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.