A History of Lancaster, South Carolina

Lancaster County Courthouse - Lancaster, SC (2008)

Originally inhabited by the Catawba and Waxhaw Indians, Lancaster’s story began in the early 1750s when a vanguard of Scots-Irish immigrants seeking inexpensive land and religious freedom moved into the area known as the Waxhaws, (now northern Lancaster County) and established a settlement. A second colony was soon developed by English (Welsh), German, and Scots-Irish newcomers from Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania in southern Lancaster County.

Lancaster’s name can be traced from fifteenth-century England, when the War of the Roses was fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, through their first settlement in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and down to the county that was established in South Carolina in 1785, with the red rose, the insignia of the House of Lancaster, as its emblem.

Lancaster County abounds with landmarks of historical significance, and famous Lancastrians include Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States; Charles Duke, astronaut and moon-walker; Nina Mae McKinney, actress and Broadway star; Elliott White Springs, textile industrialist; and Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is known as the “father of modern gynecology.”

During the Revolutionary War, about ten miles east of Lancaster, a battle now known as Buford’s Massacre took place, in which British Colonel Banastre Tarleton devastated Colonel Abraham Buford’s retreating forces in May, 1780, killing or wounding almost all of the 350 militiamen.

In August, 1780, the colonists were avenged when troops under the leadership of General Thomas Sumter surprised and defeated the British at the Battle of Hanging Rock, about three miles south of the Heath Springs area in the southern part of Lancaster County. Lancastrians at Hanging Rock included Major Robert Crawford and Major William Richardson Davie. Thirteen year old Andrew Jackson, serving as an aide to his kinsman Robert Crawford and to Major Davie, participated in his first warfare in this battle.

In 1865, as Union General William T. Sherman marched through Lancaster, attempts were made by his men to burn both the courthouse and the jail. Damage was not severe to either building, but many wills and other important papers were destroyed. The town was looted by the soldiers, who stabled their horses in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church, which had been built in 1862, while in the area.

The establishment of Lancaster Cotton Mills in 1895 by Colonel Leroy Springs brought the Industrial Revolution to Lancaster. Textiles have remained an important industry to the local economy.


Old Lancaster County Courthouse - Lancaster, SC (2008)

The Lancaster area was, in its day, literally a Garden of Eden for the Native Americans, including the Cherokee, Catawba, and the Waxhaw tribes. The arrival of Scots-Irish settlers, mostly from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ushered in an era of drastic change. The newcomers named the area for their homelands in England, the region of the famous House of Lancaster that opposed the House of York in the legendary War of the Roses. Today, the citizens of the city of Lancaster proudly claim the red rose, the traditional coat of arms of the House of Lancaster, as their emblem.

In 1759, the Waxhaw Presbyterian Church was established as a center of faith and society. It’s pastor, the Reverend William Richardson, organized the Waxhaw Academy were many South Carolina notables were educated. The short list includes: Andrew Jackson, Lancaster native and the seventh president of the United States; Stephen D. Miller, the state’s twenty-fifth governor; and William R. Davie, ambassador to France and founder of the University of North Carolina.

The independent spirit of Lancaster’s Scots-Irish settlers drew unwelcome attention from the British during the Revolutionary War, and several skirmishes were waged in the immediate area in 1780, including Buford’s Massacre and Hanging Rock.

The town of Lancaster was founded in 1802, and by 1825, its jail and courthouse were erected. Both were designed by Robert Mills, the renown American architect who studied under Thomas Jefferson and later designed the Washington Monument. During the Civil War, troops under General William Tecumseh Sherman occupied the town on their way to Virginia after the Southern campaign in 1865. Although the Union soldiers burned a number of structures, they were impressed with the town’s hospitality and spared many of the original homes in and around Lancaster, allowing it to maintain much of its original charm.

In the period of recovery following the war, Colonel Leroy Springs founded Springs Cotton Mill in 1895, an industrial enterprise that grew to become the “largest textile plant in the world.” Global in scope, Springs Industries shaped the fortunes of Lancaster and its citizens for more than one hundred years. The “Springs Block” along Main Street is evidence of Springs’ tremendous influence.

Today, Lancaster’s mills are silent, yet the town retains its character and vitality. Close to the Charlotte, NC, metropolitan area, this quiet, quaint “garden spot of the world” is attracting new visitors, businesses and residents with its allure. Some things never change. Welcome to Lancaster, the Red Rose City.


As Lancaster C.H., the town was granted a US Post Office on July1, 1798, and its first Postmaster was Mr. John May. It has been in continuous operation ever since.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved