Historic Trail Routes

In the late 1960s, The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism (SCPRT) partnered with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History on a program to develop a series of historic trail routes across the state (auto routes connecting a series of historic points of interest). The Department of Archives and History was responsible for researching the points of interest along the routes, as well as the historic facts. SCPRT was responsible for making information about the routes available to the public. The routes were to connect points of interest such as: battlefields, distinctive public buildings, forts, Indian villages, homes of famous people, and other significant landmarks.

The routes researched by this program highlighted over 300 years of progress for the State of South Carolina. Its aim was not only to draw tourists to the State’s most valuable tourist asset (history), but to increase citizen awareness of our cultural and historic heritage and encourage communities to develop their own historic resources. The original study and brochures can be found at the State Library.

Although the program is no longer in existence, the research and information provided can be of use to trail advocates researching the history of a trail or greenway corridor. The first four routes were part of the program. The Bartram Trail and the Over Mountain Victory Trail were researched and added to this list by the State Trails Program.


Short history of South Carolina

Lucas Vasquez de Allyon of Spain attempted the first European settlement on the South Carolina coast in 1526. A few Spanish missions and military outposts during the next 150 years had brief but tenuous existence up and down the coast. Their presence did not keep King Charles II from granting the area to the lords Proprietors of Carolina in 1663.

North and South Carolina were separate settlements from the beginning. People were already living in the Albemarle Sound area near the Virginia border. South Carolina grew from a settlement on the Ashley River in 1670. Official division of the two provinces came after 1729 when the crown bought the rights of the Lords Proprietors. This section of the North-South Carolina boundary was drawn in 1737.

The coastal Indians welcomed the English settlers as allies against the Spanish. The province of South Carolina grew, and Charleston became one of the busiest seaports in the British Empire exporting cattle, naval stores, lumber, rice, and indigo. The population was concentrated in the coastal area for nearly a century. South Carolina was a melting pot for people of English, French, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, Jewish, Swiss, and German stock. Slaves from Africa constituted more than half of the colonial population.

Colonial South Carolina was the frontier outpost protecting English interests against Spain to the South and France in the Mississippi Valley. The province was involved in three major Indian wars and four major imperial wars. Some of the earliest and some of the latest battles of the American Revolution were fought here. South Carolina, with over 150 Revolutionary battle and skirmish sites, has more than can be found in any other state.

A British attack in 1776 was repelled, but British forces reoccupied in 1780. Guerrilla fighting heroes such as Gen. Francis Marion (The Swamp Fox), Gen. Thomas Sumter (The Gamecock), and Continental troops under Gen. Nathanael Greene forced the British withdrawal. If your ancestors were from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia or Pennsylvania, they may have fought decisive battles here under Gen. Greene, shoulder to shoulder with South Carolinians.

During the first half of the 19th century competition from the industrial states, too great a reliance on cotton, and criticism of the slave labor system led to secession, formation of the Confederacy, and finally to the Civil War. The aftermath of the War was poverty, compounded problems, and an excruciatingly slow recovery.

A resurgence, much like that of the post-Revolutionary period, began after World War II. Better education, a stable government, industrial expansion, and a favorable climate are among many factors contributing to today’s South Carolina. With this resurgence is a growing interest in the out-of-doors and the history and culture of this great state we live in.

George Washington Trail

George Washington’s goodwill tour of 1791 passed through South Carolina along two routes, central and coastal. Washington entered the state crossing the northern border of South Carolina near Little River where the first State Welcome Center is located, he followed the King’s Highway to near the ocean at Myrtle Beach from which point he traveled along the grand strand south to Surfside beach. Here he returned to the King’s Highway and followed it through present day Brookgreen Gardens to Georgetown, Charleston, Ashepoo, Pocotaligo, Purrysburg on the Savannah River and into Georgia at Savannah.

Washington followed a central route on his return journey which goes from Augusta through Columbia, Camden, Lancaster, and Charlotte. This central route has attractions such as: evidence of early railroad building and manufacturing near Augusta, the State House complex and the Robert Mills influence, the Camden battlefields, and Andrew Jackson State Park near Lancaster.

More than 300 years of exciting history have taken place along these routes; this is the region where South Carolina had its origin. Spanish and French attempts at settlement go all the way back to 1526. The first permanent English settlement in Charleston dates back to 1670. Pirates, Indians, four Colonial Wars, the American Revolution, the Civil War, South Carolina Rice, Indigo, and Sea Island Cotton have all left their marks.

