In 1900 the county produced 65,000 bales of cotton on 118,000 acres of land, and in 1918 Orangeburg was the nation’s second ranking county in cotton production. However, shared attachment to cotton production did not create unity among blacks and whites.
(1,106 sq. miles; 2020 pop. 85,343). Created by the Circuit Court Act of 1769, Orangeburg District initially stretched south from Edgefield and Newberry to Beaufort, and between the Congaree and Savannah Rivers. European settlement began in 1735, when some two hundred German Lutherans migrated from Switzerland and established a village on the north fork of the Edisto River, which they named “Orangeburgh” in honor of William IV, Prince of Orange. Over the next three decades these German-Swiss were joined by English, Scots-Irish, and French settlers, as well as a small number of African slaves. These new arrivals suffered through the violent disruptions of the Cherokee War and Regulator movement in the 1760s. The Revolutionary War bitterly divided the district population, with many Orangeburg Germans siding with the British. Opposing military forces swept back and forth across Orangeburg District in a series of clashes in 1781, which included the botched American victory on September 5 at Eutaw Springs.
In the ensuing decades, the boundaries of Orangeburg District shrank while its plantation economy expanded. Portions of Orangeburg went to create the counties of Barnwell (1800), Lexington (1804), Aiken (1871), Bamberg (1897), and Calhoun (1908). The district’s economy grew rapidly in the nineteenth century as cotton and slavery profoundly altered society and culture. In 1790 the district had 12,412 white people, 5,931 slaves, and 170 free people of color. By 1860 the white population had declined to 8,108 while the number of slaves nearly tripled to 16,583, and the free black population was 205. In 1860 there were 1,069 slaveowners in the district, thirty-three of which held over 100 slaves. Orangeburg’s farms and plantations produced sixteen thousand bales of cotton in 1860, as well as sizable quantities of corn, wheat, oats, rice, sweet potatoes, and wool. In addition, the district contained two carriage factories and several lumber mills, especially along the timber-rich Edisto River. Orangeburg District was also a prominent link in the state’s transportation system. The Congaree, Santee, and Edisto Rivers were important navigable waterways, while the State Road between Charleston and Columbia ran through St. Matthews, Cameron, and Holly Hill. In 1833 part of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company’s railroad crossed the southern part of Orangeburg. With the construction of a branch line to Columbia, the world’s first railroad junction was created at Branchville in 1840.
Religion loomed larger in the lives of most antebellum residents than did public education. There were seventy-one Protestant congregations including forty Methodist, twenty-one Baptist, six Lutheran, three Episcopalian, and one Presbyterian. The Methodists periodically licensed black men to preach. However, there were no public schools in the district during the antebellum era, nor was there a newspaper until the Edisto Clarion began publication in 1854. The commitment to cotton and slavery inspired a fierce defense of states’ rights. With the firing on Fort Sumter, white men from Orangeburg rallied to the Confederate cause. The Edisto Rifles served with the First South Carolina Regiment and absorbed terrible losses before the conflict ended. In early 1865 General William T. Sherman’s Union army cut a path of destruction through the district. With emancipation, former slaves formed schools, churches, and small businesses. During Reconstruction, at least twelve African Americans represented the county in the General Assembly. Marshall Jones, a Democrat who served from 1886 to 1887, was the last black legislator from Orangeburg until the election of Earl Middleton and John Matthews in 1974.
At the turn of the century, cotton remained the economic mainstay. In 1900 the county produced 65,000 bales of cotton on 118,000 acres of land, and in 1918 Orangeburg was the nation’s second ranking county in cotton production. However, shared attachment to cotton production did not create unity among blacks and whites. Dissatisfied black cotton pickers struck unsuccessfully for higher wages in 1891. Violence against African Americans was common. Seven black people were lynched between 1897 and 1914, including one woman. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized residents during the 1920s.
Railroad service expanded during the early twentieth century. The Atlantic Coast Line and the Seaboard Airline Railway provided much of the freight and passenger service in Orangeburg. Short line railroads provided service to smaller towns, such as the B&B Railroad that ran from Bowman to Branchville and the Creston-Four Holes Railway that served Elloree, Milligan, Vance, Eutawville, and Holly Hill. The boll weevil and the Great Depression forced the decline of Orangeburg’s devotion to cotton. Corn, soybeans, poultry, hogs, and dairy farming gradually claimed many former cotton fields. Many residents, especially African Americans, abandoned the land and migrated to towns or moved north. The Depression brought extreme privation. Only three of the county’s banks survived the decade. New Deal programs alleviated some of the misery by bringing sidewalks to Elloree; schools to Canaan, North, and Vance; and a Tri-County hospital to Orangeburg. World War II saw the construction of an air base at North and a pilot training facility near Orangeburg that prepared more than four thousand American and sixteen hundred French aviators. Tourism increased after the war, and U.S. Highway 301 became the principal route between New York and Florida until the completion of Interstate 95 in 1977.
Education underwent difficult advances in the latter half of the twentieth century. Though black parents in Elloree and Orangeburg had petitioned for integration as early as 1955, schools were not effectively desegregated until the 1971–1972 school year. In the meantime several all-white private academies had been created. By the 1990s there was a unified school system with three consolidated districts. Though agriculture remained vital to the county’s economy (the value of Orangeburg’s agricultural production ranked second among South Carolina counties in 1999), industry assumed an increasingly larger role. By the end of the century, Orangeburg County manufacturers produced chemicals, bearings, wire and cable, diesel pistons, brake pads, lawn mowers, and wood products.
Industrial growth was helped by the founding of the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical Education Center in 1969.
Ackerman, Hugo S. A Brief History of Orangeburg. Columbia, S.C.: Home Federal Savings and Loan Association, [1970?].
Culler, Daniel Marchant. Orangeburgh District 1768–1868: History and Records. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1995.
Reflections in Time. Orangeburg, S.C.: Times and Democrat, 1999.
Salley, Alexander S. The History of Orangeburg County, South Carolina from Its First Settlement to the Close of the Revolutionary War. 1898. Reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing, 1969.