Camden, the oldest existing inland town in the state, was part of a township plan ordered by King George II in 1730. The frontier settlement, initially named Fredericksburg Township (later Pine Tree Hill), took hold by the 1750s, as Quakers and Scots-Irish emigrants and settlers from Virginia put down roots.
Joseph Kershaw, a native of Yorkshire, England, arrived in 1758 and established a store for a Charleston mercantile firm. At his suggestion, the town became Camden, in honor of Lord Camden, champion of colonial rights. In May of 1780 the American Revolution returned to Charleston. It fell. Lord Charles Cornwallis and 2,500 British troops immediately marched to Camden and set up the main British supply post for the Southern Campaign. For eleven months the citizens of Camden understood the atrocities of war.
Two battles were fought nearby. The Battle of Camden, the worst American battle defeat of the Revolution, was fought on August 16, 1780 nine miles north of the museum. Nearby, General Nathanael Greene and approximately 1,400 Americans engaged 950 British soldiers commanded by Lord Francis Rawdon on April 25, 1781. It was a costly British win and forced the Redcoats to evacuate Camden.
The 107-acre outdoor museum complex includes the town site of 18th century Camden, the restored and furnished 1785 John Craven House, Cunningham House circa 1830 (tour office and gift shop), two early 19th century logs cabins with exhibits, partially restored 1795 McCaa House, reconstructions of some of the military fortifications, the reconstructed and furnished Joseph Kershaw mansion, headquarters for Lord Cornwallis, a blacksmith exhibit and a .6-mile Nature Trail.