
City of Clinton - 8,031
Town of Gray Court - 1,015
Town of Cross Hill - 595
Town of Waterloo 203
Town of Fountain Inn (within Laurens County) - 1,362
Watts Mill Community - 1,432
Princeton Community - 63
Mountville Community - 129
Joanna Community - 1,595

 


© 2013 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved