Cheraw, the prettiest town
The first large group to come to the upper Pee Dee were Welch Baptists, who not finding the religious freedom sought for in Pennsylvania, applied for and was granted a large tract of land on both sides the Great Pee Dee River above the Queensborough Township extending into current day North Carolina. Their initial settlement in 1736 was on the east side of the Pee Dee River in present day Marion County, but as more of the Welch Baptist arrived, they began a more permanent settlement on the west side of the River at Society Hill, in Darlington County. As the Welch moved in, settlers that were already there sought permission to stay on land previously granted, or in the case of James Gillespie, moved up the River. This Gillespie did, and he started a trading center and water mill at the Cheraw Hills. He is reportedly the first to bring a ship for the purpose of trading to the Cheraw area. As the "Welch Neck" grew, development continued along the river and eventually concentrated around the convergence of the old Indian trading paths at Cheraw. By 1750, Cheraw was one of six places in South Carolina appearing on English maps and was an established village with a growing river trade.
Joseph and Eli Kersaw came to the area in 1750, and were granted most of the present town in 1766. This is the same family who established the first store in "Pine Tree" settlement, which became Camden, the oldest inland city in South Carolina. Eli was a surveyor, and in 1768, he and Joseph laid out the present street system. High Street was the highest point in town; next came 5th and 4th Street whose names were changed to Huger and Greene after the Revolutionary generals; then 3rd Street, and Front Street.
The streets perpendicular to these were Church Street, where Old Saint David's Church, established circa 1770, the last Anglican Church built in South Carolina, is located, Market Street, for the location of the Market hall, and Kerhaw Street after the two brothers. In 1830, the streets were lined with elm trees, one row on each side and one row down the middle.
For a time, the town was called "Chatham" after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham. It was also known as Cheraw Hill, but Cheraw was always used most frequently and that has been its name since incorporation in 1821.
Cheraw is located as high up the Great Pee Dee River as is possible and still navigate the River. Thus it was long a trading center, though corn, tobacco, rice and indigo were grown in the richer areas of the county, and cattle raising, with related tanning and curing industries, was a major source of income. Prior to the War Between the States, both the largest cotton market between Georgetown, SC, and Wilmington, NC, and the largest bank in South Carolina, outside of Charleston, were located in Cheraw.
The town had been occupied by the British, during the American War of Independence, who didn't like the climate, (many of them died in fact and are buried at St. David's) and by General Sherman and his troops, the first week of March 1865, during his march through the Carolinas. At Sherman's approach to the town, the Confederate Army crossed over the Pee Dee River Bridge and it was "Uncle Henry" Funderburk, a 16 year old native of the Dudley community, who was sent back onto the bridge to set it on fire under heavy gunfire. They found Cheraw "a pleasant town and an old one with the Southern aristocratic bearing" . It was here that Sherman's own men accidentally set off an explosion rattling the city. "John Arebuckle, a diarist of the 4th Iowa, recorded Sherman's reaction: 'General Sherman was thoroughly aroused and was on the point of ordering the city reduced to ashes, and the major and other city officials placed before a firing squad before it was found they weren't to blame'." (Sherman's March by Burke Davis, page 203-204) It was also here that Sherman ordered the murder of James Miller, a confederate soldier returning home, and a Jefferson native, in retaliation for the death of a northern forager.
Today Cheraw is a prosperous community with a population of 5,600 with many evidences remaining of a gracious past. Located three miles south of Cheraw, the 332 acre Cheraw State Park offers family recreation facilities. The park, surrounded by tall pines and sand hills, has clear fresh water lakes which provide fishing and swimming areas, and home to the annual Palmetto Regatta Boat Race with national championship drivers in hydroplane speed boats competing for cash prizes. Other facilities in the park are campgrounds, vacation cottages, nature trails, recreation buildings and picnic facilities. For more information and brochures with many pictures of Cheraw's historic and recreational wealth, one can write to: The Greater Cheraw Chamber of Commerce; 221 Market Street; Cheraw, SC; 29520.