The Historic Camden Foundation is a private 501(c)3 non-profit museum whose mission is to protect, educate, 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.
During this past year, you have been walking and reading with me on a journey through stories of Camden’s colonial backcountry settlement, the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution and the Kershaw House as the 1780 British Forward Operating Base.
On August 15, 2020 our RevWar Days commemorated both the Battle that took place in our County on that day 240 years ago and we celebrated the hardworking colonial townspeople that continued to work the land and toil for their freedoms. We are grateful to have incredible artisans today, demonstrating the crafts which sustained this City during those early times.
Iron Forge Pottery Maker Brickyard Colonial Garden
In addition, to educate our visitors, we engaged the stories of the British Occupation of the Kershaw House through artifacts, cannon demonstrations and talks. Thank you to all who participated and visited our site. We look forward to more celebrations of Camden and Kershaw history. Mark your calendars for November 7th and the 50th Anniversary events celebrating Historic Camden Foundation’s legacy of preservation and South Carolina’s Liberty Trail
I want to share our opening remarks from the Battle of Camden Commemoration given by our Board Chairman, Bob Giangiorgi.
Thank you for joining Historic Camden Foundation for the 240th Anniversary of the Battle of Camden. We are proud to be the stewards of this battlefield and through it will create a greater appreciation of America’s remarkable story.
I would like to focus our thoughts on an inspirational group who joined this Battle, giving the full measure here 240 years ago.
In April 1780, Washington chose Major General Johann DeKalb and his Maryland and Delaware troops to march south. In early May the foreign born DeKalb became the senior American officer in the South. Congress decided to place an American in charge and selected Horatio Gates. DeKalb agreed to continue in command of the Maryland and Delaware troops, and to serve as the second-in-command to the new southern commander, bringing him to this property in August 1780.
John Beakes apply describes the battle in his biography of DeKalb. “On the morning of August 16, 1780, Major General DeKalb rose and prepared for combat, as he had done many times over the past thirty-seven years. His strength, fitness, and imposing presence had served him well throughout his career, and brought him home safe from earlier engagements. Yet forty-five minutes later after the opening fire at Camden, the American army would be routed, deKalb’s Maryland and Delaware divisions would be shattered, and his giant figure would be brought low by three bullet wounds and eight cuts from swords and bayonets. Captured and treated with the greatest respect by his British foes, his life slowly ebbed away over the next three days.”
DeKalb, his troops and all those who fought and died on this land are why the Daughters of the American Revolution preserved this spot in 1909. And why Historic Camden Foundation protects our grounds and creates experiences to learn about their lives given to the American Revolutionary cause.
Let us consider those lives given as we join Major General Julian Burns in prayer.
Collaborating with the SC Liberty Trail partners, Historic Camden Foundation will provide a living history journey through the Southern Campaign supported by historically related exhibits and demonstrations. Activities will be held outdoors and adhere to governmental restrictions for distancing and face covering.
Join the Historic Camden Foundation on November 7, 2020, from 10 am to 4 pm for the Rev War Days and our 50th Anniversary Celebration!
Spend the day on SC’s Liberty Trail and walk the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. Enjoy the living history and demonstrations from NPS Partners and Liberty Trail sites between 1780 and 1783.
We look forward to celebrating 50 years with you at the Historic Camden Revolutionary War site (222 Broad Street). Tickets are $10 and will be available for purchase after October 1, 2020.
Ginny Zemp, Executive Director announces this collaborative event as a way to educate visitors on the significance of the Southern Campaign. Journey with Historic Camden Foundation on The SC Liberty Trail, engaging the stories from Charleston to Yorktown and Camden’s pivotal role in the American Revolution!
