The Waccamaw River, named for the Waccamaw nation of Native Americans, begins at Lake Waccamaw in North Carolina. The river runs parallel to the coast through Horry and Georgetown Counties, never straying more than fifteen miles from the Atlantic Ocean. In Horry County the river runs through the county seat of Conway. The river is navigable from Georgetown to Conway, but its upper reaches become shallow and swampy.

The Waccamaw became the focus of a boundary dispute between South Carolina and North Carolina in 1729. In that year British officials declared that the river was to delimit part of the boundary line between the two colonies. Since officials were unfamiliar with the Waccamaw’s course, however, the instructions proved ambiguous. The dispute was resolved in 1735, with South Carolina retaining Waccamaw Neck and what later became known as the Grand Strand.

From its mouth at Winyah Bay to the end of its tidal influence, the Waccamaw River once boasted the most successful rice plantations in South Carolina, which used the twice-daily tides to perfect tidal rice culture in the late eighteenth century. Rice remained king of the Waccamaw until early in the twentieth century.

Only two towns besides Conway ever bordered on the Waccamaw: Bucksport and Bucksville, both founded by Maine lumberman Henry Buck. Buck migrated to the Waccamaw in the 1830s and established sawmills around which these communities grew. After the Civil War his sons attempted a shipbuilding venture, and they turned out the only clipper ship built in South Carolina, the Henrietta, in 1875. The Buck ventures ultimately failed. Today the river is used for recreation and as part of the Intracoastal Waterway. Some former rice plantations, such as those making up Bernard Baruch’s Hobcaw Barony, remain intact as nature preserves. A few, such as Brookgreen, have been transformed into tourist sites, while most have followed the pattern of Willbrook and Wachesaw and been developed for luxury housing and golf courses.

Burroughs, Franklin. The River Home: A Return to the Carolina Low Country. 1992. Reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

Linder, Suzanne Cameron, and Marta Leslie Thacker. Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of Georgetown County and the Santee River. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History for the Historic Ricefields Association, 2001.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Waccamaw River
  • Author James H. Tuten
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 8, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date July 7, 2016
  • Date of Last Update July 21, 2016