South Carolina - The Counties

The Counties from 1664 to Present

In Order of Creation

In Alphabetical Order

The first permanent settlement by Europeans in South Carolina was made in the territory around the Ashley River, now known as Charleston, in 1670. The northeastern portion of the new colony of Carolana had been settled in the 1650s, even before it was "legal" to do so when the first charter was granted to the eight Lords Proprietors in 1663.

Even though the Lords Proprietors had ample authority and power, the government set up under their direction was weak and confusion was the order of the day. Immediately after the first charter of 1663, they sent instructions to put the government in place, but with the charter of 1665 they also sent over the Concessions and Agreements, which significantly altered the original orders. Four years later, the Lords Proprietors issued their Fundamental Constitutions in 1669, which provided for a very elaborate and somewhat idealistic form of government, with landed gentry and a definite class system.

The Fundamental Constitutions provided for separate and distinct counties or government. Each county was to have legislative, judicial, and administrative functions. However, the real reason for the desire to establish separate counties was that each Lord Proprietor would be given gigantic amounts of land for each county created, and the Lords Proprietors also planned to provide large tracts in each county to their desired landed gentry - the Landgraves, Caciques, and Baronets.

Prior to the issuance of the Fundamental Constitutions of 1669, in 1664, there were three counties erected in the entire colony of Carolana - Albemare, Clarendon, and Craven. Each were very loosely defined and none were ever surveyed or even semi-accurately laid out. Albemarle County encompassed all lands that were already settled by the early Virginians along the Albemarle Sound. Clarendon County was defined as the area around the Cape Fear River in which Sir John Yeamans established the colony known as Charles Town (in what is present-day Brunswick County). And, Craven County was to include all lands south of the undefined Clarendon County to what is present-day northern Florida.

Yeaman's Charles Town was wiped out by a major hurricane in August of 1667 and no efforts were made to reconstitute it. Besides, those who had settled in the area were not too keen on the location, so those who survived the hurricane and abandoned the town were all too glad to be back in "civilization" around the Virginia-Albemarle region afterwards. Therefore, Clarendon County was abolished and the settling along the Cape Fear River was set back by another fifty years due to the "bad press."

Craven County eventually ended up describing almost all of present-day South Carolina, but it too was later abolished in this state, long after the colony was officially split into two in 1712.

The Lords Proprietors were slow to realize that their new colony was not growing as quickly as they had hoped. The leaders appointed were, for the most part, ill-equipped to administer or govern the ardently-independent settlers under their purview. Most tried and most failed. A few were actually quite good at their jobs, and it was these who succeeded in convincing more settlers to come to the New World.

The concept of the county as a governmental entity originated in Europe. Large areas, often containing several villages, were usually governed by a count. When the Normans conquered England, they used county to describe the geographical areas then known as shires. Eventually, counties evolved to include law enforcement, representation in Parliament and delivery of administrative justice. It was this concept of county that made its way to the colonies and the Province of Carolina.

As a result of the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, in 1682 the Lords Proprietors chose to divide the southern part of the province into three counties. These counties would become the most basic territorial divisions for government, land grants, and administration of justice.

The first counties also served as election districts. There were three: Craven County, which included land north of Seewee Creek (now Awendaw Creek); Berkeley County, which centered around Charles Town, included land between Seewee Creek and the Stono River; and Colleton County, which included land from the Stono River south to the Combahee River. Later, a fourth, Carteret County (renamed in 1708 to Granville County), was laid out between the Combahee and Savannah rivers in 1684. These election districts, at first, had little to do with the operations of Carolina government. That began to change with the legal division of the province into North and South Carolina before 1729.

During the period following the division, the main functions of local governments were performed by the Commons House of Assembly, which met in Charlestown to decide matters of road construction and the provision of laws and courts. Parishes, established by the Anglican Church in 1706, served as the election districts beginning in 1721. During the same year, South Carolina was divided into 33 road districts with responsibility for the infrastructure falling on independent boards of commissioners.

The central authority for law and order, however, remained in Charlestown. While centralization of authority in Charlestown was convenient for lawmakers and judges of the lowcountry, residents of the backcountry or upcountry, suffered from lack of law and representation. In 1768, complaints from backcountry residents led the Province of South Carolina to create seven judicial districts, each with a court house. These were Beaufort, Camden, Charles Town, Cheraws, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and Orangeburgh Districts. The Act creating these new "overarching Districts" was nullified by the Crown, but was soon passed a year later in 1769.

In 1785, the General Assembly of the new State of South Carolina divided the state into 34 counties, but retained the "overaching" seven Districts as created in 1769. Ten of these newly-created counties did not survive - the locals in the lowcountry districts of Beaufort and Charleston were quite content with the status quo and did not want another layer of government added to their burdens, so these ten counties were abolished in 1791. In the backcountry, most of the citizens had come from North Carolina, which already had a well-established county system and these locals ardently worked to make sure that their new counties thrived.

With the cessation of all Cherokee lands during the American Revolution, new districts and counties were created to serve the needs of the rapidly expanding population in the new lands. Washington District was created in 1791, then abolished in 1798 and renamed as the Pendleton District, which lasted only two years as an "overarching district" but remained as a "county." The Pinckney District was created in 1791, then abolished in 1800.

In 1800, South Carolina finally eliminated all "overaching Districts" in favor of the smaller and more-manageable "county" system, but chose to give them all the name of "district" instead of county - these were merely "election districts" to facilitate representation in the legislature. Six new "districts" (counties) were created in 1800. These "counties/districts" were further confused by the South Carolina government because the government also retained the old "election districts" of the Parishes, etc., as shown - Click Here. This hybrid of "election districts" and "counties/districts" remained in place until after the American Civil War.

In 1868, with the new State Constitution as a result of the American Civil War, South Carolina finally adopted the term "county" and ceased using the term "district" for its subdivisions. More counties were created from existing counties between 1800 and 1919 - when the present-day counties were finally established.

Sixteen counties were abolished, never to be resurrected:

Craven (1664-1768), Carteret (1684-1708), Granville (1708-1768), Granville (1785-1798), Bartholomew (1785-1791), Claremont (1785-1800), Hilton (1785-1791), Lewisburg (1785-1791), Lincoln (1785-1798), Marion (1785-1791), Orange (1785-1791), Shrewsbury (1785-1798), Washington (1785-1791), Winton (1785-1791), Salem (1792-1800), and, Pendleton (1800-1826).

Four counties were abolished, only to be recreated later:

Berkeley County (1682-1768), resurrected and existed from 1785 to 1791, then abolished again, finally resurrected again in 1882 and continues to the present; Charleston County (1785-1791), resurrected in 1800 and continues to the present; Clarendon County (1785-1800), resurrected in 1855 and continues to the present; Colleton County (1785-1791), resurrected in 1800 and continues to the present;

Four counties were simply renamed:

Kingston (1785-1801) was renamed to Horry County; Liberty (1785-1798) was renamed to Marion County; Spartan (1785-1791) was renamed to Spartanburg County; and, Winyah (1785-1800) was renamed to Georgetown County.


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