South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trip
Did you know more Revolutionary War battles happened in South Carolina than in any other state? Explore the battlefields, historic sites, and museums with this 10-part series of road trips across the state.
At the time of the American Revolution, this area of South Carolina was a sparsely populated region called the Backcountry. The two largest towns – Kingstree on the Black River and Cheraw on the Great Pee Dee River – shipped their goods to the port of Georgetown. But it was a region eager for independence.
When Charleston was captured in May 1780, the effects were almost immediately felt throughout the region. British regiments marched into towns, burned churches, and confronted local militias. General Lord Cornwallis was eager to sweep into North Carolina and secure a fast southern victory.
But Francis Marion prevented it. Operating in the swamps along the various rivers, Marion earned a reputation as “The Swamp Fox” for his ability to appear out of nowhere to attack the British and disappear just as quickly without a trace.
This 157-mile road trip traverses the Pee Dee Country, following Marion’s footsteps. Learn about the Township Plan, visit one of the burned churches, and learn about one of the first towns in the country to publicly denounce King George III.
This post is proudly sponsored by Pee Dee Tourism Commission and South Carolina Association of Tourism Regions.
Road Trip Map
How to use this map: Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.
Forty years after Charleston’s founding in 1670, nearly 90% of the colony’s residents lived within five miles of the capital. In 1731, Governor Robert Johnson devised a plan to build new townships sixty miles from Charleston on key South Carolina waterways.
In 1732, Scotch-Irish immigrant Roger Gordon led 40 others to establish the Williamsburg Township on the Black River. Each family was given 50 acres and a town lot. Additional lots were set aside for a commons ground, churches, and schools. In 1738, the Williamsburg Presbyterian Meeting House was completed.
Williamsburg was later renamed King’s Tree because of an interesting law – one of many that led to the Revolutionary War. The Eastern White Pine was abundant when the colonies developed in the late 1600s. The towering, thick trees were perfect for naval ships. But when supplies began to thin, King George III passed a law exclusively reserving any Eastern White Pine with a 24-inch diameter trunk for England’s use.
After the Fall of Charleston in 1780, Major John James formed a large militia on the muster ground in Kingstree. He turned command of the unit over to General Francis Marion. While scouting for Marion on August 27, 1780, James discovered a British force sent from Georgetown to attack Kingstree.
Before leaving Kingstree, be sure to visit Artsy Cakes. Owner Darlene Roman has always considered cooking to be a family affair. She runs the business with her brother, children, and grandchildren. Get their homemade pancakes for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, or pizza on Fridays.
Williamsburg Historical Museum
The Williamsburg Historical Museum is in a former Carnegie Library built in 1917. The one-room museum has exhibits and artifacts like a giant dugout canoe and antique glassware. Explore the compendium of local history dating from Williamsburg Township’s founding to today.
The Revolutionary War exhibits are few because little happened in the area, but they have a lot of information about the few events. It’s a great place to learn more about area battles along the Black River leading into Georgetown and Francis Marion’s exploits in the region.
Point of Interest
In 1748, James Witherspoon built a large family home called Thorntree after immigrating to Williamsburg Township. The Plantation Style house, later called an I-house because of its popularity in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, is a two-story house with a covered front porch and a central passageway separating rooms with chimneys on either end.
His son, Gavin, inherited the home after his death. After the Fall of Charleston in 1780, a large force of British dragoons under the commander of Colonel Banastre Tarleton camped on the Witherspoon property.
In the 1970s, the Williamsburg Historical Society purchased the home and transported it from the original site six miles outside of town to a small lot in town. The home was restored and opened as a house museum. Guided tours are offered occasionally, and the grounds are open during daylight hours.
Point of Interest
In 1738, the Williamsburg Presbyterian Meeting House was completed. Although the original building no longer exists, you can walk through the graveyard – now called the Williamsburg Cemetery.
One of the notable gravesites is Roger Gordon’s, the town’s founder.
But the most notable is the gravesite of Reverend John Witherspoon. In 1695, he fled to Ireland because of religious persecution in England. In 1734, he immigrated to South Carolina, arriving in Charleston, and traveling to Williamsburg Township. He helped build the Presbyterian church for the town and died a year later. He was the first person buried in this cemetery.
