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 Counties Map
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South Carolina Counties Map

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

South Carolina burned county courthouse
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The damage to courthouses greatly has a bearing on genealogists in every way.

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.

CountyDate FormedParent CountyCounty Seat
Abbeville1785Ninety-Six DistrictAbbeville
Aiken1871Barnwell, Edgefield, Lexington, and Orangeburg CountiesAiken
Allendale1919Barnwell and  Hampton CountiesAllendale
Anderson1826Pendleton DistrictAnderson
Bamberg1897Barnwell CountyBamberg
Barnwell1798Orangeburg CountyBarnwell
Beaufort17691769 Judicial DistrictBeaufort
Berkeley1882Charleston CountyMoncks Corner
Calhoun1908Lexington and  Orangeburg CountiesSt. Matthews
Charleston17691769 Judicial DistrictCharleston
Cherokee1897 Spartanburg, Union, and  York CountiesGaffney
Chester1785Camden DistrictChester
Chesterfield1798Cheraws DistrictChesterfield
Clarendon1855Sumter CountyManning
Colleton1800Charleston CountyWalterboro
Darlington1785Cheraws DistrictDarlington
Dillon1910 Marion CountyDillon
Dorchester1897Berkeley and  Colleton CountiesSt. George
Edgefield1785Ninety-Six DistrictEdgefield
Fairfield1785Camden DistrictWinnsboro
Florence1888 Clarendon, Darlington, Marion, and Williamsburg CountiesFlorence
Georgetown17691769 Judicial DistrictGeorgetown
Greenville1786Washington DistrictGreenville
Greenwood1897 Abbeville and  Edgefield CountiesGreenwood
Hampton1878Beaufort CountyHampton
Horry1801 Georgetown CountyConway
Jasper1912Beaufort and  Hampton CountiesRidgeland
Kershaw1798Claremont, Fairfield, Lancaster, and Richland CountiesCamden
Lancaster1798Camden DistrictLancaster
Laurens1785Ninety-Six DistrictLaurens
Lee1902 Darlington, Kershaw, and  Sumter CountiesBishopville
Lexington1804Orangeburg CountyLexington
Marion1800Georgetown CountyMarion
Marlboro1798Cheraws DistrictBennettsville
McCormick1916Abbeville, Edgefield, and  Greenwood CountiesMcCormick
Newberry1785Ninety-Six DistrictNewberry
Oconee1868Pickens CountyWalhalla
Orangeburg17691769 Judicial DistrictOrangeburg
Pickens1826Pendleton DistrictPickens
Richland1799Camden DistrictColumbia
Saluda1896Edgefield CountySaluda
Spartanburg1785Ninety-Six DistrictSpartanburg
Sumter1798Claremont, Clarendon, and  Salem CountiesSumter
Union1798Ninety-Six DistrictUnion
Williamsburg1802Georgetown DistrictKingstree
York1798Camden DistrictYork
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