Chesterfield District Chapter
of the
South Carolina Genealogical Society

Chesterfield District Chapter, S.C.G.S.
P.O. Box 167  Chesterfield, South Carolina 29709

Cheraw Time Line - A Selected Chronology of Events
By Sarah C. Spruill with the help of Manning Malloy and Margaret Wannamaker

Part One

1540:  Spanish Explorer Hernando De Soto's men visit Cheraw and leave the first written record of our area.  It is thought that the Cofitachequi people lived here on the high bluff over the river.  Like other tribes in this part of Carolina, they were a matrilineal society.  Unfortunately, this first contact brought an exchange of diseases which had devasting effects on both parties.

Around 1700:
The Cheraw Indians come to Cheraw.  The tribe had come earlier to the Carolinas after being driven out of Virginia by the Iroquois.  Their main village was on the present site of the town.  The Cheraws were of Sioux extraction, and were an agricultural people.  They were more powerful and warlike than the nearby Pee Dees.

1730's:  The first settlers come to the Cheraw area.  The Welsh Baptist land grant in 1737 has the effect of forcing settlers already in the region to move further up the river.  The earliest of these include English settlers, the Ellerbes and Youngs.  The first slaves come with some of the settlers.

1730's:  Almost all of the Cheraws have left the region and joined forces with the Catawbas.  A small pox epidemic in 1738 decimates these tribes.  Some of the Cheraws will remain with the Catawbas, others will go to live in the Lumbee River region of North Carolina.

Thomas Ellerbe opens a water mill near Cheraw.  In 1743 James Gillespie moves further up river to Cheraw, and engages in shipping and planting.

1750's: Gillespie and famed patriot Christopher Gadsden conduct a shipping business on the Pee Dee between Cheraw and Charleston.  Gadsden has a store near the present Country Club.

1760's: A Planters Society is formed.  A French Huguenot, Claudius Pegues comes to the area and settles on the east side of the river near the North Carolina line.  Eli and Joseph Kershaw conduct a mercantile business under the name of Eli Kershaw and Company.  The Kershaws lay out the original town.  Eli Kershaw also owns at least one house (it is painted yellow) in Cheraw and a plantation.  Their boundary markers will still be in place in the year 2000.

1760's: Increasing violence from lawless gangs of "robbers and banditti" leads to great frustration.  There are no means to bring criminals to justice short of Charleston.  Prominent men, who come to be known as Regulators, take the law into their own hands.

1768: St. David' Parish is established.  The Anglican Church is the state church in South Carolina, and the established of a parish gives the citizens the right to vote near home, to tax for the poor and sick, bind out orphans and oversee the roads.  A church building is to be erected in Cheraw, probably because it is something of an Anglican stronghold.

1769: A Circuit Court Bill establishes the Cheraws Judicial District.  There is a great fight over whether the court house will be erected at Cheraw Hill or at Long Bluff (now Society Hill).  The commissioners state that "Cheraw Hill is at present, and has been for many years past the most public and the greatest place of trade upon Pedee River."  The term "Cheraw Hill" distinguishes the town from the district.

1772: St. David's Church is almost complete and is in use.

1774: The Kershaws were angered when the courthouse was erected at Long Bluff.  They put some of their holdings up for auction.  Tensions continue to increase between the backcountry, the coastal establishment and the British Crown.

1775: The name Chatham appears for the first time in the Vestry Records of St. David's Church.  Cheraw, Cheraw Hill and Chatham will be used interchangeably until 1820.  The term was to honor William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, who was the great English defender of American liberties.

May 1776: The Cheraws Grand Jury writes a declaration of independence from England.

July 4, 1776: The American Declaration of Independence is signed in Philadelphia.  War becomes inevitable.

1776-1779: Charleston falls to the British.  Many in this area just wish to be left alone, and the war is slow in coming to the region.  A number of men are enlisted with the Whigs, especially Francis Marion's brigade, but a number are Tories.  Much of the war is now being fought in the North.  The British establish aline of garrisons at Cheraw, Camden, Ninety Six and Augusta.

1780: The war comes to Cheraw with a vengeance.  It is a true civil war, sometimes brother against brother. British Major James Wemyss come to Cheraw in May and September, burning and plundering.  Major Archibald McArthur and the 71st Regiment use St. David's Church as quarters and a hospital during the summer.  The build barracks near the church.  A number of soldiers become ill with a fever (probably malaria).  Three officers are buried in the church yard.  The enlisted men are buried in a common grave.  Gen. Gates passes nearby on his way to Camden.

Fall 1780: Gen. Harrington moves in with his American troops.  SC Gov. John Rutledge moves the government to Cheraw.  He will be in and out of Cheraw for the next six months.

Jan. 1781: Gen. Nathaniel Greene makes a camp of repose just across the river Gen. Green is now in charge of the American Troops in the South.  This hard winter camp is the southern "Valley Forge."  He receives news of the great victory at Cowpens with much rejoicing.  His army will now move toward Guilford Courthouse, and the Americans will soon have a great victory at Yorktown in Virginia.