Indiantown Presbyterian Church
In 1757, Irish immigrants John James and Robert Wilson organized the Indiantown Presbyterian Church and built the first church on this site. James was a militia captain under King George III until the start of the Revolutionary War. He resigned his commission and used his position as an elder of the church to recruit Patriots for a militia. James spent the rest of the war serving under General Francis Marion.
In July 1780, the British captured Georgetown shortly after the Fall of Charleston. When Major James Wemyss, the town’s commander, learned of Patriot militias forming as Presbyterian churches, he labeled them as “sedition shops” and ordered them burned on every occasion.
A month later, a British unit burned Indiantown Presbyterian Church. The current church, the third building on the site, was completed in 1830.
Point of Interest
You could follow your nose to Kenny’s BBQ while driving through Hemingway. Opened in 1990, the local restaurant is known throughout the region for its savory barbecue. Meats are smoked daily, and everything is homemade, including their vinegar-based sauces and banana pudding.
Stop for lunch at the local restaurant. Order one of their platters with two sides to taste their fantastic home cooking. Get the banana pudding to go.
Statue of General Francis Marion
After the disastrous Battle of Camden, when British General Lord Cornwallis crushed General Horatio Gates, no Continental soldiers remained in the South. The task of fighting for independence fell to a rag-tag band of militiamen commanded by General Francis Marion.
On August 17, 1780, Marion took command of the Williamsburg Militia from Major John James at Witherspoon’s Ferry, a crossing over the Lynches River.
In 2013, Johnsonville dedicated a 20-foot-tall monument to Francis Marion at a small public park at the historic site of Witherspoon’s Ferry. Designed by Alex Palkovich, the monument features a bronze statue of Marion on horseback, three times larger than life, melded at the waist into a concrete base.
Gilesboro was founded shortly after the Revolutionary War, and it was named after Colonel Hugh Giles, a local Patriot who fought under General Francis Marion. In 1847, the South Carolina legislature officially chartered the town, changing the name to Marion in honor of the militia leader.
Go shopping for antiques and collectibles at the Marion Emporium. The clean and organized store has a second-story gallery overlooking the first floor. It takes about an hour to browse the impressive collection properly.
The Fudge Shoppe of Marion opened in 2020. Wayne and Barbara Mathews make small batches of fresh fudge, perfect for a road trip. You should also try their hand-dipped ice cream, root beer floats, or old-fashioned milkshakes in the small dessert café.
Brittany Taylor took a lifelong love of candle making and opened Woodhaven Candle Co. in 2021. All the candles are handcrafted and feature unique scents lasting for hours.
Marion County Museum
Did you know that Francis Marion was a commissioned British soldier long before the Revolutionary War? Or that at the beginning of the American Revolution, he was a captain in command of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island? You’ll learn some interesting things about the local Revolutionary War hero at the Marion County Museum.
The gorgeous building was completed in 1886 for the Marion Academy Society. The building itself is an exhibit with exquisite architecture inside and out.
A room on the first floor is dedicated to Marion’s life. You’ll find a complete history of his Revolutionary War exploits and dozens of interesting trivia about him, including the story behind his nickname “The Swamp Fox.”
Point of Interest
Francis Marion Statue
In April 1976, the town dedicated the Francis Marion Statue on the 200th anniversary of the Revolutionary War. The statue was designed and built by Ramojus Mozoliauskas, a sculptor who immigrated from Lithuania in 1950.
You can visit the slightly larger-than-life statue in the green across from the Marion County courthouse. Pay particular attention to the base, where you’ll find a recreation of Marion’s signature etched into the concrete.
Point of Interest
Francis Marion University
In 1970, a decade of lobbying resulted in the creation of Francis Marion College, one of South Carolina’s 13 public universities. The college – university after 1992 – was named after Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero who gained fame during the last half of 1780 for his guerrilla warfare against the British.
While still celebrating the university’s 40th anniversary, a life-size bronze statue of Francis Marion was erected in a traffic circle along Heyward Drive. The statue stands just 5 feet, 3 inches tall – the actual height of the Revolutionary War general. The statue was sculpted by nationally acclaimed sculptor Garland Weeks and cast by House Bronze Inc. in Lubbock, Texas.
