As was the case with other coastal plain districts, the antebellum Clarendon economy revolved around slavery and cotton.
(607 sq. miles; 2020 pop. 33,415). The first Clarendon County was created in 1785 but was combined with Claremont and Salem Counties to form Sumter District in 1800. In 1855 the legislature established Clarendon District from the southern half of Sumter, which became Clarendon County once again following a new state constitution in 1868. The county was named in honor of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, one of the original eight Lords Proprietors. Located in east-central South Carolina, modern Clarendon County is bordered on three sides by Sumter, Florence, and Williamsburg Counties, while the Santee River, in the form of Lake Marion, forms Clarendon’s southern boundary. The county seat is Manning, named for the distinguished Manning family.
The first Europeans arrived in the mid–eighteenth century and consisted of Scots-Irish Protestants and French Huguenots. During the Revolutionary War the area witnessed several battles. At Nelson’s Ferry in August 1780, General Francis Marion freed 150 American prisoners, while killing or capturing twenty-six British. The following February, Marion engaged the enemy at Halfway Swamp and again forced a British retreat. General Thomas Sumter attacked Fort Watson at Wright’s Bluff in the same month but was defeated. Soon after, an outnumbered Marion successfully attacked the British at Wyboo Swamp and forced a British surrender at the second battle at Fort Watson, in April 1781.
As was the case with other coastal plain districts, the antebellum Clarendon economy revolved around slavery and cotton. The area’s gently sloping hills and loamy soil proved well suited to cotton production and established the economic foundation for two of South Carolina’s wealthiest and most influential families, the Richardsons and the Mannings. Five family members from Clarendon served as governor: James Burchell Richardson (1802–1804); Richard Irving Manning (1824–1826); John Peter Richardson II (1840–1842); John Laurence Manning (1852–1854); and John Peter Richardson III (1886–1890). A third member of the Manning family, Richard I. Manning of neighboring Sumter County, served as governor from 1915 to 1919. Altogether, the Richardson-Manning family pro- duced more South Carolina governors than any other.
During the Civil War, Clarendon District supplied three companies to the Confederate cause. Colonel Richard I. Manning recruited and equipped, at his own expense, the Manning Guards in April 1861. That same year Colonel H. L. Benbow took command of Clarendon’s largest company, the Sprott Guards. A third collection of volunteers formed what came to be known as Keels’ Company. Union forces under the command of General Edward E. Potter marched into Manning on April 8, 1865, and virtually destroyed the town, including the courthouse and jail. In a special edition of the local newspaper, printed and renamed Banner of Freedom on April 10, 1865, Potter exhorted town residents to “calmly consider the necessities of their present condition . . . you have been overpowered by numbers and are a conquered people today.”
Agriculture continued to dominate the Clarendon economy following the war, with cotton and corn remaining the primary crops until the turn of the century. In the late 1890s R. D. Cothran introduced tobacco and became a vocal proponent for cultivating the crop. In the early twentieth century, Clarendon’s economy expanded into agricultural processing as well as farming. By 1927 the county was home to three canneries, two tobacco warehouses, several lumber and planing mills, cotton gins, a fertilizer factory, an oil stove factory, an ice factory, and a printing plant.
In the twentieth century Clarendon County became the starting point for one of the landmark events of the American civil rights movement. In 1950 a group of African American parents from Clarendon County, led by the Reverend Joseph A. DeLaine, filed suit in a federal district court to force South Carolina to provide equal state funding for the education of their children. The legendary civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall argued the case, known as Briggs v. Elliot, in Charleston. The Briggs case formed part of the larger Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down racial segregation in the public schools.
Clarendon natives who have found their way into the state and national spotlight include the following: the tennis legend Althea Gibson of Silver, who became the first African American woman to play at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and the first to win singles titles in each; the artist Anne Worsham Richardson of Turbeville, nationally recognized for her wildlife drawings; and the horticulturist James Mack Fleming of Alcolu, who co-owns the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea farm in the United States.
At century’s end, two-fifths of Clarendon County was forest and one-third was dedicated to farming. Traditional agricultural products continued to predominate, including tobacco, cotton, corn, and soybeans. More recent additions include cucumbers and other vegetables. Residents not involved in tilling the soil could find employment in the timber industry or in the manufacture of auto bearings, textiles, and stainless steel transport tankers. The county is rich in natural resources and recreational facilities. Lake Marion, 95 square miles of water and 450 miles of shoreline created in 1942, provides ample opportunity for fishing, golfing, hunting, boating, swimming, camping, and hiking. The area is rated one of the top fishing spots in the nation for crappie, bass, bream, catfish, and striped bass. In 1941 the Santee National Wildlife Refuge was created to maintain the natural habitat of wildlife that was destroyed during construction of the Santee Cooper hydroelectric and navigation projects. Indeed, “Santee-Cooper Country,” as it is commonly called, is more widely known for its recreational value than for the electric power that Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie were built to provide. Locals and visitors alike enjoy Woods Bay State Park, a 1,541-acre nature preserve established in 1973. With economic potential, abundant natural resources, and a rich history, Clarendon County entered the twenty-first century full of promise.
Clarendon Cameos. Manning, S.C.: Clarendon County Historical Society, 1976.
Hornsby, Benjamin F. Stepping Stone to the Supreme Court: Clarendon County, South Carolina. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1992.
Orvin, Virginia Kirkland Galluchat. History of Clarendon County, 1700 to 1961. N.p., 1961.