“In 1785 Edgefield District was created from the southern portion of the Ninety Six judicial district. Following the reorganization of the county system in 1800 it became known as the Edgefield District. Originally, it was the largest district in the state, occupying 1, 702 square miles. It was bordered by the Saluda and Savannah Rivers and by Abbeville, Barnwell, Orangeburg and Lexington Districts. There is a ledged that Edgefield’s name came from the fact that it was located on the western edge of the state.
European settlers began to arrive in Edgefield beginning in 1750. Most of them were Scots-Irish who came from Pennsylvania and Virginia. There were smaller numbers of settlers of Swiss, French Huguenot and German back ground who established the settlements of New Windsor and New Bordeaux. The European settlers were the first to bring African slaves into the county. The slave population increased when coastal planters established plantations in the area.
Grains and large numbers of cattle and hogs were grown by the early settlers making agriculture dominate in Edgefield’s economy. By the 1790’s staple crops grew in significance especially tobacco. But cotton came to dominate the agricultural economy of the district. Edgefield became the center of the South’s cotton boom in the early 1800’s due to the county’s use of the newly invented cotton gin and the short staple variety of cotton plant. The county led South Carolina in the number of cotton bales produced by 1860. Due to this the slave population in the county also grew. Edgefield’s population was comprised mostly of slaves by the 1830’s. By 1860 there were a total of 24,060 slaves in the district making it the largest populated inland district.
Pre-Civil War Edgefield had a small but prominent manufacturing section. The southern part of the county, the Horse Creek Valley was home to textile factories such as Graniteville and Vaucluse. It was also home to a paper mill and a porcelain factory. The districts clay deposits were made use of by pottery works in the area especially by the artisan enclave of Pottersville. Pottersville was located just north of the Edgefield Court House. There was a strong regional market for Edgefield pottery and in the late twentieth century pieces made by slave potters like “Dave” became highly prized by collectors. There was also a prosperous gold mine that was run by William “Billy” Dorn the mine was later bought by Cyrus McCromick.
Along with cotton, Edgefield was known for producing politicians and for having a unpredictable political culture. Edgefield produced ten South Carolina governors, five lieutenant governors, and several other national political leaders. It produced antebellum U.S senators: George McDuffie, Andrew P. Buttler, and James Henry Hammond. Congressman Preston Brooks, was also a resident of Edgefield, famous for his canning of Charles Summer a Congressman from Massachusetts on the floor of the US senate. Post Civil War representation came from the radical “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and the future long serving Strom Thurmond.
After the Civil War there were significant changes in Edgefield. Gradually the county lost more than two thirds of its size as parts of it were used to make new counties. The new counties that were made were Aiken in 1871, Saluda in 1895, Greenwood in 1897 and McCormick in 1916. In the 1870’s and 1880’s the railroads reached Edgefield, due their arrival the towns of Johnston, Ridge Spring and Trenton developed. While the county remained largely rural, textiles and manufacturing began to play a bigger role in the economy.
The county’s population decreased from 23,928 to 15,692 between 1920 and 1970. Agriculture also declined for Edgefield. The total farm acreage shrank from 224,850 acres in 1920 to 71,425 acres in 1997. Cotton was replaced by peach farming and an increase in poultry, cattle, and dairy production. Following World War II, big textile companies such as Riegel Textile Corporation, later known as Mount Vernon Riegel, and Milliken & Company and small companies such as Star Fibers and Stone Manufacturing Company opened mills in Edgefield. One third of the workers in the county commuted to jobs outside of the county in 1970.
At the end of the twentieth century Edgefield began to revitalize its economy. It aggressively recruited businesses like Menardi and Concurrent Technologies Corporation, by displaying Edgefield’s railroads and nearness to Columbia and Augusta, Georgia. Residents of the county were active in establishing the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor. Old Edgefield Pottery was established in 1992 and this renewed an interest in the county’s pottery. The Wild Turkey Center and Museum, built by the National Wild Turkey Federation is near the town of Edgefield. The county also hosts Quail Unlimited and Waterfowl USA.”
Additional information on Francis Pickens.
Information compiled and written by Anna Lee – 2014, with assistance from Edgar, Walter B., ed. The South Carolina encyclopedia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006 and the South Carolina Gazetteer by J.H. Moore, 1989.
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