Drovers

ca. 1800–1880

Drovers contributed to the prosperity of the districts through which they passed, as taverns, stations, and farms provided feed, pens, and accommodations.

From around 1800 until the 1880s, livestock from Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina were driven through Greenville County to the seaport of Charleston, destined for northern markets in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York or south to Florida and the West Indies. These drives were made possible by the completion of a road from Greenville County across the mountains and into Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late 1790s. Herds consisted primarily of cattle or hogs but also included sheep, mules, horses, and turkeys.

There were some standardized practices in being a drover. A typical cattle drive consisted of 100 to 120 head of cattle attended by three drovers: one on horseback and two on foot. Drovers became expert whip-crackers, and the term “crackers” may have derived from the long whips they used. Turkeys were driven in flocks of 400 to 600, which roosted in trees at night and were guided during the day by whips with strips of red flannel attached.

Drovers contributed to the prosperity of the districts through which they passed, as taverns, stations, and farms provided feed, pens, and accommodations. Expenses for a drive of 100 cattle from Kentucky were about $1,500. Hogs were driven about eight miles daily. One thousand swine consumed about twenty-four bushels of corn a day, which had to be purchased along the route. There were reported instances of drives consisting of 5,000 head, and some stations boasted of handling more than 150,000 head in a year. Taverns and campsites appeared along the drive route, with some gradually developing into significant settlements, such as the town of Travelers Rest.

The expansion of railroads into the upcountry and across the mountains, coupled with the gradual decline of open-range grazing, led to the demise of the droving trade. It had largely disappeared from South Carolina by the mid-1880s.

Batson, Mann. Early Travel and Accommodations along the Roads of the Upper Part of Greenville County, South Carolina and Surrounding Areas. Travelers Rest, S.C., 1995.

Gray, Lewis C. History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1933.

Huff, Archie Vernon, Jr. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

Parr, Elizabeth L. “Kentucky’s Overland Trade with the Ante-Bellum South.” Filson Club History Quarterly 2 (January 1928): 71–81.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Drovers
  • Coverage ca. 1800–1880
  • Author
  • Keywords driving livestock, became expert whip-crackers, and the term “crackers” may have derived from the long whips they used, Travelers Rest, expansion of railroads, gradual decline of open-range grazing,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 30, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update September 15, 2016
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