A History of Orangeburg, South Carolina

Orangeburg County Court House - Orangeburg, SC (2008)

One of the early and important actions of the Royal Government was the Township Act of 1730; additional townships were authorized in 1761. The first Act authorized nine townships containing 20,000 acres each, and agents were sent to Europe to recruit families as settlers. The families were offered inducements such as free transportation to South Carolina, free provisions for one year, and free land. The townships neither created nor kept records; their functions were solely geographical. Townships, like parishes, were used for some tax districts and appeared as locators in grants and conveyances.

One of the original townships, Edisto Township was renamed to Orangeburgh Township and was established and first settled by 250 Swiss/Palatine immigrants in 1735. It was located on the banks of the North Edisto River in south-central South Carolina.

The city of Orangeburg was first settled by an Indian trader named George Sterling in 1704. The town was named in honor of William IV, Prince of Orange, the husband of Princess Anne, daughter of King George II of England. The city of Orangeburg was incorporated in 1883. It encompasses approximately 6.38 square miles and boasts a population of 13,891 citizens, as of 2013.

The site was attractive because of the fertile soil and the abundance of wildlife. The river provided an outlet to the port of Charles Town for agriculture and lumber products. The town soon became a well-established and successful colony, composed chiefly of small farmers.

Click Here for a more detailed discussion about the earliest settlers of Orangeburgh. Thanks to Lynne Teague of the Orangeburg German-Swiss Genealogical Society for providing it in February of 2011.

The church played an important role in the early life of Orangeburg. An early church built was of Lutheran denomination but was later the Episcopal Church. The church building was erected prior to 1763 in the center of the village and was destroyed at the time of the American Revolution. A subsequent church building was used as a Smallpox hospital by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman during the American Civil War.

The area is rich in history. The battle of Eutaw Springs fought in the area during the Revolutionary War in 1781 was the last major battle of the war in South Carolina. Large plantations were established in Orangeburg in the 19th century, and the county became a major producer of cotton.

Railroads arrived in the area early - Branchville became the first railroad junction in the state in 1840. Union troops under General Sherman passed through Orangeburg in February of 1865 and burned cotton warehouses, the court house and the jail. Out of these ruins came positive changes and today, community leaders see Orangeburg as a county of opportunities.

Click Here to learn about the "Street Railway" that operated in Orangeburg from 1889 to 1908.

The story of the settling of Orangeburg, South Carolina is a page in the history of the state which has never been fully written. The cause of this omission can scarcely be accounted for, as ample materials were within the reach of former historians. Certain outlines have been given, but nothing very satisfactory has been furnished.

"The first white inhabitant who settled in this section of country was named Henry Sterling; his occupation, it is supposed, was that of a trader. He located himself on Lyon's Creek in the year 1704, and obtained a grant of a tract of land, at present in the possession of Colonel Russel P. McCord." (Mills, p. 656.)

The next settlers were some three or four individuals, who located themselves at the Cowpens, northwesterly of the lowcountry white settlements; these, and the Cherokee and Catawba Indians were all the inhabitants who had preceded the Germans." (Mills, p. 657.)

The colonists of Orangeburg County and town were mostly German and Swiss, who came over from Europe in a large body, occupying several vessels, and even to the present day their descendants are easily recognized by their unmistakable German names, and are found to be the principal owners and occupants of the soil in this portion of South Carolina.

The principal facts concerning the early history of these colonists are mainly derived from the Journals of Council of the Province of South Carolina, as found in manuscript form in the office of the Secretary of State, as well as from the Church record-book, kept by their first pastors, the two Giessendanners, uncle and nephew, written in the German and English languages, which is still extant, and has been thoroughly examined; and as these additional facts are now presented for the first time, it is hoped that they may open new avenues, which will afford future historians of the state additional sources of research and information.

That the German element of the Orangeburg colonists came partly from Switzerland, we learn from the records of the Giessendanners' churchbook, as it was the custom of the younger Giessendanner to mention the place of nativity of all the deceased, in his reords of each funeral of the early settlers; and as this emigration from that country to Orangeburg occurred only two or three years subsequent to the emigration of a former Swiss colony to Purrysburg Township, it certainly requires no great stretch of the imagination to explain the causes which induced such a large number of emigrants from that country to locate themselves upon the fertile lands of South Carolina, which were described so glowingly by John Pierre Purry and his associates.