South Carolina’s Native American history is one that is rich, vast and reaches back in time thousands of years. One of the most prominent tribes is the Catawba (yeh is-WAH h’reh or “people of the river”), who have lived along the Catawba River for roughly 6,000 years. In 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through the Piedmont region of North Carolina on his expedition west. There he would encounter the Catawba people, marking the first documented contact with the tribe after remaining largely private previously. While noteworthy, it was the election of King Hagler (Nopkehee) in 1754 that ushered in an era where the tribe would begin to expand
King Hagler, often referred to as the “patron saint of Camden,” brought progress to the Catawba Nation. The Catawba endured many hardships leading up to this time, including a smallpox epidemic in 1738 that afflicted the population substantially. Hardship was not the only challenge they were faced with, as the 1750s saw an influx of European settlers making home on the land around them. Hagler, a fierce but fair negotiator, strived to establish an agreement with the new settlers that would allow them to coexist and work together. This relationship proved successful as the Catawba became known not only for their remarkable pottery but also as renowned traders, especially of quality furs. The tribe continued to prosper under Halger as he strived to maintain peaceful relationships with the settlers and expand opportunities for his people. While enjoying this newfound
success, the Catawba would soon find themselves faced with hardship once again in 1759 when stricken with another smallpox outbreak. The epidemic proved tragic for the burgeoning Catawba Nation, resulting in the deaths of nearly half their population. The remaining Catawba persevered and pressed on, with the continued guidance of Hagler. While the Catawba worked through the challenges and hardships they were facing, the world was changing as a war waged on around them. The Catawba
would become involved in the French and Indian War, with Hagler sending men to fight alongside George Washington in the Ohio territory. The Catawba were fierce warriors, as noted in Washington’s journals, where he also talks about how valuable their support was in the war efforts. Their friendship and support to the English settlers was recognized in 1763 when the King of England granted the Catawba 144,000 acres of land, which they would then rent to settlers. Tragically, about this same time, King Hagler was killed by members of a rival tribe as he traveled back from Charles Towne. Unfortunately, their hardships continued as the colonists renting their land would pressure them about allowing them to own the land for themselves. The state of South Carolina entered negotiations with the Catawba hoping to strike a new deal. An agreement was reached that called for the Catawba to concede their 144,000 acres in exchange for a tract of land with a smaller population and monetary payment. This deal marked the end of an era for the Catawba Nation, but it would not be their demise.
While fascinating, this blog only scratches the surface in telling the story of a people-group that goes much deeper. We hope to continue telling the story of South Carolina’s rich history in future installments, including expanding upon groups like the Catawba. Please continue to follow us as we strive to preserve, educate and celebrate the history that makes South Carolina, and Historic Camden, so important!
By: Lance Player – Historic Camden Staff
- Lewis, Kenneth E. The Carolina Backcountry Venture: Tradition, Capital, and Circumstance in the Development of Camden and the Wateree Valley, 1740-1810. The University of South Carolina Press, 2017.
- “About The Nation.” Catawba Indian Nation, www.catawbaindian.net/.
- Merrell, James Hart, and Frank W. Porter. The Catawbas. Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
By: Virginia Zemp – Executive Director
The “New Normal” we are all experiencing has changed everything we do this year and will impact our plans for the near future. Preparing for the Visitor Center, Historic Camden Foundation had already started to make some exciting changes to share our colonial history and create a greater appreciation for America’s story.
Our ability to show our buildings, experience the colonial way of life and engage the Revolutionary War story, continues to highlight an historic will to fight and survive. Enhancing spaces with exhibits will allow visitors and locals alike to revisit the remarkable sites we protect. To meet the safety of staff and visitors, SC Department of Commerce Approval Process for Gatherings and Events provides a planning and protocol process, which Historic Camden Foundation will follow. The City of Camden ordinance for masks and distancing will be adhered to on all Historic Camden properties.
Exhibits tell a deeper story with artifacts and living history, encouraging participation of visitors in Kershaw County’s extraordinary story. In the Kershaw Cornwallis House, the exhibits are planned to be movable and retractable for rental and event opportunities. We have added artifact content to our guided tours. Throughout August and September, the first floor features a Native American Exhibit loaned from the USC Native American Studies in Lancaster.
Share a Little of that Human Touch: The Prehistory of South Carolina”
Discover over 12,000 years of Camden and South Carolina history beginning with the Paleoindian Period to the iconic Chiefdom of Cofitachequi. The exhibit displays decades of anthropological research and rare Native American artifacts. In addition, the Camden Archives have graciously loaned us their Native American artifacts from the “Collection of Lewis F. Anderson.”
The exhibit was produced and funded by Humanities SC, USC Lancaster Office of the Dean, USC Office of the Vice President for Research, and USC Lancaster’s Native American Studies Center. Special thanks to Chris Judge of USC Lancaster as well as Katherine Richardson and Rickie Good of the Camden Archives.
Historic Camden is a National Park Service Affiliated site, comprised of 100+ acres, much of which holds archaeological artifacts safely underground. We protect our spaces while continuing to encourage events, festivals and visitation as an economic development opportunity for the City. Under the current COVID guidelines, we will safely hold events and plan for the future, revising and pivoting as necessary to provide an enjoyable experience. Join us August 15th for the opening of our Joseph Kershaw Horticulture and Trade Program. 10am to 4pm to see how our spaces are being enhanced to tell your story.