South Carolina Counties and Historical Facts
South Carolina County records vary widely from county to county in both quality and quantity. Some have been carefully preserved while others have been much abused and neglected. Some South Carolina records have simply disappeared.
For genealogists doing research in South Carolina there is no effective replace for an on-site search of county courthouse records.
South Carolina County Records
In the colonial period, the land around the coast was divided into parishes corresponding to the parishes of the Church of England. There were also several counties that had judicial and electoral functions.
As people settled the backcountry, judicial districts and additional counties were formed. This structure continued and grew after the Revolutionary War.
In 1800, all counties were renamed as districts. In 1868, the districts were converted back to counties.
Generally, county officers in South Carolina didn’t have much power. The state legislature more or less governed each county.
However, the Home Rule Act of 1975 changed that system. There are four possible types of government that can be used in each county, since that act was passed.
There may be just a county council, there may be a county council that is supervised by a county supervisor, the other options are a county council that elects either a county council manager or a county council administrator.
Successful research in South Carolina requires an understanding of the unique and complex development of its local government and jurisdictions. Unlike the other twelve British colonies, South Carolina did not form counties or towns during the colonial period.
Dates and Records in the following county pages are quoted from South Carolina Department of Archives and History, A Guide to Local Government Records in the South Carolina Archives.
It is vital that researchers have a complete understanding of South Carolina judicial developments, since they are quite unique.
For example, South Carolina is the only one of the original 13 colonies that did not have towns and counties in colonial times.
See also a list of links to county and county seat government run websites.
List of South Carolina Extinct Counties
South Carolina has counties that no longer exist because they were discontinued, renamed or merged with another county.
A lot of these counties were established and disbanded within the 19th century; county borders have changed very little since 1900.
These are important for genealogy research purposes. Pay attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was eliminated or joined with some other county.
See the History of South Carolina Counties for more details.
South Carolina County and District Formations
Counties were established in the colonial period primarily for locating land grants, with most other governmental activities being centralized in Charleston.
The growth of the backcountry led to the establishment of judicial districts throughout the colony, but low country areas continued to be identified primarily by their Anglican parish names.
Following the Revolution, both district and county courts were established, but in 1800 most of the counties became districts.
Finally, in 1868 all of the existing districts were renamed counties. New counties continued to be formed until the early part of the 20th century, with the most recent being Allendale in 1919.
See the History of South Carolina Counties for more details.
List of South Carolina Counties with Burned Courthouses
Not only are these historic structures torn from our lifetimes, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others.
Once destroyed they’re lost forever. Although they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn too.
However, not all records were damaged or lost in some counties.
- Abbeville County Courthouse – Fires in January and November of 1872 and January 1873 destroyed virtually all records except those of the probate and equity courts.
- Allendale County Courthouse – The original Courthouse was burned May, 1998. Reconstruction and renovations of the Courthouse began in August, 2002.
- Chesterfield County Courthouse – Records were evacuated to Columbia in February 1865, where fire destroyed them. Deed books have suffered heavy losses.
- Clarendon County Courthouse – Loose probate papers were destroyed at an undetermined date; they begin in 1875. A fire also consumed the records of Clarendon County in the 1801 Sumter County Courthouse Fire.
- Colleton County Courthouse – Records were evacuated to Columbia in February 1865, where fire destroyed them. Deed books have suffered heavy losses. Virtually no pre-1865 records survived.
- Darlington County Courthouse – A courthouse fire on 19 March 1806, destroyed most of Darlington’s records with the exception of early probate files; this fire also destroyed the early records of Cheraw judicial district. The negligence of a local district ordinary also resulted in the subsequent destruction of a portion of loose probate papers
- Georgetown County Courthouse – In 1862, Georgetown’s records were sent to Chesterfield courthouse for safekeeping. Union troops destroyed them there in March 1865
- Horry County Courthouse – Federal troops vandalized courthouse offices in 1865; many loose papers and volumes of the clerk of court were destroyed. The the commissioner of equity files were destroyed. At some later date, pre-1887 General Sessions Indictments were lost as well.
- Lancaster County Courthouse – Although marauding federal soldiers attempted to fire the courthouse, many records were saved; loose equity papers, however, seem to have perished. Moreover, most of Lancaster’s probate records were destroyed when Union cavalry intercepted in open country local officials who were attempting to remove the records to safety.
- Lexington County Courthouse – In February 1865, advancing federal troops destroyed pre-1839 records of the clerk of court; the destruction included deeds and virtually all probate records
- Orangeburg County Courthouse – Public records were removed to Columbia early in 1865; on 17 February 1865, they were burned there during Sherman’s occupation.
- Richland County Courthouse – A fire during the federal occupation of Columbia in February 1865 destroyed the courthouse and most of the records in it. Most of the equity and probate records, however, had been safely removed. Records fragmented. Records of Columbia Equity Circuit District are housed in Richland County.
- Sumter County Courthouse – suffered a major loss of probate records and deeds, on 27 November 1801, when fire destroyed the residence of Sumter District Clerk of Court John Horan, in Stateburg. This fire also consumed the records of Clarendon, Claremont, and Salem counties.
|County||Date Formed||Parent County||County Seat|
|Aiken||1871||Barnwell, Edgefield, Lexington, and Orangeburg Counties||Aiken|
|Allendale||1919||Barnwell and Hampton Counties||Allendale|
|Beaufort||1769||1769 Judicial District||Beaufort|
|Berkeley||1882||Charleston County||Moncks Corner|
|Calhoun||1908||Lexington and Orangeburg Counties||St. Matthews|
|Charleston||1769||1769 Judicial District||Charleston|
|Cherokee||1897||Spartanburg, Union, and York Counties||Gaffney|
|Dorchester||1897||Berkeley and Colleton Counties||St. George|
|Florence||1888||Clarendon, Darlington, Marion, and Williamsburg Counties||Florence|
|Georgetown||1769||1769 Judicial District||Georgetown|
|Greenwood||1897||Abbeville and Edgefield Counties||Greenwood|
|Jasper||1912||Beaufort and Hampton Counties||Ridgeland|
|Kershaw||1798||Claremont, Fairfield, Lancaster, and Richland Counties||Camden|
|Lee||1902||Darlington, Kershaw, and Sumter Counties||Bishopville|
|McCormick||1916||Abbeville, Edgefield, and Greenwood Counties||McCormick|
|Orangeburg||1769||1769 Judicial District||Orangeburg|
|Sumter||1798||Claremont, Clarendon, and Salem Counties||Sumter|