Let any one examine the pamphlets, as found in vol. ii of Carroll's Collections, which Mr. Purry published in reference to the province of South Carolina, and which he freely distributed in his native county, in which the fertility of the soil, salubrity of the climate, excellency of government, safety of the colonists, opportunities of becoming wealthy, &c., are so highly extolled, and corroborated by the testimony of so many witnesses, and he will easily comprehend what the Swiss must have fancied that province to be, viz.: the El Dorado of America, the second Palestine of the world.

Mr. Purry's account of the excellency of South Carolina for safe and remunerative settlement went round, from mouth to mouth, in many a hamlet and cottage of the little mountain-girt country, losing nothing by being told from one family to another; which, with the additional fact, that many had relatives and friends living in both the Carolinas, whom they possibly might meet again, soon fastened their affections upon that province, and induced them to leave the Fatherland, and make their future homes with some of their countrymen in America. Their little all of earthly goods or patrimony was soon disposed of; preparations for a longer journey were quickly made, as advised by Mr. Purry in his pamphlet; the journey through North Germany towards some seaport was then undertaken; and, with other Germans added to their number, who joined their fortunes with them whilst passing through their country, they were soon rocked upon the bosom of the ocean, heading towards America, with the compass pointed to their expected haven, Charles Town, South Carolina.

These German and Swiss settlers did not all arrive in Orangeburg at the same time; the first colony came during the year 1735; another company arrived a year later, and it was not until 1737 that their first pastor, Rev. John Ulrich Giessendanner, Senior, came among them with another reinforcement of settlers; whilst Mills informs us that emigrants from Germany arrived in Orangeburg District as late as 1769, only a few years before the American Revolution.

Like most of the early German settlers of America, these colonists came to Carolina not as "gentlemen or traders," but as tillers of the soil, with the honest intention "to earn their bread by the sweat of the brow," and their lands soon gave evidence of thrift and plenty, and they, by their industry and frugality, not only secured a competency and independence for themselves and their children in this fertile portion of South Carolina, but many of them became blessed with abundance and wealth.

From the records of Rev. Giessendanner we learn that there were also a considerable number of mechanics, as well as planters and farmers, among these colonists; and the results of this German colonization were extremely favorable to Orangeburg District, inasmuch as they remained there as permanent settlers, whilst many of their countryment in other locations, such as Purrysburg, &c., were compelled to leave their first-selected homes, on account of the want of health and of that great success which they had at first expected, but the Orangeburg settlers became a well-established and successful colony.

It has been asserted that the German congregation established in Orangeburg among these settlers was Reformed, which is evidently a mistake, as any one may perceive from the following facts. On the one hand, it must be admitted that the Swiss came from the land where John Calvin labored, and where the Reformed religion prevails, but where there are also many Lutheran churches established. It is also admitted that the Giessendanners were natives of Switzerland, but it would be unsafe to conclude from these facts that the German congregation at Orangeburg, with all, or nearly all, of its members, and with their pastors, were Swiss Reformed or Calvanistic in their faith. On the other hand, although nothing positive is mentioned in the Record-book of the Church, concerning their distinctive religious belief, yet the presumptive evidence, even from this source of information, is sufficiently strong to conclude that this first religious society in Orangeburg was a Lutheran Church. The facts from which our conclusions are drawn are:

Firstly - Because a very strong element from Germany was mixed with their Swiss brethren in the early settling of this county, which, by still later accession of German colonists, appears to have become the predominating population, who were mostly Lutherans, and the presumption becomes strong that their church-organization was likewise Lutheran.

Secondly - It seems to have been a commonly admitted fact and the prevailing general impression of that time, when their second pastor had become an ordained minister of the Church of England.

Thirdly - In examining their church records one will discover, through its entire pages, a recognition of the festivals of the Lutheran Church, as were commonly observed by the early Lutheran settlers.

