York County history
Any conversation involving the history of York County automatically acknowledges the first peoples of the area being the Catawba Indian Nation. One of the earliest accounts of a non-indigenous visitor to present-day York County occurred in 1576 as Captain Juan Pardo and Spanish soldiers (who were part of DeSoto's expedition in the Southeast searching for gold) passed through the area and made contact with the Catawba Indians. Another explorer, by the name of Vandera, also reported that he found the Catawbas in 1579. About 70 years later, traders from Virginia began trading in deer hides with the Catawbas. In 1701, the tribe was considered "a powerful nation" and by 1728, still had 15 villages along the bank of the river which bears their name.
It was between 1745 and 1760 that the first waves of predominantly Scotch-Irish immigrants from Virginia and Pennsylvania made their journey down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. Not only did they bring their customs but the names of their previous northern settlements, which is how York County got its name. Others still would make their way inland from Charlestown to settle in our area. In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian Wars, the Treaty of Augusta established the Catawba Indian Land to be 15 miles square or 144,000 acres, which is most of eastern York County. The rest was leased or given as land grants to the new settlers.
York County wasn't always called such. In the beginning it was first known as Anson County, then Mecklenburg, Tryon, then it became part of the Camden District and Pickney District in 1785. In 1798, Pickney was divided into Union and York Districts. The lines remained for almost 100 years when part of the district was redrawn to be in Cherokee County. Finally, York County - named for York, Pennsylvania - stuck.
Although Tories were not common in York County at the time of the Revolutionary War, there were several battles fought within its borders. The first defeat of the British since the fall of Charleston was accomplished during the Battle of Huck's Defeat (Williamson's Plantation) on July 12, 1780. A few months later, on October 7, the Over the Mountain Men of Tennessee fought and were victorious against British forces at The Battle of King's Mountain.
After the Revolutionary War, "white gold" became the coveted commodity. Huge plantations sprang up in York County, just as in other parts of the South, along with towns and trading centers to handle this lucrative cash crop. The first town in York County to be referenced as such goes back to a deed dated October 21, 1793. It referred to York Ville which was, at that time, no more than a tavern and several houses spread around Fergus Cross Roads, near the present intersection of Congress and Liberty Streets in York. York, however, wasn't incorporated until 1841.
As necessity is the "mother of invention," plantation owners and merchants needed a way to transport cotton. In 1846, a rail line was constructed between Charlotte and Columbia which opened in 1852 and a village grew along the tracks east of Ebenezer. The depot was called Rocky Hill, then Rock Hill because of the flinty rock beds. The Kings Mountain Railroad was built at the same time in York and in the same year a post office opened in Rock Hill and another in Sharon Valley some seven years later.
Then came the Secession of South Carolina and the Civil War. York County men flocked to volunteer and our soldiers could be counted among the dead in every major battle. While no battles were fought in York County, Sherman's men launched raids as they marched through. In one instance, word was received that a group of Yankees was going to Rock Hill to destroy the depot. The medical supplies and provisions warehoused at the depot were distributed to anyone who would take them.
After Reconstruction, the cotton mills came. From 1880 to 1900, six factories were built. A new contraption was manufactured in Rock Hill as the local buggy factory expanded to build automobiles. After World War I, York County was hit hard by the economic depression that so adversely affected the cotton country and eventually the textile industry in America as a whole.
Through hardships, smallpox epidemics, wars, recession and fights for equal rights, York County residents possess a tenacity that our early settlers and leaders exhibited at every challenge. No wonder we're the fastest growing county in South Carolina!
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