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.
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.
By Virginia Zemp
Executive Director – Historic Camden
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: We mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…
HCF IS VESTED IN THE BATTLE OF CAMDEN SITE and CITY OF CAMDEN VISITORS CENTER
Doug Bostick is the Executive Director of the South Carolina Battleground Trust. He has worked for 25+ years to mark, preserve and interpret South Carolina’s hallowed grounds reflecting battles fought in both the American Civil War and the American Revolutionary War. Historic Camden Foundation caught up with Doug on the Liberty Trail during their newly announced Battle of Hanging Rock initiative.
- Your work on the SC Revolutionary War battlegrounds has moved into a new, exciting and accessible phase for the Liberty Trail- How will the technology help engage visitors?
DB: The South Carolina Liberty Trail will utilize technology in a variety of ways. First, on the battlefields itself, we will utilize on-site interpretive signage such as the signs that currently mark the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. Additionally, on-site interpretation will be enhanced by cutting-edge digital offering. Some battlefields will include augmented reality interpretations where visitors can “see” the battle. Other battlefields will use GPS-triggered beacons to offer audio presentations of the personal stories of combatants.
All of the sites on the Liberty Trail will be connected by an engaging interactive mobile tour APP that will connect all of our battlefields. The APP will offer driving directions, itinerary-building features, dining and lodging options, and recommend other nearby historic sites, recreational and cultural activities.
2) I am fascinated with the archaeology and science behind your research on these sites- Tell us about your comparison of historical maps to current conditions?
DB: Historic maps are very helpful in our research, but we augment these resources with modern technology that allows us to confirm the maps and, in some cases, correct the maps. Battlefield archaeology allows us to confirm the battlefield footprint and even determine where each army stood or advanced by where they were shooting. Other artifacts allow us to confirm or document the various regiments that were engaged.
LiDAR is a near infrared light technology that provides us with a great look at the raw topography of the land unencumbered by trees and underbrush. These surveys allow us to spot historic roadbeds and see geographic features often written about in contemporary battlefield reports.
GZ: There are so many discoveries to be found all over the state. Thank you for educating us in the possibilities.
3) The Battle of Camden site preservation started in 1909 by the DAR with the placement of the DeKalb Monument. The opportunities SCBT and ABT have invested with Historic Camden’s 700 acres will give an in-depth look at this turning point in the Revolutionary War- Give us a glimpse of some of the panel stories.
DB: In a broad view, Camden was a devastating defeat for the Patriot cause, but the response to this loss created an important turning point in the war. Patriots lost many good men in this battle, but none were more keenly felt than the loss of Baron de Kalb. The upcoming battlefield interpretation will, in part, focus on his service to the cause of Liberty. Additionally, we have focused much of our time in documenting the stories of individual participants, both Patriot and British, in the battle. Traditionally, battle interpretation focuses on the officers and commanders. While we will certainly interpret the decision-makers, we are also readily focusing on the junior officers, the sergeants, the privates, and the militia that served on both sides. There is a wealth of personal stories related to the Battle of Camden that has survived.
4) The new Visitors Center on Broad Street will guide visitors to the battle site and add engagement of the Revolutionary War Southern Campaign. How will this new exhibit interface with the statewide Liberty Trail as well as encourage tourism in Kershaw County?
DB: The new Visitors Center will serve as a Gateway to not only the Battle of Camden and the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, but to the entire Liberty Trail. We are working on a key exhibit within the Center that will propel visitors to visit the battlefield itself. Once they visit the battlefield site, an effective combination of traditional interpretive signage and stories delivered through new technologies will provide visitors with a stimulating and engaging experience.
GZ: The Kershaw Cornwallis House and grounds have their own unique story to tell with regard to colonial trade and Rev War military strategy. HCF looks forward to engaging the importance of our location’s impact on the story of Kershaw County.
5) The stories of those who fought and died in Camden are integral to the South Carolina Revolutionary War story and the national story of independence. How will our collaborative efforts get these stories out for the 250th Anniversary?
