The Historic Camden Foundation is a private 501(c)3 non-profit museum whose mission is to protect, preserve, and celebrate Camden’s extraordinary Colonial and Revolutionary War history.
Our 107 acres sit atop the original 18th-century property of the city’s founder Joseph Kershaw and the fortified Revolutionary War-era town occupied by British General Cornwallis and Lord Rawdon’s men from 1780-81. Visit the site to learn about the prolific Kershaw, Camden’s importance to the war’s Southern Campaigns, and Colonial life in the backcountry. Explore the reconstructed Kershaw-Cornwallis House and recently rehabilitated c. 1800 McCaa’s Tavern, as well as exhibits in other period structures. Join us for tours, programs, and events! See our Admission & Tours page and our events calendar to plan your trip.
Camden Battlefield and Longleaf Pine Preserve
Historic Camden is excited to announce that we have recently assumed ownership of 476 acres of the Battlefield of Camden. The Battlefield is hallowed ground for the hundreds of men who died in this significant battle that took place August 16, 1780. Historic Camden is dedicated to telling the story of this fascinating battle, preserving and studying the archaeological evidence of the site, restoring the Longleaf Pine forest that existed during the 18th century, and providing a space for a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Visit the Camden Battlefield page for more information!
Both the original Historic Camden campus and the Battlefield are on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Camden is a National Park Service affiliate.
Thanks to the generous donation of local residents, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Lloyd in 1967, we were able to start our journey of telling Camden’s impressive story. With the support of our donors, board members, employees, visitors and volunteers, we have grown tremendously over the past 50 years. Historic Camden Foundation has worked tirelessly to share Camden’s remarkable Colonial and American Revolutionary War history.
The history rooted in Camden’s soil, as South Carolina’s oldest inland town, has impressed hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world for generations. And as we celebrate our 50th-anniversary, we are rededicating ourselves to our mission. Now, more than ever, sharing our history is essential to truly acknowledge and understand how we became the United States of America. The fabric of our story is woven deeply into that history. It’s a story with significance that deserves to be shared.
George Washington, who spent time in Camden, once said:
“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotions of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
At Historic Camden Foundation, we recognize our role in being one of South Carolina’s leading nonprofits to commemorate and honor America’s story. We embrace our position as storytellers who foster an honest and creative learning experience with passion and enthusiasm. We inspire to create a deeper understanding of America’s history. We commit to a level of professionalism and integrity that strives for excellence. We will put forth the most accurate and inclusive stories and opportunities for all people past, present and future. And lastly, we will be good stewards of all resources and operate with credibility and profitability.
For these reasons and many others, the board elected to move forward with an official rebrand project for Historic Camden Foundation. The goal of this project was to better position our organization to fulfill our values, mission and vision, and to create a strong foundation from which we can continue to grow and evolve. Our new brand identity is an extension of our promise to share and preserve our sacred properties, representing Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, the Kershaw-Cornwallis House, the 450-acre Battle of Camden grounds and the Longleaf Pine Preserve.
For the past few years, we have collected insight into rebranding. The evidence supported it was time to embark on this important process. Throughout 2019, we convened a committee of volunteers, including past and present board members, community members and brand professionals to upgrade our brand identity, values, mission and vision. Trio Solutions Inc. (TRIO), the SC-based agency we selected to help with our new logo, has intensive experience in working with historic preservation organizations and previously worked with Historic Camden Foundation on our strategic plan. We are grateful for their guidance and expertise during this important transition.
In our new brand identity, we wanted to capture our focus on the preservation and protection of the sacred assets we are responsible for. That led us to capture the essence of our stewardship through earth tone colors, highlighting our outdoor resources.
We also wanted to ensure we retained patriotic elements within our new identity, reflected in our stars and cannon symbols. From the iconic Kershaw-Cornwallis house and pine needles and pine cone to the heritage-influenced font and colors selected, every element of our new brand was thoughtfully positioned to reflect a deeper meaning. We are proud of our new brand identity and believe it accurately captures who we are and what we strive to do. We are proud of our new brand identity and believe it accurately captures who we are and what we strive to do.
Our rebranding efforts would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of board chair, Bob Giangiorgi, vice board chair, Barbara Tatge, board member, Amy Sheheen and executive director, Ginny Zemp. We sincerely thank you for your dedication to this project and our unwavering commitment to Historic Camden.
We have big plans for the future as we approach the 250th anniversary of the American Revolutionary War in 2026. Our new brand is setting the stage for our best performance yet. We hope you will stay with us for the journey as we protect, educate and celebrate Camden’s extraordinary Colonial and American Revolutionary War history so we can create a greater appreciation of America’s remarkable story.
**The following letter (bold/italicized) accompanies the article that follows**
Department of the Army
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTRAL 1 GABRESKI DRIVE
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC 29152
Staff Ride Participants
Welcome to USARCENT’s Battle of Camden Staff Ride.
