(393 sq. miles; 2010 pop. 15,987). Bamberg County, located in the inner coastal plain in south-central South Carolina, was formed from the southeastern section of Barnwell County in 1897. It is named for Francis Marion Bamberg (1838–1905), the grandson of John Bamberg, who arrived in the area in 1798 and was thought to have originally come from Bavaria before stopping in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War period.
The Bamberg area was originally populated by the Edisto tribe of the Muskhogean Indians. German, Swiss, Scots-Irish, English, and Huguenot settlers began arriving during the mid-eighteenth century. The 136-mile South Carolina Railroad, completed in 1833, passed through the area, and a railroad water tank marked the beginning of the town of Bamberg, which would become the county seat. During the Civil War, the combatants included the Bamberg Guards, commanded by Captain Isaac S. Bamberg. The namesake for the county, Francis M. Bamberg, enlisted as a private and after the war was appointed a general on Governor Wade Hampton’s staff. In February 1865 Confederate soldiers lost a skirmish to General William T. Sherman’s troops at Rivers Bridge, near a site that became Rivers Bridge State Park.
The first newspaper, the Chronicle, was established in 1880. Two years later a bridge was built across the Edisto River to attract trade from Orangeburg County. The site was near a later bridge on U.S. Highway 301. By the 1890s cotton fed the region’s economy, aided by such enterprises as the Bamberg Cotton Mill and later the Bamberg Cotton Oil Mill. Carlisle Fitting School, founded in 1892 at Bamberg as a branch of Wofford College, became a prep school for boys. It closed in 1977.
On January 19, 1897, voters approved the creation of Bamberg County. By year’s end, a courthouse and county jail had been built at the town of Bamberg. The nearby town of Denmark was another important urban center in the new county.
During World War I twenty Bamberg County citizens were killed, while the influenza epidemic at home claimed several prominent residents. The county produced 35,000 bales of cotton in 1918, but after the boll weevil appeared in 1921, production fell to 4,000 bales. Many farmers turned to dairying and tobacco growing, although tobacco prices also fell. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, thirteen county banks closed and Bamberg was one of twenty-seven South Carolina counties with an unemployment rate of more than thirty percent. In a nationally hailed experiment in 1927 to control mosquito larvae, Howell’s Old Mill was sprayed with Paris green. During World War II the county again lost twenty servicemen. A prisoner-of-war camp was located at Rhoad Park in Bamberg.
The economy recovered somewhat after the war. Many residents were employed at the nearby Savannah River atomic energy plant and at related industries. A county hospital was completed at Bamberg in 1952. The location of U.S. Highway 301 through the county, including the town of Bamberg, boosted the economy. A radio station began operations in 1957.
The 1900 census, the county’s first, showed 17,296 residents. After an increase in 1920, the county’s population has generally declined ever since. The population loss and federally mandated changes in legislative districting in 1974 eroded the rural county’s once significant political influence. Court rulings and federal legislation shifted political power toward black voters, who outnumbered whites by a margin of just under two to one by 2000. In 1978 Rufus Grigsby and W. H. Nimmons became the first African Americans elected to Bamberg County Council. The Democrats, with a strong African American base, have maintained predominance in the county, which has never voted for a Republican presidential candidate.
Early in the twenty-first century, despite a declining agricultural economy, Bamberg County remained a heavy producer of corn, soy-beans, wheat, cotton, and sorghum. Nonagricultural interests were hurt by the diversion of traffic from U.S. Highway 301 to new interstate routes. The area has sought to capitalize on recreation and tourism opportunities through the South Carolina Heritage Corridor project. The county’s publicized sites include Rivers Bridge State Park, Best Friend Rail Trail, the Denmark railroad depot and train museum, Broxton Bridge plantation, a hunting preserve, the author William Gilmore Simms’s plantation home, and various fishing spots. The county has an airport with a three-thousand-foot runway. Located in the Denmark area are Voorhees Junior College, a predominantly black Episcopal institution, and Denmark Technical College. Major towns include Bamberg with a 2000 population of 3,733, Denmark with 3,328, and Ehrhardt with 614.
Bamberg County Committee, Inc. Bamberg County Celebrating South Carolina’s Tricentennial, 1670–1970. [Bamberg, S.C.], 1970.
Lawrence, Margaret Spann. History of Bamberg County, South Carolina, Commemorating One Hundred Years (1897–1997). Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 2003.