DB: We are focusing on a broad cross-section of stories of the people tied to this battle … a British sergeant in the 23rd Regiment of Foot who was captured by General Gates’ men at Saratoga, escaped, and then faced Gates again at Camden with much different results. We will tell the stories of multiple African-American soldiers in the North Carolina militia; the stories of women driving the wagons in the Quartermaster corps; soldiers who lost their lives in the battle and others who were captured and served long terms as prisoners-of-war in brutal conditions. There is also a little understood story of Americans fighting Americans. Many of the “British” troops at the Battle of Camden were actually American-born Provincial soldiers choosing to fight for the King.
GZ: HCF has added a visual display of flags of the 13 colonies, flying at the front entranceway to the main office. This display is to remind passersby that the 7000 individuals who stood on that hallowed ground on August 16, 1780 came from all over the colonies and the world. Some fought as loyalists, some as patriots, many didn’t fight but attended to their troops. Their stories are intertwined forever in the American story of liberty.
GZ: Thank you Doug, the SC Battleground Trust and the American Battlefield Trust for celebrating our extraordinary story with us!
By Virginia Zemp
Executive Director – Historic Camden
RECOLLECTIONS ADD DEPTH TO HISTORY
Scholars study archival records to develop the history of an event or place. In South Carolina, we are fortunate to have saved, preserved and made accessible an immense number of records- government, corporate and personal! These records provide details which ultimately are reviewed in new light as each generation considers their impact on current discussions.
Repositories like Camden Archives and Museum; SC Archives and History Department; The South Caroliniana Library; SC Historical Society, continue to protect our Revolutionary War veteran stories. These papers and letters are the basis for Historic Camden’s exhibits and are integral to the building of a narrative for the Battle of Camden site.
Thomas Pinckney, injured at the Battle of Camden wrote the following:
I will first notice; which is that the movement in the night of 15th of August was not made with the intention of attacking the enemy, but for the purpose of occupying a strong position so near him as to confine his operations, to cut off his supplies of Provisions, from the upper parts of the Wateree & Pedee
Rivers, & to harass him with detachments of light Troops, & to oblige him either to retreat or to come out & attack us upon our own ground, in a situation where the Militia which constituted our principal numerical force, might act to the best advantage.
THOMAS PINCKNEY LETTER TO WILLIAM JOHNSON; SC Historical Magazine, Vol. X, No. 8 (August 1886), pp. 244-253.
Published materials and transcribed records form a pathway to discover individual stories. The palisade wall surrounding the town in 1780 as well as the redoubt positions were detailed in records of the Continental Congress. Archaeology studies verified the accuracy of this drawing.
IMAGE: Plan of Camden, May 12, 1781, adapted from the Nathaniel Greene Papers, Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives, Washington DC- additionally showing HCF properties in 2018..
Thank You to these important institutions and their resources for helping Historic Camden Foundation tell the unique story of Kershaw County.
Resources of quality information are discoverable through published books and treatises as well as internet sources. www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/ has compiled information on The Camden District Regiment of Militia, established February 1775, noting Commanders, Miscellaneous Players and Known Privates. You can discover a synopsis of where and when they fought.
The Camden District Regiment of Militia
Month & Year Established: February 1775
Commanders: Col. Richard Richardson, Col. Joseph Kershaw,
Col. Thomas Taylor
Misc. Players: Jacob Bethany – Commissary
Jesse Goodwyn – Commissary
John Hamilton – Commissary
William Meyers – Asst. Commissary
Isaac Raiford – Comm. General
Timothy Rives – Commissary
Henry Sanders – Commissary
John Wyche – Asst. Commissary
Today’s Veteran recollections are being saved!
Under the same premise that individual stories are imperative to a better understanding of history, the United States Congress created the Veterans History Project (VHP) in 2000 as part of the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. VHP collects, preserves and makes accessible the firsthand remembrances of U.S. military veterans from World War I through the more recent conflicts.
