South Carolina’s pivotal role in the US Revolution is well documented throughout the state, mostly around Camden and near Kings Mountain and Cowpens near the NC state line, where much of the fighting took place. While most of these key battles and sites are maintained by the National Parks system, there are four state parks dedicated to telling these Revolutionary stories.
The Revolutionary War cost the family of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) dearly. He was just 8 years old when the war began, but he and his brother Robert joined the fighting in 1780 after their eldest brother died in the Battle of Stono Ferry. Robert and Andrew were captured in 1781. Andrew was permanently scarred by a British officer when the brash future president refused to polish the officer’s boots. Robert died later that year from smallpox. Before he turned 15, Andrew was orphaned when his mother died of cholera after going to Charleston to help nurse sick and injured Patriots. Jackson would distinguish himself some 30 years later as a revered military leader during the War of 1812, earning his nickname “Old Hickory” and eventually riding that fame to become the seventh president of the US.
The state park dedicated to telling the Revolutionary history of Jackson and his family is located near his birthplace in the state's Olde English district. The exact location of Jackson’s birth is uncertain. His uncle’s farm where he was born was along the state line, which has changed a little since Jackson’s day. It is important to note that Jackson considered himself a native South Carolinian (though that could have been as much a political move as one of geographical accuracy as Jackson had to quell the state’s first attempt at nullifying a federal law it did not like.)
Though the original buildings are long gone, a replica of an 18th-century schoolhouse shows what life would have been like in this primitive area around the time of the American Revolution. Living history events are held throughout the year to depict life during the Revolution, and the park celebrates Jackson’s birthday each March. Visitors can participate in outdoors activities that reflect life in the South Carolina backwoods, camping, fishing and non-motorized boating. You can hike nature trails that a young hunter might have stalked for prey and enjoy the flora, including the endangered Schweinitz's sunflower, which can be seen in full bloom in the fall.
The Battle of Musgrove Mill was not as expansive a Patriot victory as Kings Mountain or Cowpens, which would come later, but it was important for several reasons. South Carolina militiamen defeated a superior force using the guerrilla tactics still being developed by Gens. Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion. The victory came so closely on the heels of two major defeats for the Patriots that the men who carried out the raid of a post on the southern banks of the Enoree River likely didn’t even know about those defeats. Despite the small size of the victory, it did show the Patriots and British alike that the southern states would not fall as quickly as the British had hoped. Also, the battle was largely fought by soldiers on both sides who were considered American and shows clearly that the Revolutionary War was not just Patriots vs. British soldiers, but also Patriots vs. Loyalists who supported the crown. It is not clear whether the man who owned the mill that bears his name was a Loyalist or whether he merely allowed the soldiers to camp at his mill to avoid trouble.
Today, Musgrove Mill offers an interpretive center to explain the ins and outs of this small but important battle that bolstered morale in the South Carolina backcountry between the defeat at Camden and the victory at Kings Mountain. The park hosts a Living History weekend each spring with reenactors.
The actual canal here was not built until some 40 years after the Revolutionary War. The area, however, was heavily involved in troop movements during the war because of the relative ease of crossing the Catawba River at this point. In fact, it was a crossing point for the native people who lived here before the arrival of English settlers. A Daughters of the American Revolution marker located on the park denotes the area’s use as a historic and prehistoric crossing. The crossing point was part of a deed for Thomas Land in 1754 and became known as Land’s Ford. More than 20 years later, both British and Patriot troops under Gen. Charles Cornwallis and Thomas Sumter crossed the Catawba here after pivotal battles, particularly the battles of Hanging Rock and Kings Mountain.
The canal was completed around 1823 and was part of the transit system from Charleston to the Upstate for nearly 15 years. The canal was designed by famed South Carolina architect Robert Mills and was built under the supervision of Robert Leckie. It was 2 miles long, 12 feet wide and 10 feet deep. A system of five locks helped boats move along the 32-foot drop of the river. The Landsford Canal was the highest in the system of canals along the Catawba River, but it was not a commercial success.
Listed in the National Register in 1969, the state park includes the canal and a museum, which is housed in the restored Great Falls Canal lockkeeper's house. Today, the state park is best known as the spot for paddlers to enjoy the rare rocky shoals spider lilies that bloom along the Catawba River.
Located inside the Francis Marion National Forest in McClellanville, the Hampton Plantation State Park is home to an 18th-century plantation that also was a haven for families during the Revolutionary War. A thriving rice plantation, the grounds of the home also helped hide Francis Marion – known as the “Swamp Fox” – when British troops came to the plantation looking for him.
Don't miss the massive Washington Oak, a live oak tree saved by President George Washington, or so the story goes. When Washington visited the plantation in 1791, the owners were considering cutting the tree down because it obscured the view from the house. He suggested saving the tree, and they did.
The home was owned by a who’s-who of South Carolina history, including the Horry family, and the families of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Rutledges and the Pinckneys. It was a Rutledge descendant, South Carolina poet laureate Archibald Rutledge, who sold the land to the state in 1971. The home remains as one of the most impressive examples of Georgian architecture in the state.