Fourthly - In Dalcho's History of the Prot. Epis. Church in S.C., published in 1820, at the time when the son of the younger Giessendanner was still living (see Mills' Statistics, p. 657, published as late as 1826), it is most positively stated concerning his father, that "he was a minister of the Lutheran Church." (Dalcho, p. 333, footnote.) How could Dr. Dalcho have been mistaken when he had the records of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina before him; and in that denomination this was the prevailing impression, as was, doubtless, so created from Giessendanner's own statements in the bosom of which Church he passed the latter days of his life.

Fifthly - One of the churches which Giessendanner served before he became an Episcopal clergyman, located in Amelia Township, called St. Matthews, has never been any other than a Lutheran Church, and is still in connection with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Carolina.

Sixthly - The Orangeburg colonists, after their pastor departed from their faith, were served with Lutheran pastors entirely, numbering in all about seventeen ministers, and only for a short time a Reformed minister, Rev. Dr. Zubly, once labored there as a temporary supply.

Seventhly - In Dr. Hazelius' History of the American Lutheran Church, p. 64, we have the following testimony, gathered from the journal of the Ebenezer pastors, Bolzius and Gronau, found in Urlsperger's Nachrichten: "Their journal of that time mentions among other things, that many Lutherans were settled in and about Orangeburg in South Carolina, and that their preacher resided in the village of Orangeburg."

It is to be hoped that all this testimony is satisfactory to every candid inquirer, that the first established Church of Orangeburg, South Carolina, which was likewise the first organized Lutheran Church in both the Carolinas, was none other than a Lutheran Church; that those early settlers from Germany and Switzerland were mostly, if not all, of the same denomination, and that Dr. Dalcho has published no falsehood by asserting that "their pastor was a minister of the Lutheran Church."

The first colony of German and Swiss emigrants who settled in Orangeburgh village and its vicinity in 1735, as well as those who selected their homes in Amelia Township along Four-Hole swamp and creek, did not bring their pastor with them; the Rev. John Ulrich Giessendanner did not arrive until the year 1737; he was an ordained minister and a native of Switzerland, and was the first and, at the time, the only minister of the gospel in the village and District of Orangeburgh; we infer this from Mills' Statistics, p. 657, stating that there were but four or five English settlers residing in the District before the Germans arrived, and these few would not likely have an English minister of their own to labor among them.

We infer this, moreover, from the record of Giessendanner's marriages; the ceremony of one was performed in the English language during the first year of his ministry, with the following remark accompanying it: "Major Motte having read the ceremony in the English language," from which we conclude that at the time, October 24th, 1737, Rev. Giessendanner was still unacquainted with the English language, and that on this account he solicited the aid of Major Motte in the performance of a clerical duty. That there could have been no other minsiter of the gospel within reach of the parties, who did not reside in the village, otherwise they would not have employed Rev. G. to perform a ceremony under such embarrassing circumstances.

Rev. J.U. Giessendanner came to this country with the third transportation of German and Swiss settlers for this fertile portion of South Carolina. In the same vessel also journeyed his future partner in life, who had resided at his home in Europe as housekeeper for twenty-six years, and to whom, on the 15th of November, 1737, he was "quietly married, in the presence of many witnesses, by Major Motte;" doubtless by him, as no minister of the gospel was within their reach, to which record he piously adds: "May Jesus unite us closely in love, as well as all faithful married people, and cleanse and unite us with himself. Amen." By this union he had no children, since both himself and his partner were "well stricken in years."

The elder Giessendanner did not labor long among this people. Death soon ended his ministrations in Orangeburgh, and we infer that he must have died about the close of the year 1738, since the records of his ministerial acts extend to the summer of that year, whilst those of his nephew commence with the close of the year 1739. Allowing the congregation time to make the necessary arrangement with the nephew, and he to have time to seek and obtain ordination, as we shall see hereafter, besides the inference drawn from the language of a certain petition, &c., we learn that during the fall of 1738, the Rev. John Ulrich Giessendanner, Sr., was called to his rest, and thus closed his earthly career.

The congregations in Orangeburgh village and District now looked about them for another servant of the Lord to labor among them in holy things, but the prospect of being soon supplied was not very encouraging. The Ebenezer pastors were the only Lutheran ministers in the South at that time, and they could not be spared from their arduous work in Georgia, and to expect a pastor to be sent amonth them again from the Fatherland was attended with many difficulties. Another plan presented itself to them. The nephew of their first pastor, who had prepared himself for the ministry, was induced to seek ordination at the hands of some Protestant denomination, and take upon himself the charge of these vacant congregations in the place of his departed uncle.

