Florence County, South Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Miss Florence Harllee


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1736 / Welsh

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

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Coming Later

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Airports in Florence County

Maps of Florence County

Books About Florence County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Florence County

Florence County Museum

The first inhabitants of the Pee Dee Area were the Pee Dee Indians. In 1730, Robert Johnson the first Royal Governor of SC ordered eleven townships to be created. Each would contain 20,000 acres, and each man, woman, and child who would improve fifty acres would receive the land free. Welsh immigrants from Pennsylvania settled in the Pee Dee area. Settlement was slow so the government offered bounties to people who would settle in the area.

The rivers in the area were used for transportation. Life in general was frontier quality. It was a very remote area and isolated from the influence of church and state. Crime was rampant. Lack of schools were a problem also. It was written at the time, that the "lack of education lead to idle, immoral lives - follow hunting, shooting, racing, drinking, gaming, and every aspect of wickedness, more rude in manners than the savages around us."

Regulators were landowners determined to end the lawlessness. In 1768, Regulators and the colonial Militia clashed when Regulators seized two Militiamen. Two were killed and after the fight all the Militiamen were lashed fifty times. After the Regulator movement in 1768, Royal Governor Lord Charles Greville Montagu approved a bill establishing a system of district courts. The British Parliament rejected this law, but when it was re-introduced in 1769, Parliament finally approved it. In 1772, the first sheriff that was appointed was P. H. Hatley.

The Petition of 1768 acknowledged the lack of education and in December of 1777, a group met to form an organization to promote learning. They decided to educate young people in Latin and Greek, math, and other useful areas of learning.

Because marriages could only take place in Charleston or North Carolina, many people lived together outside of wedlock. Someone wrote that, "they quit each other at pleasure - swap wives and children, as they do cattle and horses."

In 1738, fifteen Welsh settlers organized the Welsh Neck Baptist Church. They ordained their first minister in 1743. The Welsh had very rigorous standards. Members were excommunicated or suspended from membership for such things as beating a neighbor, murder, adultery, theft, swearing, and drunkenness. The Welsh church became the mother of other Baptist churches in the Pee Dee region. Ebenezer Baptist Church began in 1774 and still exists today. Presbyterians entered the Pee Dee in 1732. Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Claussen was organized in 1770 and also is still holding church services.

The pre-Revolutionary War period was quite prosperous. Cattle and horses were sold to the Northern Colonies. Lumber was an important product and the river system in the area was used to ship the lumber to the coast where it was traded. Indigo was brought in from the French West Indies. In only six years the colony exported over 200,000 pounds of indigo.

The earliest record of slaves in the area was in 1748. By 1757, the number of slaves was about 500 with a total population of 4,300. Most slave owners did not own more than three or four slaves.

The Pee Dee area was not too involved in the events that led up to the Revolutionary War because it was so isolated from the large population centers. In 1774, William Henry Drayton was sent to the backcountry to explain to the people how they were being oppressed by the British. Events in 1775 led Royal Governor Lord William Campbell to flee in September of that year.

Little happened along the Pee Dee during the war in the area until the fall of Charlestown on May 12, 1780. On August 16, 1780, Major General Horatio Gates, sent by the Continental Congress to stop the British drive in South Carolina, but he was soundly defeated in one of the fiercest fights of the war - the battle of Camden. A few days later, a British unit taking American prisoners from Camden to Charlestown was attacked by local Patriots. The Redcoats were over-powered and over 150 Maryland prisoners were freed.

In 1780, Francis Marion began his exploits that would link his name to the Pee Dee. Because of his success in evading the British in the swampy area of the Pee Dee, Francis Marion became known as the "Swamp Fox." Fighting ended in the area on June 8, 1782 at Bowling Green in what would later beome neighboring Marion County.

In 1783, the cotton gin was invented and caused a dramatic effect on the South. Soon one-half of all U.S. exports was cotton. Darlington County sold 13,000 bales in 1850. This dramatically increased the number of slaves in the area. Land cost 50¢ an acre.

Henry Timrod lived on the plantation of Colonel William Henry Cannon, who constructed a school for Timrod to teach the plantation children in 1856 and 1857. This school is located in Timrod Park in Florence today. Three railroads were constructed in the Pee Dee. All intersect in what is known today as Florence.

Late in 1859 war fever mounted. The Darlington Guards were formed. This unit consisted of 14 officers and 100 enlisted men. They were sent to Charleston before the firing on Fort Sumter. The Pee Dee Artillery and Pee Dee Rifles were formed to fight in Northern Virginia and served in many major battles.

