Abbeville, South Carolina

Abbeville, South Carolina
Abbeville Opera House
Abbeville Opera House
Country United States
State South Carolina
County Abbeville
 - Total 5.9 sq mi (15.2 km²)
 - Land 5.9 sq mi (15.2 km²)
 - Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km²)
Elevation 591 ft (180 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 5,840
 - Density 995.2/sq mi (384.3/km²)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 29620
Area code(s) 864
FIPS code 45-00100GR2
GNIS feature ID 1244839GR3

Abbeville is a city in Abbeville County, South Carolina, United States, 86 miles (138 km) west of the state capitol of Columbia. The estimated population, in 2003, was 5,786.[1] It is the county seat of Abbeville County. Abbeville is named after a town in France located in northern France only 20 miles from the Atlantic coastline. Abbeville County, South Carolina sits along the Savannah River separating South Carolina and Georgia.

The noted states rights advocate John C. Calhoun was born just outside Abbeville and began his first law practice in the city. His ideas helped lead to the American Civil War a decade after his death. The city also played a key role during the Civil War and is called the Birthplace and Deathbed of the Confederacy, because it was here that Jefferson Davis made some of his most important decisions as President of the Confederacy.


In January of 2008, First Lady Laura Bush designated Abbeville as a Preserve America Community. This initiative recognizes those communities that demonstrate they are committed to preserving their cultural and natural heritage.[2]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 15.2 km² (5.9 mi²), all land.

It is in the Eastern Standard time zone. Elevation is 591 feet.

The region is home to a number of state parks, as well as the Sumter National Forest. Also nearby in the Savannah River Basin are Lakes Thurmond, Russell, and Hartwell, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Lake Greenwood and Lake Secession, which are operated by the City of Abbeville.


As of the census of 2000, there were 5,840 people, 2,396 households, and 1,574 families residing in the city. The population density was 995.2 people per square mile (384.1/km²). There were 2,654 housing units at an average density of 452.3/sq mi (174.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 50.46 percent White, 48.48 percent African-American, 0.12 percent Native American, 0.26 percent Asian, 0.02 percent Pacific Islander, 0.19 percent from other races, and 0.48 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.75 percent of the population.

Map of South Carolina highlighting Abbeville County, SC

There were 2,396 households out of which 30.7 percent had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.1 percent were married living together, 23.9 percent had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.3 percent were non-families. 30.6 percent of all households were made up of individuals and 13.9 percent had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city the population was spread out with 27.2 percent under the age of 18, 8.8 percent from 18 to 24, 25.9 percent from 25 to 44, 21.2 percent from 45 to 64, and 16.8 percent who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 80.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 73.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $25,756, and the median income for a family was $30,040. Males had a median income of $28,339 versus $21,824 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,274. About 16.3 percent of families and 19.8 percent of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.2 percent of those under age 18 and 20.9 percent of those age 65 or over.[3]


During the 1700s most of South Carolina was occupied by the Cherokee Indians. They made several cessions of land during this time and several were with South Carolina. The second of these was in 1755 and they gave up land between the Wateree River and the Savannah River. It was this land that would be settled by French Huguenots and also Scots-Irish Protestants.

The town of Abbeville developed around a spring which was set aside by General Andrew Pickens for public use. Pickens had settled at the Long Cane settlement in Abbeville County, South Carolina, what is now Abbeville proper, prior to the American Revolution. Dr. John de la Howe, a French Huguenot settler in Western South Carolina, is credited with giving the county and town the name of his hometown in France.

The City was officially incorporated as a municipality within the State of South Carolina on December 20, 1832.

American Civil War

The Rock at Secession Hill

Abbeville has the unique distinction of being both the birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy. On November 22, 1860, a meeting was held at Abbeville, at a site since dubbed Secession Hill, to launch South Carolina's secession from the Union; one month later, the state of South Carolina became the first state to secede.

It could also be considered the place where the Civil War was conceived as noted states rights advocate John C. Calhoun was born near there on March 18, 1782. Calhoun practiced law in the city before beginning his political career. Calhoun became a congressman, senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and Vice President of the United States. He was an outspoken proponent of the institution of slavery.

