Present-day Bamberg County has bounced among its neighbors, being first a part of Colonial Colleton County by deed of the King of England to Colleton, one of the eight original Lord Proprietors, in 1682.
"Old Colleton County included the present counties of Colleton, Bamberg, Saluda, Greenwood and Pickens and the eastern area of Barnwell, Aiken, Edgefield, Abbeville and Anderson, together with small areas of Charleston, Orangeburg and Lexington counties," writes Margaret Lawrence in the "History of Bamberg County, South Carolina," published for The Historical Society of Bamberg County in 2003. "Charleston was the county seat for the three colonial counties (Berkeley, Craven and Colleton) and legal records of old Colleton County from 1670 to 1785 can be found in the Charleston County Courthouse."
According to Lawrence, the first European settlements in the area were probably military because of the Yemassee War of 1715. Four forts for protection from the Indians were established by the assembly in 1716. Fort Moore was located about six miles below Augusta on the east bank of the Savannah River. U.S. Highway 78 mirrors one of the original routes from Charleston along the Edisto River to Fort Moore. Buffalo going to the seacoast for salt first establish this trail that was later followed by packhorse traders and Indians traveling from Charleston to Fort Moore. However, travel on the waterways of the rivers was the main means of transportation during the 1700s.
Indians lived along the waterways. Evidence of their villages has been collected by area residents. Most longtime farm families have a box or jar of arrowheads and pottery bits and pieces that they've picked up in plowed Bamberg County fields. Fields cultivated near the rivers have yielded a great many Indian artifacts.
South Carolina was settled from the coast inland as settlers came. Six townships were laid out in South Carolina in 1732. Inducements were offered to encourage Europeans to settle there. Orangeburg, about 18 miles from present-day Bamberg, was the third township to be settled. German-Swiss immigrants settled in the area on land grants averaging a little under 200 acres each. Between 1753 and 1759, newcomers applying for land grants were directed to the upper part of the Salkehatchie forks. Grants in the fork of the Salkehatchie River and on Colstons Branch were in present-day Bamberg County. Early maps designed areas by the name of the family who lived on the land grant, or who owned the bridges in the area. Many of those names are seen today on road signs designating communities, bridges and towns.
In 1768, an act was passed dividing the Province of South Carolina into seven judicial districts or precincts. Present-day Bamberg County was changed from Old Colleton County to a part of Orangeburgh District. At that time, Orangeburgh District contained all the present counties of Orangeburg, Barnwell, Bamberg, Lexington and the larger part of Aiken County. Unfortunately, in 1865, Sherman's army burned the courthouse in Orangeburg County and all the legal records were destroyed. (Some legal transactions between 1682 and 1769 can be found in the Charleston Courthouse files.)
For 17 short, tumult-packed years (1769-1784), present-day Bamberg County was a part of Orangeburgh District. Numerous grants and deeds and transfers of land ownership took place in the area during those 17 years. South Edisto River, Lemon Swamp and the Great Salkehatchie River areas saw a great deal of settlement and population growth. The Revolutionary War was fought, with many small skirmishes occurring in the area. Families and neighbors were often fighting one another as Tories and Patriots clashed.
After the Revolutionary War, construction of roads and bridges drew communities together. Farming spread throughout the area. Taxation became a reality in 1783 when the General Assembly passed laws providing for the building and repairing of roads and bridges, with committees given the power to make residents living within the service area of the transportation improvements contribute with money or labor or suffer being fined. Men from ages 16 to 50 were required to work, usually 12 days a year, on road and bridge construction projects.
Present-day Bamberg County became part of Winton County in 1785 when Orangeburgh District was divided into four counties. At that time, all the territory bounded north by Ninety Six, south by Beaufort District, east by South Edisto River and west by Savannah River comprised Winton County (later changed to Barnwell County).
Overland transportation infrastructure was a real challenge in the early years of the country. South Carolina and Orangeburgh District struggled to build roads and bridges so settlers could move easily between communities.
Included in the "History of Bamberg County, South Carolina" is this interesting account of Tylers Ferry-Holmans Bridge: "In 1801, it was stipulated by an act that the bridge built across the South Edisto River by John Holman at a place called Tylers Ferry be vested in Holman for seven years with these rates of toll: Every wagon and team, all other four-wheeled carriage and horse, fifty cents; every rolling hogshead, twenty-five cents; every foot passenger, six cents; every horse, six cents; chair or cart with one horse, twenty-five cents; every head of black cattle, ship, hogs or goats, three cents; every man and horse, twenty-five cents. John Holman was the son of Conrad Holman, who emigrated to South Carolina and settled in St. Matthews parish, Amelia Township. John Holman was twice married; his first wife was named Rachel and the second, Magdelena. He owned extensive lands in the Holmans Bridge area and was the father of sixteen children."
During the 1700s, present-day Bamberg County was part of three distinct political divisions, Colleton District, Orangeburgh District and then Winton District. Indians were displaced by European settlers, mostly Swiss and German immigrants. Roads and bridges were built and towns became settled. Men fought battles for freedom — some small skirmishes within sight of their new homes. It was a century of growth and change.
T&D Correspondent Laura G. Carlson can be reached by e-mail at Laura@carlsonclan.com or by phone at 803-793-3336.
(EDITOR'S NOTE — This article is based on information from Margaret Lawrence's "History of Bamberg County, South Carolina," published in 2003 for The Historical Society of Bamberg County.)