Keith Gourdin and I share grandparents, John Keith (J. K.) and Mary Palmer Gourdin. Both died long before we had a chance to know them. However, their memory and their DNA remain deep in our souls just as their toil, sweat, and bones lie deep in the historic village of Pineville in Berkeley County.
What Keith and I sloughed off as family folklore and tossed aside as a past worth forgetting, we now realize is valuable history. Our families, educated and proud and now spread from coast to coast, are the result of how J.K. and Mary survived the trauma of Reconstruction, a world war, and the Depression. My gentleman farmer cousin is now quietly leading a renaissance of the history of Pineville and North Berkeley County… of which this series is a part.
Of course, the first people of the Santee River valley were native tribes with names like Cherokee, Pee Dee, Chicora, Edisto, Waccamaw, and Santee. Their ranks were decimated by diseases brought from Europe, then further reduced as settlers pushed their trade and land development up the river.
Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France were the first Europeans to settle along the Santee and by the American Revolution had become wealthy planters clustered around the town of St. Stephens.
Hezekiah Maham was born in St. Stephens in 1739. He was elected to the first Provincial Congress and in 1776 became a captain under Col. Isaac Huger. After the siege of Savannah, Maham was made a commander in Gen. Francis Marion’s brigade.
Gen. Marion and Lt. Col. Lighthorse Harry Lee were bogged down during a siege on Fort Watson along the Santee River on the road between Camden and Charleston in April 1781. Maham designed a pine tower high enough to shoot down on the British soldiers entrenched on top of the old Indian mound. After a short battle, the British surrendered. Maham’s Tower was a military success.
Following an illness, Lt. Col. Maham retired to his home on the Santee where he was captured and paroled. He laid out a race track at St. Stephens for the Santee Jockey Club. The race track later became a popular attraction for the local planters. Maham died in 1789 and was buried on his land where a monument to his memory still stands.
The primary crop along the Santee was indigo, a tropical plant cultivated for its dark blue dye, but following Independence it became unprofitable. The swamps from Jamestown to Columbia were also not suitable for rice because of the powerful annual floods. Only when Gen. Thomas Moultrie introduced cotton in 1794 did the planters find a profitable crop.
Cotton changed the landscape between the Cooper River and the Santee
River in many ways. The French became full-fledged Americans. Lowcountry planters whose families had immigrated from Barbados and who dominated shipping and commerce between North America and Europe for over 100 years sent their sons into the area to reap fortunes from cotton.
Peter Sinkler established Lifeland Plantation on the bluff overlooking the Santee River and planted cotton. During the Revolution, Lifeland was raided by the British who carried away 44 horses and 55 slaves.
Captain James Sinkler built a plantation home near his brother Peter’s in 1793 as an experiment to avoid the chills and fevers of Charleston. His success spread and his friends began establishing cotton plantations on the pine ridge between the Cooper and Santee Rivers.
This small settlement, the first of its kind in the South, was called Pineville. It soon became a popular summer resort for planters between St. Stephens, Jamestown, Monck’s Corner, and Eutawville. The early settlers were Sinklers, Palmers, Gaillards, Cordes, and Porchers—descendants of the original Huguenot traders.