Cheraw Time Line – A Selected Chronology of Events
By Sarah C. Spruill with the help of Manning Malloy and Margaret Wannamaker
1540: Spanish Explorer Hernando De Soto’s men visit Cheraw and leave the first written record of our area. It is thought that the Cofitachequi people lived here on the high bluff over the river. Like other tribes in this part of Carolina, they were a matrilineal society. Unfortunately, this first contact brought an exchange of diseases which had devasting effects on both parties.
Around 1700: The Cheraw Indians come to Cheraw. The tribe had come earlier to the Carolinas after being driven out of Virginia by the Iroquois. Their main village was on the present site of the town. The Cheraws were of Sioux extraction, and were an agricultural people. They were more powerful and warlike than the nearby Pee Dees.
1730’s: The first settlers come to the Cheraw area. The Welsh Baptist land grant in 1737 has the effect of forcing settlers already in the region to move further up the river. The earliest of these include English settlers, the Ellerbes and Youngs. The first slaves come with some of the settlers.
1730’s: Almost all of the Cheraws have left the region and joined forces with the Catawbas. A small pox epidemic in 1738 decimates these tribes. Some of the Cheraws will remain with the Catawbas, others will go to live in the Lumbee River region of North Carolina.
1740’s: Thomas Ellerbe opens a water mill near Cheraw. In 1743 James Gillespie moves further up river to Cheraw, and engages in shipping and planting.
1750’s: Gillespie and famed patriot Christopher Gadsden conduct a shipping business on the Pee Dee between Cheraw and Charleston. Gadsden has a store near the present Country Club.
1760’s: A Planters Society is formed. A French Huguenot, Claudius Pegues comes to the area and settles on the east side of the river near the North Carolina line. Eli and Joseph Kershaw conduct a mercantile business under the name of Eli Kershaw and Company. The Kershaws lay out the original town. Eli Kershaw also owns at least one house (it is painted yellow) in Cheraw and a plantation. Their boundary markers will still be in place in the year 2000.
1760’s: Increasing violence from lawless gangs of “robbers and banditti” leads to great frustration. There are no means to bring criminals to justice short of Charleston. Prominent men, who come to be known as Regulators, take the law into their own hands.
1768: St. David’ Parish is established. The Anglican Church is the state church in South Carolina, and the established of a parish gives the citizens the right to vote near home, to tax for the poor and sick, bind out orphans and oversee the roads. A church building is to be erected in Cheraw, probably because it is something of an Anglican stronghold.
1769: A Circuit Court Bill establishes the Cheraws Judicial District. There is a great fight over whether the court house will be erected at Cheraw Hill or at Long Bluff (now Society Hill). The commissioners state that “Cheraw Hill is at present, and has been for many years past the most public and the greatest place of trade upon Pedee River.” The term “Cheraw Hill” distinguishes the town from the district.
1772: St. David’s Church is almost complete and is in use.
1774: The Kershaws were angered when the courthouse was erected at Long Bluff. They put some of their holdings up for auction. Tensions continue to increase between the backcountry, the coastal establishment and the British Crown.
1775: The name Chatham appears for the first time in the Vestry Records of St. David’s Church. Cheraw, Cheraw Hill and Chatham will be used interchangeably until 1820. The term was to honor William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, who was the great English defender of American liberties.
May 1776: The Cheraws Grand Jury writes a declaration of independence from England.
July 4, 1776: The American Declaration of Independence is signed in Philadelphia. War becomes inevitable.
1776-1779: Charleston falls to the British. Many in this area just wish to be left alone, and the war is slow in coming to the region. A number of men are enlisted with the Whigs, especially Francis Marion’s brigade, but a number are Tories. Much of the war is now being fought in the North. The British establish aline of garrisons at Cheraw, Camden, Ninety Six and Augusta.
1780: The war comes to Cheraw with a vengeance. It is a true civil war, sometimes brother against brother. British Major James Wemyss come to Cheraw in May and September, burning and plundering. Major Archibald McArthur and the 71st Regiment use St. David’s Church as quarters and a hospital during the summer. The build barracks near the church. A number of soldiers become ill with a fever (probably malaria). Three officers are buried in the church yard. The enlisted men are buried in a common grave. Gen. Gates passes nearby on his way to Camden.
Fall 1780: Gen. Harrington moves in with his American troops. SC Gov. John Rutledge moves the government to Cheraw. He will be in and out of Cheraw for the next six months.