1783: The Treaty of Paris finally officially ends the Revolutionary War.  Freedom has come with great price to Cheraw.  A number of men are dead or maimed, houses have been burned, crops and live stock have been destroyed.  There is no longer a British bounty on Indigo, which had been the main money crop in the Cheraws.  The economy stagnates for a decade.

1785: The Anglican church is disestablished.  St. David's Parish is divided into Chesterfield, Darlington and Marlboro Counties.

1790's: Eli Whitney's cotton gin becomes widely available.  This will transform agriculture in the region.  Cheraw is a small village of about a dozen homes and several trading houses.

1801: A US Post Office is established in Cheraw.

1810: Cheraw has grown and now has a printing press and school.

1812: Gen. Erasmus Powe gathers volunteers for the War of 1812.

1819: Capt. Moses Rogers (of the famous SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic) brings the first steamboat, the "Pee Dee" to Cheraw.

1820: Cheraw is incorporated on Dec. 23rd, taking the name of Cheraw officially.

1823: Dr. W. C. Ellerbe and Dr. John Lance open a hospital for sick Negroes.  The Methodist construct their first church.

1823: The first bridge is built across the Great Pee Dee.  A slave named Horace King will learn to build the Towne Lattice Mode trusses that he will later use in building covered bridges in Georgia and Alabama.  The town has a pop. of 700, 250 houses, a church, library, academy, 30 storehouses, and two hotels, Moore's and The Cheraw Hotel.

1824: The remaining lots from the Kershaw estate are auctioned off.

1825: Cheraw entertains Gen. Lafayette in Dr. Ellerbe's home which will hereafter be known as the Lafayette House.

1826: The steeple is added to old St. David's Church.

1833: The Merchants Bank is built.  (Now First Citizens.)  Cheraw will become a major banking center in the next decades.

1835: On Dec. 9th a calamitous fire guts the commercial district of Cheraw.

1837: Every owner of an improved lot within the town is to provide a leather bucket "of the usual size" for each chimney on the premises.  Six fire marshals are appointed.

1837: Peter Conlaw Lynch wins the competition to design a market hall.  The Market Hall will be used for an Equity Court upstairs and a farmers' market downstairs.  The first circus comes to town.  The elephants are too heavy and the giraffe too tall to cross the covered bridge so they must swim the river.

1830's: The Baptist and Presbyterians build new churches.  Townspeople are trying their hand a growing silk.  This does not catch on.  There is a severe national depression.  A large number of people leave Cheraw for the new cotton lands in Alabama and westward.

1840: St. Peter's Catholic Church is built.  A planned effort to plant hardwoods along the streets begins about this time.  Supposedly if you are charged with being drunk and disorderly in public your "fine" will be to dig an elm from the forest and plant it in town.  These shade trees will greatly contribute to the charm of the town, and be noted by visitors for generations.

1848: Telegraph lines are completed along the old stage coach road.  This will become known as the Old Wire Road.

1853: The Cheraw and Darlington Railroad begins operations.

1854: A map is drawn that shows the location of home sites to settle a legal dispute over the boundaries of town.

1858: The Cheraw Town Hall construction begins.  Because of their contributions the Masons will use the upstairs and the gentlemen of the Lyceum will have the use of the little brick building on the Town Green.

1850's: By the middle of the 19th century Cheraw is a prosperous town, a regional center of business, education, culture and religion.  Cheraw has the largest cotton market between Georgetown and Wilmington, and the Merchants Bank is the largest bank in South Carolina outside of Charleston.  War clouds, however, are on the horizon.  A new corduroy plank road is built to Wadesboro.

1860: Chesterfield County is the first to call for session from the Union.  South Carolina secedes.  The resolution to secede is presented by Cheraw attorney John Inglis, Chairman of the Ordinance of Secession Committee.  He will also serve as Chancellor of the state courts.  He and Henry McIver have an office on Front Street that will be one of the very few commercial buildings to survive the war.  The office will be moved to the Town Green in the 1940's.

1861: Cheraw and South Carolina go to war.  A company is raised here, and the town is flooded with refugees from the Sea Islands and the lower Pee Dee River.

1865, February: Gen. Hardee brings 10,000 Confederate troops to Cheraw.  The Confederates will barely escape Gen. Sherman on March 3rd.  They burn the river bridge as they retreat.

1865, March 3rd: Gen. William T. Sherman and 50,000 Union Army soldiers invade Cheraw.  Cheraw will play reluctant host to more of his dreaded soldiers than any other place in South Carolina.  Outlying plantations and summer homes are burned, but no in town dwellings or churches are destroyed.  Valuables are stolen and there is much vandalism.  The official headquarters is the Matheson House.  Sherman himself stays on McIver Street.  When they leave the town will be destitute, and without food for more than a day or two.  Almost the entire business district is destroyed by an accidental Yankee explosion.

Copyright  Spruill 2000

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Last Updated on 03/10/2010