A town began in this area when a courthouse was built at Long Bluff in 1770. In 1774, the townspeople made a presentation at the courthouse stating they would never support the burdensome taxes imposed by the British Parliament. It was one of the earliest examples of public rebellion against the king’s rule.
In 1775, Colonel John Baxter formed the Pee Dee Regiment. They marched to Charleston to join other Continental Army units and served in many battles early in the Revolutionary War.
But after the Fall of Charleston in 1780, the Loyalists dominated the Pee Dee region. After months of harassment from General Francis Marion, they eventually fell out of favor with the local settlers.
Despite the early settlement, Florence was not officially chartered until 1871 as a Reconstruction City after the Civil War. Since then, the city has developed as a hub for commerce and education throughout the region.
Town Hall opened in 2016 as part of the downtown revitalization. Co-owned by Florence native Dale Barth, the casual upscale restaurant features a seasonal farm-to-table menu. Portions are large at the southern-style restaurant, with foods cooked in an open kitchen near the dining area. Placemats, cloth napkins, and Edison bulbs add a touch of elegance to the restaurant, but feel free to wear comfy clothes for dinner – and maybe a stretchy belt.
The Dispensary is Florence’s only rooftop bar. The 3,500-square-foot deck is covered with large outdoor furniture, providing plenty of comfortable seating. The outdoor bar is part of Town Hall, so when dinner is made, you just need to walk a flight of stairs to enjoy the evening outdoors with a drink.
In 2014, Kyle Hardee followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and opened a seafood restaurant. But instead of an oceanside location like Sunset Beach, Hardee opened Tubb’s Shrimp and Fish Co. in a renovated gas station in Florence. “I get all the seafood from the best source possible, fresh and never frozen,” Hardee explains. Order the seafood platter to sample the best from the Eastern United States, but start your dinner with a bowl of the best she-crab soup outside of Charleston.
King Jefe features Hardee’s unique twist on traditional Mexican dishes. And the downtown location is more convenient for those staying at one of the recommended hotels. The menu features interesting taco combinations. But the winning menu item is the Breafkast Jefe de Jefes – a burrito filled with tater tots, fried eggs, chorizo, bacon, Monterrey jack cheese, and siracha maple syrup.
Barbecue started as a hobby for the late Bill Travis. After impressing his friends with backyard cookouts, he opened Wholly Smokin’ BBQ in 2012. Two years later, he moved the restaurant to its current downtown location and became a staple for the locals. After his passing in 2017, the family carried on the business. The savory menu items include sandwiches, platters, and homemade sides.
Where to Stay
Hyatt Place is a convenient downtown hotel within walking distance of dinner and drinks. The comfortable hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and spacious guest rooms. Parking is inconveniently located across the street, and takes 5-10 minutes to walk back. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Hotel Florence is another downtown hotel within walking distance of restaurants. The historic building features gorgeous hardwood floors, spacious rooms with 12-foot ceilings, and interesting architecture. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Florence County Museum
The Florence County Museum is an excellent place to learn about local history – and there’s much to learn. The museum features an impressive collection of interpretive displays and artifacts. History is divided into periods and is easy to browse while casually exploring the rooms.
Learn about the history of Francis Marion and see maps of his exploits during the Revolutionary War. Read the fascinating story of when a nuclear bomb was accidentally dropped on a nearby house. And explore the local artwork spanning the generations.
Point of Interest
If you’ve never been to a Buc-ee’s, be prepared for your jaw to drop. You know what I mean if you’ve been to a Buc-ee’s. It’s a must-see attraction, gift shop, and gas station practically required for any road trip.
Buc-ee’s was founded by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III in 1982 in Texas. In 2003, the beloved chain opened its first travel center in Luling, Texas, beginning a new era for the company. In 2018, they expanded outside Texas for the first time with a location in Robertsdale, Alabama. And in 2022, they opened a location in Florence, South Carolina.
The company is known for its record-breaking gas stations with over 100 pumps – and 18-wheelers are prohibited from entering. The 24/7 convenience centers are so large they offer shopping carts for everything you’ll want to buy. Browse their enormous gift shop for clothing, home décor, cookware, and collectibles.