Beginning in February, Historic Camden Foundation will collaborate with the National Society of the Colonial Dames in South Carolina (NSCDSC) and VHP to begin taking oral histories of our local veterans. The NSCDSC will provide volunteers to video the discussions and coordinate the proper methods for Library of Congress inclusion. Historic Camden Foundation is proud to support this effort on its site. For further information, please contact Virginia Zemp at 803-432-9841.
Camden Militia 1775- Known Privates / Fifers / Drummers / Etc. – Captain Unknown: Andrew Allison; Edward Andrews; George Antse; John Armstrong- Wagon Master William Ashley;
John Baker; John Barnet; Andrew Barnett; Andrew Baskin; Ulrick Beard; Benedict Best; John Blake; William Boyd; Joseph Bradley; William Brewer; David Brown; Isaac Busby; Jasper Bush;
Greenberry Caps; Henry Cato; Reuben Cook; Robert Cook; Adam Coon; Lewis Coon; Lot Cornelius; John Countryman; Abiah Croft; Godfrey Cromer; Jacob Cromer; William Croskry; Peter Curry;
Henry Dancer; William Daniel; George Davidson; Joseph Davies; Reynolds Dill; Robert Duke;Samuel Dunlap;
Henry Eady; John Elder; Matthias Elmore; Josiah Evans; Caspar Faust, Jr.; John Faust; Richard Featherston; Casper Foust; Casper Foust, Jr.; William Foust; John Funderbuck;
Thomas Gaston; James Gibson; John Gillespie; John Glazier; Howell Goodwyn; Jesse Goodwyn; William Goodwyn;
Henry Hagood; Lewis Hagood; John Hamilton; Adam Hamiter; John Harbirt; Victor Harris; John Harvison; Arthur Hicklin; John Hicklin; William Hirons; Thomas Hodge; Archibald Hood; James Hood; Daniel Horton; Henry Horton; John Horton; James Howard; Arthur Howell; Matthew Howell; William Howell; James Hoy;
John Ingram; William Ingram; John Jackson; Barnet Johnston; David Johnston; John Jones; Samuel Jones;
Peter Kelly; David Kennedy; John Kennington; John Killingsworth; Berry King; George King; John King -Wagoner Christian Kinsler; William Kirkland; Zachariah Kirkland; Robert Kirkpatrick;
John Lake; Titus Lang; Nicholas Latner; Samuel Littlejohn;
Robert Marshall; Patrick McDonald; Peter McGrew; Wright McLemore; Thomas McMeans; George McWhorter; Buckner Miles; William Miller; Daniel Monaghan; John Jett Mothershead; Michael Muckenfuss; John Murff; David Myars;
Edward Narramore; John Nealins; William Nealins; William Nettles; John Nisbett; William Nisbett; William Norris – Wagoner; William Owens; John Parr; James Pearson; Noah Phelps; Barnaby McKinney Pope;
Dennis Quinlin; Charle Raley, Jr.; Henry Rivers; Green Rives; Henry Rives; John Rives; William Rives; Thomas Roach; William Robertson; Nicholas Robinson – Wagoner; Hugh Rodgers; William Rolleson – Wagoner; Moses Ross;
John Salisbury; Pettigrew Salisbury; Andrew Sanders; Samuel Sealy; Howell Sellers; George Smith; Stephen Smith; John Snelling; Charles Spradley; Reuben Starke; Kemp T. Strother;
John Taylor; Jacob Theus; Williamson Threewits; Jesse Tillman; John Trusdale; Jacob Turnipseed; John Turnipseed;
Jonathan Welsh; William Welsh; Joseph West; Nathan White; Joseph Whitener – Express Rider; Edward Williams – Express Rider; John Williams; Rednal Williams; Rolling Williamson; Robert Willis; Thomas Wise; Drury Wyche; John Wyche; George Yarborough; Lewis Yarborough; William Yarboro.