Jan. 1781: Gen. Nathaniel Greene makes a camp of repose just across the river Gen. Green is now in charge of the American Troops in the South. This hard winter camp is the southern “Valley Forge.” He receives news of the great victory at Cowpens with much rejoicing. His army will now move toward Guilford Courthouse, and the Americans will soon have a great victory at Yorktown in Virginia.
1783: The Treaty of Paris finally officially ends the Revolutionary War. Freedom has come with great price to Cheraw. A number of men are dead or maimed, houses have been burned, crops and live stock have been destroyed. There is no longer a British bounty on Indigo, which had been the main money crop in the Cheraws. The economy stagnates for a decade.
1785: The Anglican church is disestablished. St. David’s Parish is divided into Chesterfield, Darlington and Marlboro Counties.
1790’s: Eli Whitney’s cotton gin becomes widely available. This will transform agriculture in the region. Cheraw is a small village of about a dozen homes and several trading houses.
1801: A US Post Office is established in Cheraw.
1810: Cheraw has grown and now has a printing press and school.
1812: Gen. Erasmus Powe gathers volunteers for the War of 1812.
1819: Capt. Moses Rogers (of the famous SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic) brings the first steamboat, the “Pee Dee” to Cheraw.
1820: Cheraw is incorporated on Dec. 23rd, taking the name of Cheraw officially.
1823: Dr. W. C. Ellerbe and Dr. John Lance open a hospital for sick Negroes. The Methodist construct their first church.
1823: The first bridge is built across the Great Pee Dee. A slave named Horace King will learn to build the Towne Lattice Mode trusses that he will later use in building covered bridges in Georgia and Alabama. The town has a pop. of 700, 250 houses, a church, library, academy, 30 storehouses, and two hotels, Moore’s and The Cheraw Hotel.
1824: The remaining lots from the Kershaw estate are auctioned off.
1825: Cheraw entertains Gen. Lafayette in Dr. Ellerbe’s home which will hereafter be known as the Lafayette House.
1826: The steeple is added to old St. David’s Church.
1833: The Merchants Bank is built. (Now First Citizens.) Cheraw will become a major banking center in the next decades.
1835: On Dec. 9th a calamitous fire guts the commercial district of Cheraw.
1837: Every owner of an improved lot within the town is to provide a leather bucket “of the usual size” for each chimney on the premises. Six fire marshals are appointed.
1837: Peter Conlaw Lynch wins the competition to design a market hall. The Market Hall will be used for an Equity Court upstairs and a farmers’ market downstairs. The first circus comes to town. The elephants are too heavy and the giraffe too tall to cross the covered bridge so they must swim the river.
1830’s: The Baptist and Presbyterians build new churches. Townspeople are trying their hand a growing silk. This does not catch on. There is a severe national depression. A large number of people leave Cheraw for the new cotton lands in Alabama and westward.
1840: St. Peter’s Catholic Church is built. A planned effort to plant hardwoods along the streets begins about this time. Supposedly if you are charged with being drunk and disorderly in public your “fine” will be to dig an elm from the forest and plant it in town. These shade trees will greatly contribute to the charm of the town, and be noted by visitors for generations.
1848: Telegraph lines are completed along the old stage coach road. This will become known as the Old Wire Road.
1853: The Cheraw and Darlington Railroad begins operations.
1854: A map is drawn that shows the location of home sites to settle a legal dispute over the boundaries of town.
1858: The Cheraw Town Hall construction begins. Because of their contributions the Masons will use the upstairs and the gentlemen of the Lyceum will have the use of the little brick building on the Town Green.
1850’s: By the middle of the 19th century Cheraw is a prosperous town, a regional center of business, education, culture and religion. Cheraw has the largest cotton market between Georgetown and Wilmington, and the Merchants Bank is the largest bank in South Carolina outside of Charleston. War clouds, however, are on the horizon. A new corduroy plank road is built to Wadesboro.
1860: Chesterfield County is the first to call for session from the Union. South Carolina secedes. The resolution to secede is presented by Cheraw attorney John Inglis, Chairman of the Ordinance of Secession Committee. He will also serve as Chancellor of the state courts. He and Henry McIver have an office on Front Street that will be one of the very few commercial buildings to survive the war. The office will be moved to the Town Green in the 1940’s.
1861: Cheraw and South Carolina go to war. A company is raised here, and the town is flooded with refugees from the Sea Islands and the lower Pee Dee River.