This will be a terrific day as we all walk some hallowed and sacred ground. We will have time to reflect on the powerful events of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. This staff ride is a vehicle to deepen our understanding of strategic and operational challenges, to build our USARCENT team, and to explore the conditions of the counter insurgency.
We look forward to your insights and your thoughtful analysis of this pivotal engagement, as well as how we can apply lessons from our history to today’s fight. The attached Battle Book will give you the background necessary to understand this battle.
Please focus your thoughts and analysis and be prepared to discuss COIN doctrine as well as how our priorities relate to this and the current fight: Readiness, Protect the Force,
Communicate, Transitions. Also expect that you will be able to address issues relating to your directorate, for instance the G2 discuss the intelligence issues in a COIN fight, the G4 discuss logistics, the Surgeon discuss medical issues etc.
As we discuss these points, make sure you remember that staff rides give us a point of view of something important in history. To make the best use of history, we must learn the lessons and apply them—if applicable—to the situation we find ourselves in today.
I look forward to walking the ground at Camden with you, building our team, and discussing the challenges we face in the CENTCOM AOR.
Michael X. Garrett
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army
HISTORIC CAMDEN FOUNDATION IS PROUD TO ASSIST TODAY’S MILITARY!
Excerpt from US Army Central BATTLE BOOK 9/27/2017 with permission:
This Staff Ride is a vehicle to deepen our understanding of strategic and operational challenges…
Three years after Lexington and Concord, the American Revolution was at a stalemate. The British had the best trained and equipped Army in the world, but they were static in large cities with limited resources due to manpower shortages—the entire British Army only had 60k troops in 1778 and 1/2 of those were in the Colonies. Additionally, there was no joint command—naval and land forces operated independently. The government also had to deal with a huge budget deficit and divided political support. More importantly, France’s declaration of war in 1778 made the colonies an economy of force mission, secondary, particularly for the navy, to defending the West Indies and the home island. The British were undergoing American fatigue.
Hoping for a different outcome with a different approach, the British implemented a “Southern Strategy”: seizing the initiative in the Southern Colonies to capitalize on the supposed large population of Loyalists. The plan was to occupy Savanah, then Charleston, thus pacifying South Carolina and provoking the long-hoped for Loyalist uprising. Then maneuvering through North Carolina and Virginia, thus subduing the rebellion from South to North.
When Charleston SC succumbed to a siege in May 1780, the Brits captured the 5500 man Rebel Army—the greatest loss of the war. The rebellion was in disarray, on the verge of logistical collapse. Rebels across the state surrendered and all active resistance ended. However, after initially giving liberal parole, Lt. Gen. Clinton, Commander-in-Chief for North America, ordered all citizens to sign a loyalty oath and fight for the crown. Furthermore, he didn’t restore civil authorities, but installed a military government.
Clinton returned to New York City leaving his second in command, Lt. Gen. Cornwallis, with ~8,000 troops to occupy SC and GA as well as NC—total population of 500k and approximately the size of Iraq. The British/Loyalists quickly won a series of small battles, including a pursuit and “massacre” by their most aggressive and successful commander, Lt. Col. Tarleton. They occupied fortified outposts (Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts) along the coast from Savannah to Georgetown, and in an arc across central SC from Augusta to Camden.
Cornwallis led the occupation of Camden, then returned back to the main base at Charleston to command the Southern theater and attend to administrative duties. He left the capable Lord Rawdon in command of the interior posts. However, the British victories and occupation did not end the rebellion in South Carolina; instead their actions stirred up the ongoing brutal civil war between Loyalists and Rebels. Both sides employed information operations, and when the Rebels won several small battles, the rebellious spirit was kept alive and the Loyalist population was cowed into neutrality.
A small Continental Army force of 1,400 regulars was in Virginia moving south when Charleston fell, thus escaping that disaster. This force was both a dilemma and an opportunity for the British. As long as the rebels had a nucleus of regular troops, the occupied areas could never be properly garrisoned or pacified as British logistics and lines of communication remained a weakness throughout the campaign. Conversely, the Rebel army was a center of gravity that the British regulars were best suited to defeat.
Rebel Maj. Gen. Gates assumed command of the “Army of the South” in late July, and this force became the nucleus of a 4,000 man militia and Continental army. Within a week, Gates, ignoring advice from subordinates who knew the area of operations, immediately began marching into SC via a direct, unsustainable route, preparing to fight conventional forces in a conventional manner using mostly irregular troops.
Moreover, Gates ignored readiness, bungled transitions, communicated poorly, disregarded logistics, snubbed cavalry, and marginalized partisans. As his precipitous flight from the battlefield would show, he also lacked physical courage. All this contributed to the complete defeat at Camden, the second largest rebel defeat of the war, and the second loss of an army in SC in three months.
The Battle of Camden marked the high water mark for the British in the South. At this point, there was no longer any rebel Army in the South (only 700 rebel soldiers were able to regroup in NC after the battle), and Brits seemed to control the entire state. However, only one year after this conventional victory, the Rebels would engage again at Camden, the British would have compressed all forces remaining in SC into Charleston, and Cornwallis would be under siege at Yorktown.