During this time, the "Wayside House," a relief volunteer hospital, was established in Florence, under the supervision of Dr. Theodore Dargan,with 62 volunteer workers, mostly women. Soldiers who died here were buried in what is now called Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Confederate authorities selected Florence to receive Union prisoners from Southern Georgia and other areas. Florence began to construct a prison stockade on September 17, 1864. With construction scarcely begun 6,000 prisoners arrived from Charleston. The prisoners were suffering from Smallpox, Yellow Fever, hunger, and exhaustion. Residents feared prisoners might escape so old men and teenage boys were recruited for guard duty. Conditions were overcrowded and so bad that residents began to complain. New leadership of the prison took place and conditions improved but not before 2,802 prisoners died.

During a routine examination it was discovered that one of the prisoners was a woman disguised as a man. Florena Budwin had disguised herself to accompany her husband to war. They were both captured and sent to Andersonville where her husband was killed. She was sent to Florence along with thousands of other prisoners. When the discovery was made she was given a private room and the ladies of Florence donated food and clothing. She died on Jan. 25,1865, one month before all sick prisoners were paroled to the North. Florena is believed to be the first woman service member to be buried in a National Cemetery. By the end of February 1865, the Florence Stockade was empty. By the end of the war, the National Cemetery in Florence had 2,322 soldiers buried in it.

After the war, the Northeastern Railroad was the primary employer, and the town grew around the transport of agricultural products from the surrounding Pee Dee River Basin.

Florence County took its name from its county seat, the city of Florence. The county was formed in 1888 from parts of Marion, Darlington, Williamsburg, and Clarendon counties. The city of Florence was founded in the 1850s as a stop on the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad; it was named for Florence Harllee, daughter of William Wallace Harllee (1812-1897), the President of that railroad.

Florence soon became an important transportation center for the Pee Dee region. During the American Civil War it was the site of a Confederate prison camp. In later years tobacco growing became a major activity in the county. Some famous Florence County natives are artist William H. Johnson (1901-1970), astronaut Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986), and NASCAR racer Cale Yarborough.

Many changes have taken place in Florence County since 1888, when the county, named in compliment to Miss Florence Harllee, was formed from Darlington, Marion and Williamsburg counties. While comparatively new, its people come from the line old stock that long ago colonized the mother counties, and its progress is due to their courage, energy and vision.

Florence County today is a Garden of Eden. Its area is 699 square miles. Its population (50,406 in 1920 and estimated in 1925 at 58,754) and wealth arc increasing by leaps and bounds, it is as rich in history as in commercial and agricultural resources, and it aliens equally great inducements from asocial and a business standpoint.

Florence is the premier tobacco county of the "Bright Belt," producing the largest number of pounds and getting for it the largest amount in dollars and cents. In Florence County the present tobacco planting in this state had its beginning and the county has kept the lead.

Florence is the champion corn county of the world, as Jerry Moore with his world record for boys, of 2,283 bushels to the acre has abundantly pruned. In livestock, Florence is also the champion county of the world, having produced two world record Jersey cows, Sensation's Mikado's Millie 568901, and Blue Fox's Eminent Queen 649491, both developed by Fred H. Young, a Florence County farmer.

Agriculture, of course, because of the situation and productivity of its lauds, is the mainstay of the county. The broad, fertile fields extending far back from the Pee Dee River are capable of growing any crops profitably except tropical fruits. Diversified farming is fast coming into favor. While cotton and tobacco are still the main money crops, dairying, poultry, hogs, and a large variety of small crops, including fruit, truck, and grain, are adding to the prosperity of the county and section.

Not only is the loamy soil productive at a low cost of cultivation, but the mild climate with the ample rainfall is the farmer's heritage. Crop failures are unknown, and Florence farmers, having from ten to twelve months of good growing weather, can produce several crops a year. The rich silt soil, level, easily worked, can be farmed with diversified method, in large units or intensively, with equal success. Oats sown in the fall are harvested in May or June and followed with corn and cow peas, and a good yield of each is grown with benefit to the land. This is because of the warmth in the lands.

All crops for economic pork production do well in Florence County - peanuts, soy beans, alfalfa, clover, and corn. Carpet grass and lespedeza furnish best summer pastures, while rye and crimson clover and rape grow luxuriantly for winter pastures.

Six commercial poultry plants are prospering here now, and others are in prospect. The sweet potato is one of the many profitable crops, a yield of 83 bushels to the acre having been reached.

Florence County is the home of the Pee Dee Experiment Station of Clemson College, the government boll weevil laboratory for the Southeast, the Carolina Cooperative Consolidated, the South Carolina Dewberry association, the South Carolina Peach association, the offices of Clemson College Extension Service for district and county agents, marketing specialists, animal husbandry and dairy specialists, as well as other agencies including creamery and poultry markets. The county has 110 miles of railroad, and 14 accredited high schools.

Florence County has fine roads. Sixteen miles are hard-surfaced and plans are going forward for paving all the main arteries of the county.

Other towns besides Florence, the county seat are: Timmonsville, 1,860 inhabitants; Lake City, 1,606; Pamlico, 452; Olanta, 409; Cartersville, 286; Scranton, 294.

Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. In the Public Domain. [with minor edits]


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