(656 sq. miles; 2010 pop. 24,777). Jasper County was formed by an act of the legislature on January 30, 1912, from parts of Beaufort and Hampton Counties, an area which contained much of the old lowcountry parishes of St. Peter’s and St. Luke’s. The southernmost county in the state, Jasper is bound by the Savannah River on the southwest, Hampton County on the north, and Beaufort County on the east. Initially inhabitants wished to name the new county Heyward, in honor of Thomas Heyward, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence who resided in the area. But the effort failed, and the name Jasper was assigned, honoring Revolutionary War hero Sergeant William Jasper. Ridgeland is the county seat.
English and Scots settlers arrived in the region in the late 1600s, where they withstood Spanish attacks and the Yamassee War of 1715 to prevail and lay the foundation for future settlement. In the 1730s, an expedition of Swiss Protestants, led by Jean Pierre Purry, settled on a land grant on the Savannah River (about two miles northwest of the modern town of Hardeeville), which was dubbed Purrysburg. The unhealthy and inconvenient location failed to divert trade away from Charleston or Savannah, however, and the population migrated to other parts of South Carolina and Georgia. Descendants of earlier Scots settlers returned to the area in the mid-1700s, where they established the Euhaw Baptist Church, the first church in the county and one of the earliest Baptist churches in the South. Although Purrysburg was the only eighteenth-century town of note in the Jasper vicinity, future towns traced their origins to the colonial era as well, including Robertville, Coosawhatchie, and Grahamville.
By the 1750s, rice and indigo became the cash crop of choice among the residents of St. Peter’s Parish. Although indigo disappeared after the Revolutionary War, rice remained the foundation of the area’s agricultural wealth through the nineteenth century. By the end of the antebellum era, St. Peter’s Parish was the second most productive rice-growing region of South Carolina. None of this could have happened without the importation of thousands of African slaves, who quickly became a large majority. Old church records indicate that slaves may have outnumbered whites in the region by as much as ten to one before the Civil War.
The future county was the site of considerable military action during the Civil War. Union forces arrived in Beaufort District in November 1861. Over the next several years, they made several unsuccessful incursions into the Jasper region in an effort to cut the railroad line between Charleston and Savannah. In one of the largest of these attempts, in November 1864, a force of 1,400 South Carolina and Georgia Confederates defeated a Union force of about 5,500 in the battle at Honey Hill (about two miles east of Grahamville). In February 1865 the army of William T. Sherman crossed the Savannah River into Jasper County and destroyed entire towns and villages, leaving intact only a few scattered outbuildings, two or three churches, and the former home of Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Soon after the war, the Jasper area was again “invaded” by northerners, this time in the form of industrialists buying up lands as investments and for recreation. Beginning in the 1870s, large private hunting preserves, such as the Pineland Club and Okeetee Club, were organized to provide sport and recreation to well-heeled northern members. By the early twentieth century, timber firms such as the Export Lumber Company of Boston and the Argent Lumber Company had acquired large tracts in the Jasper County region. Much of modern Jasper County remained in the hands of timber interests and affluent northern families, although wealthy southerners recently repurchased a good portion. By the end of the twentieth century, many out-of-state hunt clubs leased these lands for the long deer season and excellent hunting throughout the county, which continued to boost the Jasper economy.
Although not located in Jasper County, the development of Hilton Head Island provided employment opportunities for county residents. Sea Island resort development eventually spilled into the county and new arrivals, including many Hispanics, moved in to take advantage of these new jobs. Interstate 95, which opened in the 1970s, also proved to be a boon to the Jasper economy, with businesses springing up near highway interchanges at Hardeeville, Ridgeland, Coosawhatchie, and Pocataligo. New industries came, as did a third wave of northern “invaders” looking for the ideal place to retire. As a result of this late-twentieth-century growth, land values in parts of Jasper County skyrocketed, with owners of waterfront property finding themselves atop gold mines. During the same period, Jasper lost two railroads and all of its sawmills. Most farm acreage was devoted to pulpwood. However, the overall standard of living increased and Jasper boosters believed their county was truly on the move.
Notable residents have included Daniel Heyward, an eighteenth-century entrepreneur; his son Thomas Heyward, Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence; General Henry Martyn Robert, author of Robert’s Rules of Order; Mary Ellis, the first female elected to the South Carolina Senate; Air Force General Jacob Edward Smart, the second South Carolina native to achieve four stars; and Air Force General Lloyd Newton, the first African American from South Carolina to receive his fourth star and a former member of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds flying team.
Harvey, Bruce G. An Architectural and Historical Survey of Jasper County, South Carolina. Atlanta: Brockington and Associates, 1996.
Malphrus, Wofford E. A History of Euhaw Baptist Church, 1686–1995. N.p., 1995.
Perry, Grace Fox. The Moving Finger of Jasper. [Ridgeland, S.C.: n.p., 1962]. Rowland, Lawrence S. “‘Alone on the River:’ The Rise and Fall of the Savannah River Rice Plantations of St. Peter’s Parish, South Carolina.” South
Carolina Historical Magazine 88 (April 1987): 121–50. Trinkley, Michael, and Debi Hacker. Preliminary Archaeological and Historical Investigations at Old House Plantation, Jasper County, South Carolina.
Columbia, S.C.: Chicora Foundation, 1996.