The Pearl of the Pee Dee: A brief history of Darlington
Story Courtesy of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce
Darlington’s origins date back to the mid-18th century.
Originally a heavily wooded area, the settlement of what is now Darlington County began in earnest after 1736 and 1737, when the province of South Carolina set aside a vast area of land for the Welsh Baptists of Delaware.
This Welsh Tract bordered both sides of the Pee Dee River. For almost 30 years, settlers concentrated on the banks and small tributaries of the Pee Dee River.
Beginning in the 1760s, and continuing into the 1770s, other groups slowly made their way into present-day Darlington, and were granted lands on the Lynches River, Jeffries Creek and a host of other watercourses.
These settlers included descendants of French Huguenots, Scots-Irish, and the English.
For 30 years following the arrival of the first settlers, local government did not exist for the citizens of the area. All deeds, estate settlements and other legal matters had to be taken to Charles Town to be recorded.
In 1769, by an act of the Assembly, Cheraw District was established as a Judicial District. A courthouse and gaol (jail) were built at Long Bluff (near present-day Society Hill), and were operational by late 1772.
After the Revolutionary War, in 1785, Cheraw District was divided into three counties, Marlborough, Chesterfield and Darlington. Darlington County was bounded by the Pee Dee River, Lynches River and Cedar Creek.
To this day it is unknown why the county was named “Darlington.” After 1798 the designation “county” was changed to “district.” In 1835, the city of Darlington became the new county seat. In the 1868 South Carolina Constitution, the designation reverted to “county.”
Florence County was created out of parts of Darlington and Marion counties in 1888. Darlington County gave up additional territory in 1902 when Lee County was created.
Darlington was originally built around the Public Square and the Courthouse, which now sit in their present locations due to an argument in the late 18th century between Col. Lamuel Benton and Capt. Elias Dubose.
The story goes that the two argued over whether the courthouse should be built in Mechanicsville or Cuffey Town. Benton and Dubose compromised and they each began, in their respective towns, on horseback until they reached one another.
The spot where they met is where the Darlington Public Square and Courthouse are located today.
A fire in March 1806 destroyed the original Courthouse. Rumor has it that an older woman, attempting to burn papers connected to her upcoming court case, was responsible for the fire.
The Courthouse was rebuilt between 1824 and 1825 in brick to prevent the spread of fire.
During the Civil War, no battles occurred in Darlington. One of Union Gen. W.T. Sherman’s lieutenants, a former architect, was sent to burn down part of Darlington. When he arrived, he saw a house he had designed, and due to this he left the town unscathed.
However, in 1865, Federal troops burned down the depot, cotton platforms and railroad trestles. After the war, the town was occupied by Federal troops, not withdrawn until 1871.
In 1866, during the occupation, the worst fire to ever hit Darlington burned down the Courthouse and the jail. It was rumored that drunken Federal soldiers were to blame.
Darlington is known for its agricultural significance in South Carolina.
Cotton farming dates back to the first settlers of this area. In early 1865, cotton stores in Darlington were burned by Sherman’s troops.
In 1899, tobacco replaced cotton and became Darlington’s new cash crop.
In fact, Darlington had the largest tobacco market in South Carolina. The agricultural boom in Darlington lasted until the 1970s, when the tobacco business began to fade.
Today, the City of Darlington is a member of the South Carolina Cotton and Tobacco Trails. The land upon which Darlington Raceway was built was a cotton field.