Fresh fudge and barbecue are made in-house daily. The deli counter is staffed 24/7, so you’ll always have fresh food. And just in case you want a pack of crackers and a soda, you can shop the traditional convenience store aisles in the corner of the store.
5 Things to Always Buy at Buc-ee’s
- Variety pack of fresh fudge
- Beaver Nuggets
- Homemade Root Beer
- Something in the gift shop
Bennettsville is a twenty-minute drive from Florence along a scenic highway through the countryside. Founded in 1819, the town was a center of commerce for cotton plantations and tobacco farms. Broad Street ends at Main Street in front of the 1884 courthouse, the most impressive structure in town.
Step inside Breeden’s Quality Meats for a spectacular experience. Opened in 1926, Cam and Cindy Stone now own the local butcher shop. Cam began working at the shop during high school and bought it in 1988. Since then, they have built a reputation for handcrafted sausage links from certified South Carolina pork.
Dairy Dream Drive-In has served generations of locals and travelers with their famous foot-long hotdogs, fried chicken, and thick milkshakes. Step inside the red-shingled, beige-stuccoed build, and you’ll find the menu hanging on the wall above the counter. It’s one of those places where sandwiches, seafood, and barbecue happily coexist – and everything is satisfactorily savory.
Marlboro County Historical Museum
Bennettsville didn’t exist during the Revolutionary War – the town was founded in 1819. But that doesn’t mean nothing happened in the area. Skirmishes between local Patriot and Loyalist militias were common.
Learn about the history of the region at the Marlboro Country Historical Museum. While visiting, take a guided tour of the Jennings-Brown House and the fascinating Medical Museum.
European settlers began arriving in the South Carolina backcountry in the 1730s. By the 1750s, a town developed around trade on the Great Pee Dee River. Joseph and Eli Kershaw were given a land grant to create a town and began laying out lots in 1768. Colonial life was quiet on the frontier – and then the British arrived.
After capturing Charleston in May 1780, General Lord Cornwallis ordered two battalions of the 71st Fraser Highlands to Cheraw. They were to create a strategic backcountry outpost for supplying Cornwallis when he moved into North Carolina.
Major Archibald MacArthur marched into the small frontier town in July 1780. But shortly after arriving, his unit was plagued by illness. He used St. David’s Parish Church as a field hospital for his ailing men.
River’s Edge was opened in 2010 by Stan and Cindy Koehn. In 2022, Chris Rodgers bought the local favorite restaurant known for southern cooking and friendly service. Everyone needs to try their homemade pimento cheese.
The Caffeinated Cow is an oddity for a small town – a coffee shop that’s open late! Stop inside for a coffee to fuel the rest of the road trip.
Where to Stay in Cheraw
SpringHill Suites by Marriott is the only hotel in Cheraw, but it’s also a great hotel. Enjoy the outdoor swimming pool, kitchenette in all guest rooms, and comfortable furnishings. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Old Saint David’s Church
Built in 1770, Old Saint David’s Church was the last Anglican church built in South Carolina under King George III. During the Revolutionary War, Major Archibald MacArthur used the church as a field hospital when the British occupied Cheraw. One of the gravesites is marked with a headstone that reads, “Here in this hallowed ground rest officers and men of the 71st Fraser Highlanders.”
The church was renovated in 1826 with a new steeple and vestibule. Services continued until 1916, when a newer church was built nearby. When the Chesterfield County Historic Preservation Commission, the current owners of the church, renovated it, they restored it to its 1827 appearance.
The church’s interior is a rental facility. Public events are held sporadically, but seeing inside on a weekend might be possible. The graveyard is open during daylight hours.
Point of Interest
Cheraw State Park
Cheraw State Park is one of only two South Carolina state parks with a golf course. The Par 72 course was designed by Tom Jackson. The park clubhouse features a small shop, changing rooms, and golf cart rentals.
But the central feature of the secluded park is the 300-acre artificial Lake Juniper. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the lake is an excellent place for fishing and kayaking. The 1-mile Lake Juniper Boardwalk (bookmark on AllTrails) is a spectacular place for a walk between the beach and the dam.
The park’s cabins are the best place to stay in the area. The rustic cabins feature a screened porch, one or two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a large living room. It’s perfect for a relaxing weekend at the end of this road trip.
South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trips
Read the other articles in this 10-part series: