A Step into Kingstree’s Past
The Montgomery family, of which I am a proud member, originated in Normandy and followed William the Conquerer to England in 1066 in hopes of receiving some of the spoils. After success at the Battle of Hastings, the surviving Montgomerys were awarded land in what became County Ayr, Scotland. Quick to adjust to the local culture, they learned English with a brogue, became Presbyterian, adopted a Scottish tartan, and began playing bagpipes and wearing kilts.
In the 1600s and 1700s many ambitious young Montgomerys crossed the Irish Sea to calm the savage Celts. Evangelist George Montgomery went to convert the pagan potato farmers to Christianity, and in 1604 he became the first Protestant bishop for Ireland.
Major Hugh Montgomery, one of the bravest cavalrymen in all of the British Empire, was knighted as the first Earl of Mount Alexander in 1703. He married the most beautiful woman in the northern isles, Jane, and they settled in an ivy-covered manor in County Donegal just south of Belfast.
A twist of history brought Montgomerys to South Carolina. First, the Irish potato crop failed; therefore, no more French fries and no more gin. Second, the colony of South Carolina was settlers for the upcountry. And third, an American Revolution was in the wind.
Williamsburg District, established by the Lord Proprietors up the Black River from Georgetown, had been marked earlier by a notch in a lone pine tree and claimed as the “King’s Tree.” A survey was conducted in 1707 around the tree, and streets were laid out making Kingstree the first planned city in South Carolina. (Sorry, Geechies, but Charleston just happened, it wasn’t planned. And the Ashley and Cooper Rivers don’t form the Atlantic Ocean, either.)
In 1730, the colonial government promised free transportation, free provisions for one year, and free land to any families willing to settle in the newly-created Williamsburg Township. Samuel, John, William, and Catherine Montgomery were among the first Scots-Irish takers who followed Roger Gordon to Williamsburg in 1732. Samuel married Jane Spry, cleared a farm up river from the King’s Tree and built a home they called Cedar Lane. (The property is now the site of the Montgomery Cemetery and contains graves of my line of Montgomerys.)
The first church, Williamsburg Meeting House (later Presbyterian), was founded in 1736 and was followed by the town cemetery in 1737. The first person to be buried in the cemetery was John Witherspoon (1670-1737), who had come to the settlement in 1734 and had been the leading spirit in building the first church. The home his son, James, built in 1749, Thorntree House, still stands and is on the National Historic Register.
Siblings David, Hugh, John, and Margaret Montgomery boarded one of five ships leaving Belfast in 1773 for Charleston. Upon arrival they were given a total of 850 acres on the Black River in Williamsburg Township. (Note: I recently found Hugh’s grave a few miles east of Kingstree. It reads: Sacred. In Memory of Hugh Montgomery. Born in Ireland 1738. Died in So. Carolina 1793. Aged 55 years.)
Kingstree became the county seat of Williamsburg County after independence. Robert Mills designed the courthouse in 1823. The city was incorporated in 1866. The Kingstree Star began publication by James S. Heyward every Wednesday in 1878, and the marsh was drained in 1885 to reduce the mosquito population.
(Next week: The Swamp
Fox to the rescue)