The original inhabitants of Cheraw were the Cheraw and Pee Dee tribes. The Cheraw tribe lived near the river hill, near present day Cheraw, but by the 1730s they had been devastated by disease. They joined the Catawba Confederacy leaving behind their name. Only a few scattered families were left by the time of the Revolution. There were a few settlers that came in the 1730s, forced up river when the Welsh came to claim the Welsh Baptist lands granted by the British government in the area around Society Hill. Many of the early settlers around the 1740s in Cheraw were English, Scots, French, or Irish.
By 1750, Cheraw had become an established village with a growing river trade and was one of only six places in South Carolina that appeared on English maps. In the 1760s, Joseph and Eli Kershaw were granted the part of Cheraw that is now the downtown historic district. The Kershaws laid out a formal street system, and by 1830 all the streets were lined with rows of elms. The Kershaws originally called the town Chatham but people never accepted this name, continuing to call it Cheraw or Cheraw Hill. It was incorporated as a town in 1820. In 1819, the first steamboat came up river, and along with it a burst of prosperity. The main crops from the Cheraw area were corn, cotton, tobacco, rice and indigo. Cheraw was the largest cotton market between Georgetown and Wilmington. It boasted the largest bank in South Carolina outside of Charleston before the Civil War. Despite a serious fire in 1835, by 1850 the town was prosperous center of trade.
The Civil War
Leading up to the American Civil War, Cheraw citizens played a key role in South Carolina’s Secession from the Union. On November 19, 1860 the first call for secession in a public meeting was made at the Chesterfield County Courthouse. John A. Inglis of Cheraw was in attendance. He later introduced the resolution for South Carolina to secede. Inglis was also named the chairman of the committee that wrote the document for South Carolina’s secession.
From the beginning of the war, Cheraw was known as a place for refuge and a storehouse for valuables. In March 1865, General William T. Sherman brought his Union troops to Cheraw for several days. One Union soldier said that they found Cheraw to be “a pleasant town and an old one with the Southern aristocratic bearing.” Sherman used this as a time to gain more control over his men. No private dwellings or public buildings in Cheraw were destroyed by Sherman and his troops. However, an accidental explosion of captured gunpowder at the river hill burned the Cheraw business district. The county courthouse in Chesterfield was burned. Thus, it is difficult to date many of the properties. During the Civil War, St. David’s Church was used as a hospital by both the Confederate and Union armies. Some troops from both armies were buried there. The first Confederate Monument was erected there in 1867. Originally, the monument did not mention the Confederate soldiers because the area was still occupied by Federal troops.
The Civil War caused great economic hardship in Cheraw, as it did in the entire South. However by the early 1900s, prosperity began to return to Cheraw. The Great Depression again brought change. Cheraw State Park and Sandhills State Forest were both founded in the 1930s. By the 1950s and 1960s the groundwork was laid for industrial growth. By the end of the 20th century, Cheraw had a balanced industrial base while maintaining its historic charm, architectural treasures and natural resources.