At the end of the Civil War, with the Confederacy in shambles, Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled Richmond, Virginia and headed south, stopping for a night in Abbeville at the home of his friend Armistead Burt. It was on May 2, 1865, in the front parlor of what is now known as the Burt-Stark Mansion that Davis officially acknowledged the dissolution of the Confederate government.

Twentieth Century

After the turn of the century Abbeville was the site of a brutal lynching that led to a mass exodus of the black population. In 1916 a crowd of several hundred white people abducted Anthony P. Crawford, then strung him up to a tree and riddled his body with bullets. Crawford was the wealthiest Negro farmer in and around Abbeville and he angered the local whites when he cursed a white man for offering him a low price for the cotton seed he was selling.

He had built a school on his land for the children of blacks in Abbeville and also held an office with the Masons of South Carolina.[4]

As a result of the lynching most of Abbeville's black residents moved to Evanston, Illinois. Many African-Americans living in Evanston today have ties to Abbeville.

Some 50 years later a reconciliation service was held July 12, 2005, at Friendship Worship Center in Abbeville. Hundreds gathered for the service, where white church leaders confessed the sins of their ancestors and apologized to blacks for the lynching of Anthony Crawford and other racial strife that took place nearly a century ago.[5]

Focus of Neo-Confederates

Abbeville has come to be a point of focus for a week-long Summer Institute held by the League of the South since 1995, bringing together half a dozen or more scholars to lecture on selected topics in Southern history and culture.

The League of the South (LOS) is the primary organization in the neo-Confederate movement that is composed of a group of Southern intellectuals, many of them with Ph.D.s and other impressive credentials. It boasts that its 33 teachers are the South's finest unreconstructed scholars. They typically see the North as godless, and determined to wreck the Southerner's natural religiosity. They believe the core population of the South and the bearer of its culture is Anglo-Celtic, meaning white. Many support theocracy, oppose interracial marriage and reject the notion of equality.[6]

A similar effort, called the Abbeville Institute but located in Georgia, is led by former LOS board member Donald Livingston, an Emory University philosophy professor. Its Web site describes it as devoted to the Southern tradition, including the allegedly ignored achievements of white people in the South.[7]

Twenty-First Century

In 2008, Abbeville celebrates its 250th anniversary. Abbeville is part of the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor which stretches from the coast near Charleston to the mountains of Oconee County. Abbeville has a rich heritage of textile manufacturing that continues with its two thriving Milliken plants. It is also the home of Prysmian Cable, Flexible Technologies, and Carolina Fabrication. The area also has several post-secondary education choices including Erskine College in nearby Due West and Lander University located in Greenwood. Piedmont Technical College is a two-year public institution in Greenwood with a satellite campus in Abbeville. The new Abbeville Area Medical Center is located within the City, and boasts state-of-the-art facilities and medical care.

Also in 2008, Abbeville was announced as one of 16 finalists in the annual All-America City Award.[8] Now in its 59th year the award is given annually by The National Civic League.

Historic Sites

Opera House

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were many "road companies" that produced shows in New York City. Once the production was assembled, the show traveled throughout the country. One of the more popular tours went from New York to Richmond, Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia. For a number of years, Abbeville was an overnight stop for these touring companies. As a result, several members of the community decided that if this area had a facility Abbeville could see the shows and not just the performers.

On October 1, 1908, what was then the Abbeville District dedicated a new Court House and City Hall. The Abbeville Opera House was made a part of those buildings. Some months later the 7500 square foot stage with a fly loft, cat walk and auditorium, was officially opened. The first show was the The Great Divide.

From that time on, many of the greats and near-greats played on the Opera House stage. The Ziegfeld Follies, Jimmy Durante, Sarah Bernhardt, and many other memorable performers and productions were presented as the big road shows moved down the eastern seaboard. Vaudeville was in its heyday as was the Abbeville Opera House.[9]

Burt-Stark House

The Burt-Starke House is significant to Civil War history as it served as the location of President Jefferson Davis’ last Council of War. Despite a number of military surrenders in the preceding months, Davis was determined to continue the struggle for an independent Confederacy. He planned to rally the troops in Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana, cross the Mississippi, and join with forces there. Davis was steadfast in this resolve when he reached Abbeville and took up quarters at the home of his personal friend, Major Armistead Burt. During the meeting in the southeast parlor with John C. Breckenridge, Braxton Bragg, as well as Generals Basil W. Duke, George Gibbs Dibrell, and John C. Vaughn, Davis was advised that any attempt to continue the war would inflict more misery on the South, striking the death knell of the Confederate government.