From the records of the Orangeburg Church we learn that their second pastor was also named John Ulrich Giessendanner, but he soon afterwards dropped his middle name, probably to distinguish him from his uncle, and so is he named in all the histories of South Carolina, which give any account of him.

Difficulties and sore trials soon attended Rev. John Giessendanner's ministry; the Urlsperger Reports state, in vol. iii, p. 1079, that the town of Orangeburgh was then, A.D. 1741, in a worse condition than Purrysburg; that the people were leading very sinful lives, manisfesting no traces of piety, and that between pastor and hearers there were constant misunderstandings. It is also stated that their lands were fertile, but, as they were far removed from Charles Town, and had no communication with that city by water, they could not convert their produce into money, and on this account very little or no money was found among them.

Dr. Hazelins likewise gives us an unfavorable account of the state of religion in that community. On p. 64, he remarks: "From one circumstance mentioned with particular reference to that congregation, we have to infer that the spiritual state of that church was by no means pleasing. A Mr. Kieffer, a Salzburg emigrant and member of the Ebenezer congration, was living on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, whose mother-in-law resided at Orangeburgh, whom he occasionally visited. On one occasion he remarked, after his return, to his minister, Pastor Bolzius, that the people at Orangeburgh were manifesting no hunger and thirst after the word of God; he was therefore anxious that his mother-in-law should remove to his plantation, so that she might enjoy the opportunity of attending to the preaching of the word of God, which she greatly desired."

All this testimony, though in the main correct, needs, however, some explanation, and by referring to the Journals of Council for this province, in the office of the Secretary of State, we will soon discover the cause of such a state of things. The people had been but sparingly supplied with the preached word, the discipline of the Church had not been properly administered, and when the younger Giessendanner took charge of these congregations, and attempted to regulate matters a little, whilst the majority of the people sustained him in his efforts, a minority, who were rude and godless, became his bitter enemies, and were constantly at variance with him.

"History of the German Settlements and of the Lutheran Church in North and South Carolina," by G.D. Bernheim, 1872

Click Here to read more on the Lutherans in Orangeburg, South Carolina - the source of what's included above is but a sample. Link is current as of August 2005 and December 2015.

As Orangeburgh Court House, the town was granted a U.S. Post Office on September 1, 1794, and its first Postmaster was Mr. James Carmichael. In 1895, the Post Office Department officially changed the name to Orangeburg. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception in 1794.
In 1768/9, the Royal Colony of South Carolina passed the District Act and eliminated all references to the old counties and townships with respect to governmental organization. The parishes remained intact, and even two new Parishes were established in 1768 - St. David's Parish and St. Matthew's Parish.

What had been Orangeburgh Township was now part of the much larger Orangeburgh District and within the newly-established St. Matthew's Parish - both created in 1768/9, but the districts were not truly functional until around 1772, right before the American Revolution.

Immediately after the American Revolution, the newly-independent state of South Carolina redefined its internal districts in 1785 and recreated a new version of "counties" quite unlike the mostly-ambiguous and unsurveyed counties that existed prior to 1769. In 1791, South Carolina once again redefined its districts to now include the specific newly-created counties. In 1800, South Carolina decided to rename all existing counties as districts, and the larger term for all "overarching Districts" was now obsolete - no more aggregation of counties into a large district.

During all of this, Orangeburgh Township ceased to exist, but the newly-created Orangeburg District continued and included the newly-defined counties of Lexington, Orange, Winton, and Lewisburg until 1800 when Orangeburg District was reduced to a single entity, no longer including other counties. It was later reduced to form other counties and took its present boundaries in 1908.

To get an idea of where the Orangeburgh Township had been during the Royal Period, find a map of South Carolina and look for Orangeburg County - the heart of the Orangeburgh Township was located where the present-day town of Orangeburg is situated.

Orangeburg Town Plat - From SC State Archives

Click Here to view / download a 2013 map of Orangeburg, SC. Adobe PDF file - 7 pages. Fairly large.

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