1865, February: Gen. Hardee brings 10,000 Confederate troops to Cheraw. The Confederates will barely escape Gen. Sherman on March 3rd. They burn the river bridge as they retreat.
1865, March 3rd: Gen. William T. Sherman and 50,000 Union Army soldiers invade Cheraw. Cheraw will play reluctant host to more of his dreaded soldiers than any other place in South Carolina. Outlying plantations and summer homes are burned, but no in town dwellings or churches are destroyed. Valuables are stolen and there is much vandalism. The official headquarters is the Matheson House. Sherman himself stays on McIver Street. When they leave the town will be destitute, and without food for more than a day or two. Almost the entire business district is destroyed by an accidental Yankee explosion.
1865, April: The War ends. The whole South will be destitute for decades. The slaves are now free. The South, both black and white, will suffer through the Reconstruction period.
1867: The covered bridge is rebuilt.
Late 1860’s & 70’s: Former slaves begin worshipping at their own churches. Wesley United Methodist and Pee Dee Baptist are founded.
1878: Dr. Cornelius Kollock kills an Ivory Billed Woodpecker near Cheraw and presents it to the Charleston Museum. This appears to be the last of these now extinct woodpeckers, but in the 1990’s there are rumors of sightings in the Dismal Swamp in Virginia.
1881: Coulter Memorial Academy is founded to educate the freedmen. Second Presbyterian Church is also founded.
1884: There are two steam powered cotton gins, a saw mill and 30 stores. Capt. Bogan Cash is killed in a shoot out with a Camden posse after killing a Cheraw policeman. His father had killed a prominent Camden man, Col. Shannon, in a duel a few years before.
1886: The Charleston earthquake damages Cheraw buildings and causes great panic. Earthquake rods to strenghen weakened structures will still be in place at the turn of the next millennium.
1895: Cheraw has a population of 1,000. South Carolina has a new constitution. Cheravian Henry McIver is Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
1896: The Cheraw Chronicle is founded. A number of local newspapers preceded it.
1898: One of the old rail lines becomes part of the new Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
1899: It is said that the temperature drops to 9 degrees below zero, and the Pee Dee River freezes. Some Cheravians walk across the river on the ice.
1900-1920: Prosperity has finally returned. Many new brick businesses are built. Baseball is a major pastime for everyone, and there is horse racing at Carolina Park. Market Street becomes the main commercial area. Front Street and, even earlier, “Yankee Hill” on the river had played this role.
1900: Telephone service comes to Cheraw. 54 customers sign up by 1904.
1903: Electricity come to town. The Town Hall and Market Hall are wired for power.
By 1905: The timbering industry is sweeping the South. Cheraw Sash and Door Company (1907) becomes the first of a number of lumber mills in Cheraw. Other industries include a cottonseed oil mill and a new brick works.
1907: The first automobile is sighted in Cheraw.
1908: The Town Council removes the trees in the center of the streets to put in water and sewer lines. The loss of the trees brings on a big political fight. The ladies, who cannot vote, are furious. The Civic League manages to save the trees on Third Street and a few isolated spots. These trees will continue to add to the beauty of Cheraw. Cheravians will continue to love their trees, and Cheraw will become the first town in South Carolina to be named a “Tree City USA.”
1908: The old covered bridge goes down in a raging flood. The town will be cut off from the world for days. This flood of Aug. 26-30th will be the most extensive on record in South Carolina up until the year 2000.
1911: The “Big Blow” comes through town, felling trees and destroying Pee Dee Baptist Church.
1916: Cheraw gets its first fire truck.
1917: Famed Jazz King Dizzy Gillespie is born on Huger Street.
1918: Cheraw Cotton Mills (now Yarn Mills) is established. This is Cheraw’s first major industry.
1917-1918: Cheraw sends her sons to World War I. Five citizens are killed. The flu epidemic of 1918 comes to Cheraw; many people die.
1920: The 19th Amendment passes. Women will now be able to vote, too.
1920: The bottom drops out of cotton prices. The Lyric Theatre is built to show “moving pictures.” In the 1990’s it will be remodeled and name the “The Theater on the Green.”
1924: Market and Second Street are paved and 11 miles of concrete sidewalks laid.
1924: Cheraw High School on Huger Street is built at a cost of $46,000.
1925: The worst drought on record scorches South Carolina.
1926: BC Moore and Sons open their Cheraw store. At the beginning of the new millennium there will be 78 Moore’s stores across the southeast.
