The first European settlers came to the Cheraw region around 1740, and by the 1750’s a village had grown up on the high bluff at the head of navigation of the Great Pee Dee River. A lack of civil and religious authority was keenly felt in the back country in the years leading up to the Revolution. Eventually some of the planters organized into a group which came to be called the Regulators, who in the upper Pee Dee and elsewhere in the Carolina back country, attempted to bring some order to the region.
The establishment in 1768 of St. David’s Parish with the parish church in Cheraw, and slightly later the Cheraws Judicial District with its courthouse in Long Bluff helped the situation, but there was still underlying discontent. By May 1776 this discontent resulted in a declaration of independence from England by the grand jury of the Cheraws District. Two months later the American Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th.
War became inevitable. A number of area men were to play prominent roles in the coming conflict, notably Claudius Pegues, Gen. Henry W. Harrington (who had just moved to North Carolina) the Ellerbe brothers, Philip Pledger, and Eli Kershaw.
Immediately after the fall of Charleston, the British established garrisons to control the Whigs and encourage the Tories. Cheraw was part of this British strategic line of defense which included Camden, Ninety-Six and Augusta. Although the war was slow in coming to the area, when it came it came with a vengeance. Cheraw became a pivot point for both the British and the Americans, and was in the center of an area which endured the worst kind of civil war.
Governor Rutledge of South Carolina stayed in Cheraw at several points when Cheraw was in American hands, and Cheraw could be said to be the unofficial capital of South Carolina when the “seat of government was in the saddle of Gov. Rutledge’s horse.” Both Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens’ appointments as brigadier general are datelined Cheraw.
Military activity in the area was particularly heavy in 1780-1781. The very cruel British officer Major Wemyss was in Cheraw burning and plundering in May and September. Maj. McArthur with the 71st Highlanders was left to “keep come kind of hold on the country side” in between. McArthur used St. David’s Church as quarters and a hospital. Many of his Highlanders died, probably from small pox which swept the Carolinas that year. The enlisted men still lie in the cemetery in a mass grave. Three of their officers rest there too, under brick covered mounds.
Gen. Gates passed west of Cheraw, his hungry men eating green corn and peaches. The resulting diarrhea had an extremely adverse affect on American fortunes at the battle of Camden.
The Americans under Gen. Henry Harrington established headquarters in Cheraw by mid October of 1780. Whigs and Tories throughout the area continued to wage a bloody civil war which Gen. Greene called the worse he had ever seen. It is said that the violence here was “utterly unknown in any other part of the Union."
In late Dec. 1780, the American commander in the South Gen. Nathanael Greene arrived with a large part of his army and made a “camp of repose” just across the river from Cheraw. They stayed here until the end of January 1781. Here Gen. Greene toasted with cherry bounce the American victory at Cowpens. He also had made the boats on wheels that later played a part in the race to the Dan River in Virginia. Gen. Huger and “Light Horse” Harry Lee were in camp with Greene. (There is a story that the term “lynch” came from the officer in charge of the camp’s discipline who had the habit of convicting without a trial.) The Americans also established a forward outpost on the Wadesboro road several miles north of Cheraw. Gen. Greene left Cheraw on the road to Guilford Courthouse, which was to be one of the major battles of the Revolution. This train of events led to eventual American victory at Yorktown.
Independence had come to the Old Cheraws with a terrible price. Aside from the loss of life, the economy was left in ruins. Loss of the British bounty on indigo, once the money crop in the Cheraws, loss of property including cattle, horses, and homes combined with the loss of slaves to British and Tory raiding parties made recovery slow and difficult. Prosperity was not really to return until the beginning decades of the 19th century.
Old St. David’s Church, c. 1770. The church itself was used by both sides as barracks and hospital; the churchyard has both British and American graves. The location of a mass grave for enlisted men is thought to be at the present front doors of the church. The British officers’ graves are on the left as you face the church (there is a marker there, near the fence) and directly behind the building. Capt. Philip Pledger, who served under Gen. Francis Marion is also buried near the rear of the church. A brochure on the church and keys may be picked up at the Cheraw Chamber of Commerce. The church is denoted by a South Carolina Historic Marker and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 100 Church Street.
Greene established this Southern “Valley Forge” from Dec. 20, 1780 to Jan. 28, 1781, with part of his army in hopes of improving the pitiful condition of his troops. Military experts credit this division of his forces as a brilliant strategy, going against established military custom, and forcing Cornwallis to guess at his next move. A granite marker near the intersection of US 1 and SC 9 commemorates this site in Wallace just across the river from Cheraw.
On May 3, 1781, a cartel for the exchange of prisoners of war was signed at this home of Capt. Claudius Pegues, a French Huguenot, who was a notable patriot and member of Francis Marion’s brigade. Lt. Col. Edward Carrington on the part of Gen. Greene and Capt. Cornwallis, on the part of his cousin, Gen. Cornwallis, signed this agreement engineered by the Continental Congress and approved by Washington and Clinton. This exchange freed Continentals imprisoned in Charleston and St. Augustine and released Gen. William Moultrie for Gen. John Burgoyne who had been captured at Saratoga. Located 8 miles from Cheraw in Marlboro County 1 mile west of US 1 North. A South Carolina Historic Marker for Pegues Place in on US 1. Pegues Place in on the National Register of Historic Places. (The house is not in good condition at this time.) It is visible from a public road. Turn just past the historic marker. Private property.
A limited number of Revolutionary relics are displayed at the Lyceum, Cheraw’s local history museum. The key is available at the Cheraw Chamber of Commerce just across the street. Attorney Miller Ingram’s River Artifacts Room, located in his office on the north side of the Green, contains some artifacts found in the Great Pee Dee River. Opened during regular office hours. The Town Green itself was laid out by noted patriot Eli Kershaw, who died in British captivity in Bermuda. Kershaw was also prominently associated with the founding of Camden. Town Green, Market St.
The first owner and actual date of construction are unknown. The Teacherage, its name from a brief period in the 20th century when it housed unmarried Cheraw teachers, is thought to have been built around the time of the Revolution and is the only surviving dwelling from this period in Cheraw. 230 Third Street, private residence.
© Sarah C. Spruill