The seat of Williamsburg County, Kingstree was founded at the site of a large white pine tree on the east bank of Black River, where an early explorer chopped an arrow, marking it as the “King’s Tree.”
(Williamsburg County; 2020 pop. 2,989). The seat of Williamsburg County, Kingstree was founded at the site of a large white pine tree on the east bank of Black River, where an early explorer chopped an arrow, marking it as the “King’s Tree.” This became the center of Williamsburg Township, one of the townships proposed in the 1730s by Governor Robert Johnson to promote interior settlement and protect the coastal settlers. Forty Scots-Irish settled the township in 1732 and formed Williamsburg Presbyterian Church in 1736. Two years later the church obtained a site for a meetinghouse, which became the township’s largest building until the Revolutionary War. The site was resurveyed in 1788, when only five buildings, all smaller than twenty by twenty feet, stood in the town of Williamsburg, which later became Kingstree.
With the establishment of Williamsburg District in 1804, Kingstree became the district seat of justice. The first court was held in 1806, and in 1810 Kingstree got a post office. In 1823 the South Carolina architect Robert Mills designed “a handsome brick courthouse” for the district. Kingstree grew slowly during the early antebellum period. Although the village contained a handful of stores, most of the trade of Williamsburg District was conducted in Georgetown or Charleston. Kingstree’s swampy location made malaria endemic, which hindered its early development. The town received a boost, however, with the arrival of the Northeastern Railway from Charleston in 1856.
The village of Kingstree was incorporated in 1866. The draining of bordering marshlands in 1885 greatly reduced the mosquito population and encouraged town development. In 1885 R. C. Logan, who had founded the county’s first newspaper, the Kingstree Star, in 1856, established the County Record. The courthouse was enlarged in 1901 and a sturdy fence erected to provide a park and keep horses and cattle from the square. The Bank of Kingstree opened on September 1, 1901, with a capital stock of $15,000. In 1910 a waterworks and sewage system was installed. Several miles of road were paved with asphalt in 1922.
The first two tobacco sales warehouses were operating in Kingstree by 1909, and Kingstree soon became a major tobacco market. After World War II, tobacco production increased until the 1980s, when production went into a period of steady decline. Several industries, including textile and garment companies, moved in and helped revive the economy. One of the state’s largest cotton-ginning operations was located in Kingstree at this time.
After slow initial growth, Kingstree had a population of 2,842 people in 1890, increasing to 3,621 by 1950. One showplace located among Kingstree’s many live oaks is Thorntree, home of James Witherspoon (1700–1768). As part of a restoration project, the 1749 structure was moved into the city for police and fire protection. The geneticist Joseph L. Goldstein, the 1985 Nobel laureate in medicine, grew up in Kingstree.
Boddie, William Willis. History of Williamsburg. 1923. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1980.