George Washington Trail Coastal Route

Little River to Myrtle Beach
This area is part of the Waccamaw Neck, long, inaccessible, and without a major port. It was the last part of the road between Boston and Savannah to be served by stagecoach. Isolated by rivers and swamps, settlement was retarded. The Old King’s Highway, only a short distance from US 17, was the primary north-south connection in Washington’s day. News of the battle of Concord came down this route.

Conway, 15 miles inward and across the Waccamaw River, was settled as far back as 1735. There was a small settlement near Little River almost this long ago, since some old cemeteries record early occupation. Some grave sites were marked with Ships ballast stones.

Myrtle Beach to Georgetown
President James Monroe traveled this route. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill vacationed at the tip end of the Waccamaw Neck at Hobcaw, plantation home of Bernard Baruch. Here, Washington visited local citizens and crossed the river to Georgetown by barge amid fanfare and ceremony. The King’s Highway in this area is generally to your landward side, passing through the Brookgreen Gardens area.

Georgetown to Charleston
This part of the state lies between two major seaports named after English Kings, George II and Charles II, who ruled over South Carolina as a province. The first English colonists made landfall at Bulls Bay in 1670 but settled farther south on the Ashley River. Settlement later spread back into this region during the first 50 years.

Early English families shared the Santee River Valley with French Huguenot immigrants, among them, the forebears of the Revolutionary hero Francis Marion.

Much of the area today is in the Francis Marion National Forest, with other sections occupied by pulpwood, small farms, swamp lands and tidelands.

Charleston to Savannah
Indians fought among themselves over the land long before European settlers arrived. Frenchman of the Ribaut expedition were here in 1562 but were driven off by the Spanish, who maintained uneasy occupancy until the late 17th century. When English settlers came ashore in 1670, the Indians welcomed them as allies against the Spanish.

Two major Indian Wars, the Westo and the Yamassee, were fought here. A major slave insurrection, the Stono Revolt, further bloodied the territory in 1739.

During the Revolution, the land between Charleston and Savannah was much fought over territory, the scene of major battles and countless skirmishes. Charleston, which had staved off the British invasion from the sea in 1776, fell before an invasion by land on May 12, 1780. In this terrible American defeat, more than 5,000 troops were captured. The British stayed until December, 1782, more than a year after Cornwallis’s defeat at Yorktown.

During the Civil War, Union forces invaded Hilton Head Island in November, 1861, and spent a bloody, grinding four years slogging their way up the sea islands to the gates of Charleston. But the city did not fall until Sherman’s “march to the sea” in 1865.

George Washington Trail Central Route

This route marks the direction President Washington went on his return through South Carolina for his goodwill tour in 1791. The President began his trip in North Augusta, where he was met by Revolutionary War Colonels Wade Hampton and Thomas Taylor.

North Augusta to Columbia
Heading northeast across South Carolina from North Augusta, stretch the Sandhills, which were deposited by a prehistoric sea. Along this ridge, progressive travel routes of South Carolina history have developed, from Indian footpaths to packhorse trails to a plank turnpike to modern and interstate highways.

President Washington described the area as a “pine barren of the worst sort, being hilly as well as poor.”

DeSoto explored here in 1540 looking for gold. Juan Pardo led a Spanish expedition through this area from Port Royal in 1566.

After the 1715 Yemassee War, British Colonel George Chicken also crossed here with an expedition into the Cherokee uplands.

Fort Moore, near North Augusta, was established in 1716 as a Savannah River trading center and garrison. Trader George Galphin named nearby Silver Bluff in 1735.

Pioneer botanist John Bartram found the area an excellent field for his pioneer research in 1765.

As early as the 1730’s, the settlers had pushed the frontier to this area with English, French, Swiss and Germans founding pioneer townships at New Windsor, near North Augusta, and at Saxe Gotha, west of Columbia.

October, 1833, marked the completion of the world’s longest railroad, which ran from Charleston to Hamburg. It’s first locomotive, The Best Friend of Charleston, was the first built in America for actual service on a railroad. A replica may be found at the State Museum in Columbia.

Mid-state garrison after 1716 was Congaree Fort, near present day Columbia. This was the territory of early reformed (Calvinistic) pastor Christian Theus and of Drayton and Tennent’s 1775 journey to arouse the backcountry against the British.

Centuries of soldiers have crossed the Sand Hills, including American forces under Generals Pickens and Sumter, blocking the British drive north; and Lord Rawdon’s 1781 expedition to relieve the besieged garrison at Ninety Six.

