Living History

By Melanie Hill on April 29, 2011 at 3:32 am EST
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Unforgettable tales of patriotism, rebellion and courage are planted in the pages of American history, and nowhere do the nation’s roots run deeper than in Kershaw County, S.C.

“Kershaw County is known for its history, and people come from all over the world to experience it firsthand,” says Joanna Craig, executive director of the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site. “When you look at the major players in early American history, from Hernando de Soto and Lord Charles Cornwallis to George Washington and Nathanael Greene, nearly all came through this town.”

Open seven days a week, the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site takes more than 20,000 visitors each year back to Aug. 16, 1780, when British soldiers overtook South Carolina’s oldest inland town in the Battle of Camden. Known as the worst American battle defeat of the Revolutionary War, the monumental event shaped the county – and country – for centuries to come.

Guided and self-guided tours of the 107-acre outdoor museum complex provide a glimpse into Camden's earliest history with a focus on the Colonial and Revolutionary eras. An 18th century Camden town site includes the reconstructed and furnished mansion of county namesake Joseph Kershaw and the restored, furnished 1785 John Craven House, among others. Reconstructed military fortifications, 19th century log cabins with exhibits, and the headquarters of Lord Charles Cornwallis also grace the property along with a blacksmith exhibit, Quaker cemetery and a 0.6-mile nature trail. An affiliate of the National Park Service, the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site also is home to the annual Revolutionary War Field Days that draw hundreds to its battlefield re-enactments, 18th century craftsmen demonstrations, kids activities and more.

Experienced and amateur genealogists alike can delve into local and family history at the Camden Archives and Museum, recognized throughout the Southeast as one of the best research libraries for genealogical research. Books, microfilm, maps, files, periodicals and general reference materials are available along with photographs and other artifacts linking the county’s past and present. The museum also is home to The South Carolina Daughters of the American Revolution Library and the South Carolina Society Colonial Dames XVII Century Library.

At Camden’s Bonds Conway House, built by the county’s first African American to purchase his own freedom, the Kershaw County Historical Society provides education through community events, historic markers and 30-plus regional publications. In an effort to preserve the region’s colorful past for future generations, the 500-member society also has partnered with the University of South Carolina Press to publish a complete history of Kershaw County, starting with its earliest American Indian ancestors. The book will be available to the public in late 2010.

Even more American history awaits visitors just south of Camden, where guests to Historic Boykin Mill Farms explore the last Civil War battle site in South Carolina. A working broom shop, upscale restaurant and 200-year old functional gristmill grace Boykin’s 400-plus scenic acres, where the last federal officer was killed in the Civil War. The site also includes a monument to the historic 1865 Battle of Boykin.

“It really is a wonderful and rich history in Kershaw County,” Craig says.

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