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.

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Abbeville 1785 Ninety-Six District Abbeville
Aiken 1871 Barnwell, Edgefield, Lexington, and Orangeburg Counties Aiken
Allendale 1919 Barnwell and  Hampton Counties Allendale
Anderson 1826 Pendleton District Anderson
Bamberg 1897 Barnwell County Bamberg
Barnwell 1798 Orangeburg County Barnwell
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
Chester 1785 Camden District Chester
Chesterfield 1798 Cheraws District Chesterfield
Clarendon 1855 Sumter County Manning
Colleton 1800 Charleston County Walterboro
Darlington 1785 Cheraws District Darlington
Dillon 1910 Marion County Dillon
Dorchester 1897 Berkeley and  Colleton Counties St. George
Edgefield 1785 Ninety-Six District Edgefield
Fairfield 1785 Camden District Winnsboro
Florence 1888 Clarendon, Darlington, Marion, and Williamsburg Counties Florence
Georgetown 1769 1769 Judicial District Georgetown
Greenville 1786 Washington District Greenville
Greenwood 1897 Abbeville and  Edgefield Counties Greenwood
Hampton 1878 Beaufort County Hampton
Horry 1801 Georgetown County Conway
Jasper 1912 Beaufort and  Hampton Counties Ridgeland
Kershaw 1798 Claremont, Fairfield, Lancaster, and Richland Counties Camden
Lancaster 1798 Camden District Lancaster
Laurens 1785 Ninety-Six District Laurens
Lee 1902 Darlington, Kershaw, and  Sumter Counties Bishopville
Lexington 1804 Orangeburg County Lexington
Marion 1800 Georgetown County Marion
Marlboro 1798 Cheraws District Bennettsville
McCormick 1916 Abbeville, Edgefield, and  Greenwood Counties McCormick
Newberry 1785 Ninety-Six District Newberry
Oconee 1868 Pickens County Walhalla
Orangeburg 1769 1769 Judicial District Orangeburg
Pickens 1826 Pendleton District Pickens
Richland 1799 Camden District Columbia
Saluda 1896 Edgefield County Saluda
Spartanburg 1785 Ninety-Six District Spartanburg
Sumter 1798 Claremont, Clarendon, and  Salem Counties Sumter
Union 1798 Ninety-Six District Union
Williamsburg 1802 Georgetown District Kingstree
York 1798 Camden District York
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