The Catawba River enters central South Carolina, flows into Wateree Lake, and after passing through Wateree Dam in Kershaw County, becomes the Wateree River. Approximately seventy-five miles in length, the remote Wateree follows a meandering path south through the upper coastal plain past Camden and then into several swamps including Betty Neck Swamp, White Marsh Swamp, and Gum Swamp. Along the way it receives the tributary waters of nine creeks before terminating at its junction with the Congaree River. The Wateree marks a heavily traveled path that has played a significant role in the prehistory and history of South Carolina.
Several Native American settlements, including the Mississippian capital of Cofitachequi, existed in close proximity to the Wateree River over seven hundred years ago. Later, various settlements of Siouan Indians (including the Wateree tribe, for whom the river was named) thrived along its banks. The first European settlement along the Wateree was Camden, which soon became an interior trading center for wheat, tobacco, indigo, and later cotton. Interestingly, most travel through the area during the colonial years was along the ancient Catawba path–also called the King’s Highway–that ran parallel to the river. This was to change. By the early nineteenth century the backcountry planters needed the Wateree to transport cotton from inland plantations to market in Charleston. To improve communication and transportation links with the coast, the Wateree Canal was begun north of Camden in 1821. For several years cotton barges were common sights along the Wateree. With the coming of railroads in the 1850s, river transport became less important, and the Wateree resumed its traditional role of supplying food and water to residents along its banks.
Ernst, Joseph A., and H. Roy Merrens. “‘Camden’s Turrets Pierce the Skies!’: The Urban Process in the Southern Colonies during the Eighteenth Century.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 30 (October 1973): 549–74.
Kovacik, Charles F., and John J. Winberry. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape. 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.