In 1865, Union forces burned Columbia, which was founded as South Carolina’s new Capital city in 1786. Consumed in the fire was the wooden State House where the President had dined.

Columbia to Northern State Line
Above Columbia, plantation families seeking refuge from lowland malaria built summer homes in the sandhills. Lightwood Knot Springs and Rice Creek Springs were popular resorts in the 1830s and 1840s.

The important Battle of Camden saw Patriot General Gates opposing General Cornwallis on August 16, 1780. At Hobkirk Hill in Camden, President Washington stopped to examine the ground on which General Greene and Lord Rawdon had their action, an important battle fought on April 25, 1781.

In lower Lancaster county, see a South Carolina natural wonder, Hanging Rock. This is where Sumter, the Gamecock, fought a Revolutionary engagement in 1780. This is also where 3,000 Methodists gathered together in 1802 for one of South Carolina’s earliest camp meetings.

Above Lancaster are the rugged Waxhaws, a land of pines, pastures, and split rail fences. In 1767 this area produced the South Carolinian who became the 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson.

Cherokee Path

This famous Indian trail was followed by pack horse traders from Charleston before 1700. Two routes were followed. One led by way of the Cooper, Santee, and Congaree river systems past present day Columbia. The other route turned toward present day Augusta on the Savannah River, and headed north to meet the first route near Ninety Six. The alternate routes converged on the Indian town of Keowee (Oconee county).

The path goes by Forts Dorchester (Dorchester county), Pallachucolas (Jasper and Hampton counties), Moore (Aiken county), Ninety Six (Greenwood county), Rutledge (Oconee county), Prince George (Pickens county), and the Congarees (Lexington county). On the eastern branch of the path, “a natural route to follow,” French, German, and Scotch-Irish settlers all have left historic evidence along the way.

Staging at Fort Prince George, South Carolinians in 1756 hauled materials along the path over the mountains into Tennessee where they built Fort Loudoun, which has been reconstructed on its original site near Maryville on the Tellico River. Perhaps the largest archeological dig in the United States took place at Fort Prince George in 1967 revealing more information about life along the Cherokee Path.

Two British expeditions against the Cherokee followed this route in 1760 and 1761. Revolutionary heroes - Sumter, Marion, and Pickens - learned guerrilla fighting along the Cherokee Path. William Bartram, the naturalist, described it in his famous journal.

The Jefferson Davis Trail

The Jefferson Davis Trail retraces the flight of the President of the Confederacy through South Carolina after the fall of Richmond in 1865. On the night of April 2, 1865, the Confederate Government evacuated Richmond, Virginia, when defense of the Confederacy capital became impossible. In the following weeks, the surrender of Confederate armies in Virginia and North Carolina forced President Jefferson Davis with his cabinet and military escort to retreat further south.

From April 26 to May 3, 1865, Davis and his party traveled southwesterly through the Piedmont region of South Carolina, where they were hospitably received by people of the area. The country through which they passed had escaped much of the destruction of the war and members of Davis’ staff long remembered the well kept gardens along the road and the people in small towns and hamlets who greeted the President wherever he went, offering flowers and strawberries, prayers and kind wishes.

Davis still refused to believe the Confederate cause was hopeless, but his generals finally persuaded him to accept reality. At a Council of War, held at Abbeville, South Carolina, on May 2, 1865, it was decided to abandon any purpose except President Davis’s escape across the Mississippi River. The party began to disperse after leaving Abbeville, with Davis and a small escort group traveling south into Georgia. One week later, in the early morning of May 10, 1865, Davis and his companions were captured by Federal troops near Irwinville, Georgia.

The William Sherman Trail

Union General William T. Sherman’s army cut a wide swath through South Carolina, but the main path, extends form Savannah to Orangeburg and Columbia and then northeast through Camden and Cheraw. Much evidence of Sherman’s march remains: Rivers Bridge State Park; the ruins of old Saluda Factory; the cannonball scars on the State House; the ruins of General Wade Hampton’s home, Millwood; and the Kelly house, which was used as Union headquarters outside of Hartsville.

William Bartram Trail

William Bartram, the first native born naturalist and artist of the American colonies, contributed greatly to the documentation of the southeastern United States in the late 18th century. In fact he has the only early account of the environment of the southeast. He is best known for his writings about this region in his book Bartram’s Travels, which is an account of his epic journey from Charleston to Baton Rouge between 1773 and 1777. His book includes observations of the Indian culture of the region, as well as the natural phenomena and the differing landscapes.

