Oak Trees Overhang Edisto River. South Caroliniana Library.

Edisto River

The Edisto River flows through sparsely populated and generally undeveloped forest and cypress-tupelo swamps, and has been nationally recognized for its scenic beauty and ecological value.

Rising in the coastal plain, the Edisto is one of the longest free-flowing black-water rivers in North America. The river takes its characteristic hue from the tannic acid created by the decomposition of leaves and branches. The Edisto River is formed by the joining of its north and south forks on the border of Orangeburg and Bamberg Counties and, along its course, provides the natural boundary between Dorchester and Colleton Counties. It divides into two tidewater estuarial channels, forming Edisto Island, before meeting the Atlantic Ocean in St. Helena Sound. The river flows for about 250 unobstructed river miles from its headwaters to the ocean. The Edisto is part of the ACE Basin, a coastal river system that includes the Ashepoo and the Combahee and drains about twenty percent of the state.

Pottery recovered near the Edisto suggests that Native Americans lived by the river over three thousand years ago. When Europeans and Africans first entered the area, they found that it was home to the Kussos, a Native American tribe. The Kussos were joined by a splinter group of Natchez Indians in the early 1700s, and the two formed a single tribe that would eventually take the name Edisto after the river that flowed through their territory. Descendants of both the Kusso-Natchez Indians and African slaves still call the area of the Edisto River Basin their home.

By the late eighteenth century, rice plantations in tidally affected reaches of the Edisto began implementing tidewater rice culture. Thousands of slaves labored to clear fields and build dams, sluices, and gates. The lengthy Edisto was also used to transport upland cotton and timber to the coast in the antebellum years before the railroads superseded rivers as avenues of commerce.

The Edisto River flows through sparsely populated and generally undeveloped forest and cypress-tupelo swamps, and has been nationally recognized for its scenic beauty and ecological value. The unique character of the river has been preserved through ongoing conservation efforts.

Kovacik, Charles F., and John J. Winberry. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape. 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

Marshall, William D., ed. Assessing Change in the Edisto River Basin: An Ecological Characterization. Columbia: South Carolina Water Resources Commission, 1993.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Edisto River
  • Author
  • Keywords one of the longest free-flowing black-water rivers in North America, tannic acid, part of the ACE Basin, Kussos, Natchez Indians, Edisto, tidewater rice culture, ongoing conservation efforts
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 29, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update September 26, 2016
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