The two-story frame house, built in the 1830s, is Greek Revival in style. It was listed in the National Register on April 3, 1970, and designated as a National Historic Landmark on October 5, 1992.[10]

Trinity Episcopal Church

Trinity Episcopal Church was founded in 1842. The current Gothic Revival-style building was built in 1859 of brick formed of the clay on which the church sits. The Bishop came from Charleston to consecrate it on November 4, 1860.

Features include an historic tracker organ designed by John Baker of Charleston, Stained glass windows, original handmade pews, its original altar, and a 125-ft.spire. The large stained-glass chancel window was constructed in England. Plaques honor families instrumental in developing Abbeville. Three of Abbeville's five confederate colonels were members of Trinity and are buried in its cemetery along with one union soldier.

The consecration of the church took place just three weeks before the fateful Secession meeting on November 22. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1971.[11]

Notable residents

  • James S. Cothan, (1830-1897), born near Abbeville, United States Congressman from South Carolina.[12]
  • Alfred Ellison, the grandfather of author and journalist Ralph Ellison, was the Town Marshal of Abbeville during Reconstruction.[13]
  • Major Thomas D. Howie, (1908-1944), born in Abbeville, Howie was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Legion of Honor for his service as a U.S. Army officer during the Battle of Normandy in World War II.
  • John Henry Logan, (1822-1885), born in Abbeville, physician, served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, professor at Atlanta Medical College, and editor of the Atlanta Medical Journal.[12]
  • Benjamin Glover Shields, (1808-1850), born in Abbeville, was a United States Congressman from Alabama.[12]
  • John C. Calhoun, 7th American Vice President under Andrew Jackson, notable States Rights Activist, and later the 16th Secretary of State of the United States.
  • James Louis Petigru (1789-1863) was a lawyer and politician in South Carolina born in the Abbeville District in 1789. He was the leader of the anti-nullificationists in the South Carolina House of Representatives.
  • John McLaren McBryde was born in 1841, in Abbeville, South Carolina. He was elected president of South Carolina College in May 1883. In 1891 he became president of Virginia Tech/VAMC at age 50. After he retired, he became known as the father of VPI.
  • Bishop Henry McNeal Turner was born in Abbeville, S.C. in 1834. He was the first black man to hold the position of Chaplain in the U.S. Army. Turner was active in Georgia state politics, and he served briefly in the Georgia State Legislature. He became the twelfth A.M.E. Bishop and first southerner in 1880. For twelve years he served as chancellor of Morris Brown College (now Morris Brown University) in Atlanta.
  • Reverend Moses Waddel was born in North Carolina, but established his famous Willington Academy just 15 miles away from Abbeville, S.C. in 1804.


  1. Abbeville Community Profile Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  2. History, Culture and Local Economy Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  3. Abbeville, SC Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  4. Doria Johnson, 1998, The Lynching of Anthony Crawford Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  5. Ellen Barry, 2005, Service Atones for Past Racial Strife Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  6. Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok, 2004, Little Men Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  7. The Abbeville Institute Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  8. Finalists Named for 2008 All-America City Award, Retrieved May 28, 2008.
  9. Abbeville Opera House Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  10. South Carolina Department of Archives and History Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  11. Trinity Episcopal Church, Retrieved May 28, 2008.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1963.
  13. Ralph Ellison Retrieved May 27, 2008.


  • Abbeville County Historical Society. 2004. Abbeville County. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia. ISBN 0738516724
  • Ferguson, Lester W. 1993. Abbeville County: southern life-styles lost in time. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co. ISBN 0871524759
  • Ware, Lowry. 1992. Old Abbeville: scenes of the past of a town where old time things are not forgotten. Columbia, S.C.: SCMAR. ISBN 0913363111

External links

All links retrieved February 2, 2016.

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