William Bartram was not only a naturalist, but a botanist, artist and a writer. His lifelong work was probably precipitated by his father, John Bartram, who served as the official botanist to King George III of England. John Bartram supplied seeds, plants, and zoological specimens to England and other areas in Europe for close to fifty years. As a child, William accompanied his father on expeditions to the Carolinas, Florida, and other areas.

In his trek through the southeast, Bartram traveled through South Carolina from Charleston south along the coast into Georgia. He then headed northwest along what now is the Georgia-South Carolina border, dipping back and forth between the two as he traveled north to Oconee Station, SC. Much of his original route is now under Lake Russell. Georgia has constructed a few stretches of recreational trails following Bartram’s route near Augusta, GA.

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail commemorates the approximate route taken by a band of “over-mountain men” in their march to Kings Mountain, SC where they defeated a Loyalist force of 1,100 men on October 7, 1780.

In 1975, local citizens, many of whom were descendants of Patriots and Loyalists, determined to march the route of the Patriot army as part of American Revolution Bicentennial celebrations. From this first march developed the Overmountain Victory Trail Association (OVTA). The OVTA collected thousands of signatures to gain national trail status and in 1980, just before the 200th anniversary of the battle, were awarded that status.

The trail covers approximately 300 miles from Abingdon, Virginia, through eastern Tennessee, over mountains in North Carolina, eastward through Cherokee County, South Carolina, to Kings Mountain National Military Park.

On opposite ends of the trail portion in South Carolina are Cowpens National Battlefield (CNB) and Kings Mountain National Military Park (KMNMP). CNB preserves the 845-acre field where Daniel Morgan’s brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s larger force of British regulars took place on January 17, 1781. This Revolutionary war battle was not related to the overmountain men’s victory at Kings Mountain. The battlefield has a visitor center and foot paths through the battlefield. KMNMP is a 4,000 acre park commemorating the Overmountain victory and is managed by the National Park Service. The park contains an obelisk monument to battle participants, a visitor center, and self guided interpretive trails. Also, the sites where Ferguson was wounded and buried are marked.

Part of the National Trails System, the trail is managed cooperatively by OVTA, National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, local governments and citizens, historical societies, and the states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The American Revolution had been in progress for five years when England found itself stalemated in the northern colonies and turned its military strategy toward conquest of the south. British General Charles Cornwallis had defeated a large American army at Charleston in May of 1780. Convinced that Southern Whigs would flock in droves to the Loyalist camp if British strength were shown, Cornwallis ordered British Colonel Patrick Ferguson to foray into the Carolinas to recruit followers to the King’s cause. Thus in summer of 1780, Ferguson and his regiment of American Loyalists began to hunt out and harass rebels who continued to resist British authority.

In late summer of 1780, the overmountain men retired to their homes to rest and strengthen their forces before having another go at Ferguson. Cornwallis, in the mean time, had devised a strategy with which he hoped to sweep the south and carry the war into Virginia to crush the American Revolution.

Thus it was in late September of 1780, that Ferguson (Cornwallis’ western commander) sent a message to the backwater men (as he called them) promising that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.

The overmountain men could not resist this challenge. In late September of 1780, they took the initiative and gathered under Colonels Charles McDowell, John Sevier, Isaac Shelby, and William Campbell at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River in the present day state of Tennessee. There they were met by additional Patriot militia forces from the east under Colonels Joseph Winston and Benjamin Cleveland of Wilkes and Surry counties, North Carolina. They proceeded south to find that Ferguson had fled the town of Gilbert, a small hamlet near the present day city of Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Aided by intelligence from South Carolina patriots, the overmountain men marched to Cowpens in South Carolina where they were joined by South Carolina troops under Colonels James Williams, William Hill, and Edward Lacey. On or about October 5th they were also joined by 30 members and officers of Elijah Clarke's Georgia militia under the command of major William Candler, which, Cornwallis sent Ferguson to defeat. From there the best and ablest among them pushed on through night and rain to reach Kings Mountain, South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. At 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, the battle began. When it was over, the overmountain men had killed Ferguson and soundly defeated his loyalist troops.

The Patriot victory delayed Cornwallis’ plan for three months and allowed the Continental army to organize a new offensive in the south. In December of 1780, General Nathaniel Greene replaced General Horatio Gates as Continental army commander of the southern department and seized the military initiative in the Carolinas. Cornwallis never regained the initiative in the south before he was forced to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, a year later. Thus, the Battle of Kings Mountain was a significant turning point leading to the ultimate Patriot victory in the American Revolutionary War.

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Updated: August 25, 2008
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