By Lance Player
Staff Member – Historic Camden
Many people are aware of Kershaw County’s vast and significant history, but what they may not know is how far back that history actually extends. Camden is often cited for its pivotal role in America’s infancy, playing host to a variety of key events. In 1730, upon the request of King George II, Governor Robert Johnson proposed the Township Act. This act, put into effect by the Colonial government, called for the establishment of eleven townships throughout South Carolina’s interior. Soon after, the Fredericksburg Township (now Camden) was established and was situated along the Wateree river. It wouldn’t take long before seven families took offers of land grants, making them Camden’s first settlers but not the area’s earliest inhabitants.
Archaeological evidence confirms that people inhabited Kershaw County dating back roughly 12,000 years. The earliest people-group, the Paleo-Indians, were a group of hunter gatherers. They left behind a significant number of projectile points, common knives and scrapers, along with other valuable aritifacts. In the period that followed came the Archaic Indians, some 8,000 years ago. An innovative people, they designed various advanced tools and weapons such as the atlatl. Around 5000 B.C. people began to place more focus on horticulture, thus gaining prominence. This change came with the introduction of the Woodland Indians and their shift towards greater stability and more permanent settlements. Then, around 950 C.E. a new group emerged, the Mississippian Indians. A people-group originally indigenous to the west, they relocated, settling throughout areas in the east. Among those areas was the Wateree River Valley in Kershaw County. There, they built famed mounds such as the Chesnut and Adamson mounds, which present-day scholars suggest belonged to the powerful chiefdom of Cofitachequi.
In May of 1539, Spanish Conquistador, Hernando de Soto began his exploration of the Southeast region of the United states in what is now known as Florida. De Soto was contracted by the King of Spain to explore and determine areas suited for settling. A year later, during his exploration of Florida, he heard rumors of gold and silver further north. With this newfound information he would travel north into what we now know as South Carolina. His journey led him into what is present-day Camden, where he had hoped to find gold, silver and other riches. Instead, he encountered the Cofitachequi, who were hospitable and gifted de Soto with food aplenty and freshwater pearls. Unfortunately, De Soto became greedy and took more pearls and then kidnapped their leader, the lady of Cofitachequi. The leader would find herself fortunate, as she managed to escape captivity. Though she escaped, she did not escape alone, and would flee with an African slave who was a member of de Soto’s expedition and is now sometimes referred to as her husband. De Soto would continue his expedition, traveling through the Southeast before falling ill and dying in Mississippi in 1542. He would be succeeded by Louis de Moscolo, who would lead the remaining members of the expedition into Mexico in 1543 where their journey would reach its end.
Much of Camden and Kershaw County’s prestigious and storied history was shaped by its early inhabitants and the events that took place. While it may be true that Camden is often looked upon as a Colonial town, it is much more than that. Kershaw County is host to a multitude of events, people and locations that culminate in a history that reaches back in time almost 12,000 years. While a great deal has been uncovered, one can imagine what we have yet to discover. You may look around and set your eyes upon history that spans thousands of years and a number of bygone periods, but often it is what lies beneath our feet that can be the most awe-inspiring.
By Virginia Zemp
Executive Director – Historic Camden
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Connected to Camden by DNA, terra ferma or physical presence, my life and heart are interwoven with yours. I have enjoyed being welcomed home- when in fact I have been a transient visitor until now. At the same time, the care I have for this piece of ground is more powerful than I realized.
How each of us are connected to this place provides strings of its relevance. I have been encouraged and energized by stories involving peoples from so many different areas of the world. Either way our connections flow, they are all relevant to the story of this place.
Kershaw County and the City of Camden are leading a pathway for telling our cultural and historical story. Cultural organizations, along with Historic Camden, and individual citizens add unique pictures. Together, we want to engage ourselves and visitors in the important role we have played in our families, our towns, the community and United States history. Envisioning and preserving these roles is the mission of our generation!
Historic Camden will be enhancing our story of backcountry settlement, the hardships and triumphs of indigenous peoples and immigrant colonists. These connections provide teaching opportunities in perseverance and critical thinking. Our historic reactions to nature, disease and societal change, relate a timeline of why South Carolina has grown to become the cultural patchwork it is today.
Preservation of encounters along the pathway of the Great Wagon Road, connects Camden to the nation’s story. The wealth of information on colonial trade and harnessing natural resources continues to be more accessible through records and technology. These records enrich the value of learning and enhance our preservation efforts. Historic Camden’s archaeology and architectural assets provide context to those written records.
The recent talk at the Robert Mills Courthouse, “Why is the American Revolution Still Relevant” was held in conjunction with our 49th Annual Rev. War Field Days. Our uniquely Camden story continues to be significant because as noted in the introduction to the talk, “ In 1775, all people on this earth were subjects. Whether to a czar, a czarina, king, queen, duke, duchess or doge, every mere citizen was a subject”. As we move into our 50th Anniversary, highlighting the spirit of liberty, through preservation efforts, continues to be the goal of the Historic Camden Foundation.