Late 1920’s: The new Cheraw Airport is built and named for Cheraw native Lynch Bellinger, famed aviation pioneer. It will be improved by the WPA in the 1930’s.
1928: Cheraw and South Carolina are already in a severe depression caused by falling cotton prices. All of Cheraw’s banks fail.
1929: The Stock Market crashes and the rest of the country falls into the Depression. The Cheraw Country Club Golf Course opens its first nine holes.
1931: US Highway #1 is completed in Cheraw. A grand celebration of this first national highway is held in Cheraw to mark the event. Cheraw has always been an important stop for travelers, and the highway brings new gas stations and motels to town.
1934: Citizens of Cheraw collect funds to purchase what will become South Caorlina’s first state park. Cheraw State Park will be constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps over the next few years. Worn out lands in the county will later be purchased to form Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and Sandhills State Forest.
1939: A new bridge is built over the Pee Dee River. The tugboat Helen makes what will be the last attempt to revive shipping on the river.
1940: Population: 4,497.
1941-1945: Cheraw is again called to send citizens to war. Wide scale maneuvers, the largest ever held up until then are conducted in the area in 1941. Sugar, coffee, leather, gas, etc. are rationed.
1945: The Cheraw Chamber of Commerce takes over promoting Cheraw after years of service by the “Board of Trade.”
1947-1954: Cheraw is Famous for its Camellia Shows.
1950: Delta #3 is the first national company to bring a plant to the area. This is a huge boost to Cheraw’s economy, and is the result of heavy recruitment by Cheraw and Marlboro County.
1951: Cheraw, Inc. is formed to help preserve the architectural legacy of the town. They will help design a number of buildings in the neo Colonial style over a several year period.
1954: Coulter becomes part of the public school system.
1954: A terrible drought is broken on Oct. 15th when Hurricane Hazel hits the coast. Hazel did extensive damage in Cheraw and other inland areas.
1950’s: Cheravian Tom Brewer plays for the Red Sox. A youth baseball league is organized in Cheraw.
1956: Chesterfield County Memorial Hospital is built in Cheraw. There was a law suit over its location in the county.
1960’s and 70’s: Cheraw invests in new water and sewer systems resulting in an expanded industrial base. A number of new manufacturing plants will be built. Foreign investment and Fortune 500 companies will come in, and new retail businesses begin moving out on SC 9.
1961: Chesterfield County gets its first public library as the result of a gift from the Matheson family. The previous libraries have been private. The old library, The Lyceum, becomes a local history museum.
1969: A terrible ice storm hits the area. Cheraw loses hundreds of trees, tremendous damage is done to county forests, and the town is without power and water for days.
1970: Chesterfield-Marlboro Technical College is founded. This school will greatly help the town to attract new industry.
1970’s: Cheraw Schools are integrated. For the first time black and white students attend school together. A new high school is built, and Long, named for one of the principals of Coulter, becomes the junior high school.
1973: The Beautification Commission is formed to protect Cheraw’s trees and streetscapes. A record breaking snowfall brings well over a foot of snow to Cheraw on Feb. 9 and 10.
1974: The core of Cheraw is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Approximately 188 buildings remain which pre-date 1930 in Cheraw, almost 50 of these predate 1860.
1975: Old St. David’s Church is restored to the period of 1826. It will come to be a favorite spot for weddings.
1976: Cheraw celebrates the Bicentennial of American Independence. Cheraw marks the occasion with the construction of Riverside Park on the site of the old steamboat landing and covered bridge. It had been used as the town dump.
1980’s: The Cheraw Community Center incorporates the old 1930’s armory and new wings into a building that will be highly used. The Town Hall and Market Hall are restored by the city, and the ACL 1916 freight depot is renovated for the Cheraw Police Department. A new fire department is constructed.
1989: Hurricane Hugo strikes the coast on Sept. 21st. The storm also did heavy damage in Cheraw and across South Carolina.
1990’s: The town of Cheraw works to revitalize downtown and begins work on streetscapes that include trees and period lighting. A new Elementary School is built and additions are made to the Primary School. Joint contributions by industry, citizens and the town make possible major civic improvements. Matheson Library moves to a new building on Huger Street. Arrow Head Park becomes a reality on State Road. The Theatre on the Green is restored and renovated for stage performances, and a new airport terminal is constructed. The state of South Carolina builds a championship golf course at Cheraw State Park.
Copyright Spruill 2000