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Transcript for Saxe Gotha

Colonial Times

In 1729 South Carolina’s population included 10,000 white settlers compared to 20,000 African slaves. Rice planters, who also served as Colonial legislators, feared slave revolts. Colonists also feared hostile Spanish, French, and Native Americans. To address these concerns, Governor Robert Johnson proposed his Scheem for Settling Townships. The idea was that poor white Protestants would be given land and provisions to immigrate to South Carolina. More white settlers would prevent slave revolts. Further, new frontier settlements would protect Charleston from Spanish, French, and Native American attacks (Meriwether 1940, 3-30). Saxe Gotha was one such township established according to Governor Johnson’s plan. Located in the heart of the South Carolina Midlands, in the upper Congaree Valley, Saxe Gotha was established along the Cherokee path to Charleston. During Colonial times, and through antebellum and post bellum years, the Saxe Gotha settlement grew. Maps from different time periods and other primary sources, such as Robert Mills's Statistics of South Carolina depict the geographical and historical lay of the land. Click here to take the Lexington Map Challenge.


By 1759, Saxe Gotha population figures reached eight or nine hundred people. Saxe Gotha settlers included mostly Germans, Irish, and other immigrants from North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania (Petty 1943, 41). There were also English settlers and African slaves who lived in Saxe Gotha. In these early years, Germanic and British settlers remained separate. Further, Germans were either Lutheran or Reformed, while English were either Baptist or Anglican. As part of the township defense system, however, Saxe Gotha served its purpose. “The chief passage from the hill and mountain country to the coastal plain was now completely blocked by an independent and resourceful population” (Meriwether 1940, 33, 52-65). Click here to take the population trends challenge.

American Revolution

Prior to the American Revolution, backcountry population demographics and economic patterns differed from low country population and economic patterns. Backcountry settlements were smaller, had fewer slaves, and were largely self-sufficient economies. On the other hand, the low country economy was based on large plantations, which grew and exported a single crop (rice) with slave labor. These differences caused problems as backcountry residents grew more upset with the South Carolina provincial government in Charleston than they did with the British parliament. In fact, many backcountry country leaders disagreed greatly with low country leaders about breaking ties with Great Britain. To be sure, some in the old Saxe Gotha township would have supported the Revolution, but many backcountry colonists were either loyal to the crown or simply "just wanted to be left alone." (Edgar 1998, 223-225).

New Nation

In 1783, South Carolina and the other colonies won their independence from Britain, and established the United States under the Articles of Confederation. In 1785, South Carolina’s legislature created counties and courthouses throughout the state. The 1785 state law established Lexington county, which included the old Saxe Gotha township. Celebrating victory over Britain, legislators named Lexington County for the Americans’ victory at the Battle of Lexington and Concord (South Carolina Reference Room—Lexington County 2003). Tensions between low country planters and backcountry farmers, however, did not end during the Articles of Confederation years. Following ratification of the new United States Constitution, apportionment of delegates to the state’s House of Representatives caused heated debate. Would delegates be elected according to population in districts, or would delegates be elected according to wealth? South Carolina’s 1790 state constitution greatly favored the interests of low country planters. Yet, while low country leaders felt the 1790 constitution provided for orderly government, “members of the backcountry leadership, many of whom were now substantial planters, were not willing to accept second-class citizenship.”(Edgar 1998, 248, 257).


From the late colonial period through the early years of the New Republic, the backcountry grew in population and in prosperity. Yet, while backcountry planters did not grow rice, they did learn to grow another staple crop for world markets—cotton. With Eli Whitney’s 1793 Cotton Gin, backcountry farmers could grow short staple cotton for sale to British textile operators. Growing and harvesting cotton cost much less than growing rice, giving backcountry farmers the chance to “produce a staple for cash.” Profits from cotton sales were used to purchase slaves. Further, cotton production gave landless white tenants the chance to become landowners. During South Carolina’s antebellum years, production of short-staple cotton increased greatly compared to the relatively small amounts of sea island cotton grown off the coast of Charleston. In the economic boom year of 1850 farmers harvested 300,091 bales of cotton (15,450,000 lbs.). Sold at 10 cents per pound, many cotton planters grew exceptionally wealthy. Wade Hampton, for example, earned $75,000 ($920,000 in today’s dollars) with his first cotton crop in 1799. Ten years later, Hampton earned $150,000 ($1,840,000 in today’s dollars). By 1835, Wade Hampton ranked as one of the wealthiest planters in the South (Edgar 1998, 270-271). While cotton created much wealth for South Carolinians, the crop also had devastating effects: 1) Cotton destroyed the land. 2) As soil eroded many planters migrated out of the state to grow cotton in Alabama, Mississippi, and the western territories. 3) Lastly, as farmers grew more cotton for cash, they grew less crops for subsistence farming. In the 1850s, for example, Richland County farmers grew 50% less corn, 27% less cattle, and 40% less sheep and swine than in the years leading up to the 1850s cotton boom (Edgar 1998, 273-276).

After Cotton:

After cotton was introduced widely around 1800, it was gathered in the following manner (as reported by Major Kinard): "Of mornings after a heavy dew, or after a shower of rain, the open bolls were picked off the stalks, taken into the house and put on a pile; and then of nights all would gather round the pile of bolls and pick out the cotton by light of tallow candles, picking off all trash. It would take three or four to make one bale of three hundred pounds—would join together and take to Billy Rutherford's to be ginned. Then in the fall, four or five neighbors would join teams of five fine bay horses—no mules—take six or eight bales of cotton and go to Charleston and sell for twenty-five or thirty cents per pound; the father with the oldest son going along, with enough provisions prepared at home by good women to last them during the trip, with the best of bread baked in Dutch ovens. They camped out at night, sleeping with their feet to the fire, with only the sheltering branches of a tree above them. It took about sixteen days to make the trip, hauling goods back for merchants in the county, getting from two to three dollars per hundred for hauling." Some Dutch Forkers raised only enough cotton for their own purposes and did not sell in this manner. After gins came to the Fork, some still separated the seed from the fiber by hand, if for their own use. Enough has been written here about cotton carding, a necessary activity for getting the cotton into shape to spin thread. This was done by the womenfolk throughout fall and winter. (Kibler, 1988,73)

Cotton Courtship:

Mayer presents a somewhat different history of cotton. With its introduction into the Fork around 1800, "this enticing plant was at first experimental; and only farmers possessed of superabundant land and labor-force ventured to try it. The fields selected for this new kind of tillage were small that they were called patches; hence cotton-patches to this day, when the acreage is small. For several years no more was planted than was sufficient for clothing. At first the seed were separated from the lint by fingers. The cotton as picked from the bolls was heaped in the largest room of the house, and as remote from the fire-place as possible to avoid conflagration. For further security, woolen coverlets were spread over the heap to protect it from the sparks that might be projected from the fire, on winter nights. The young folks from the nearest neighborhoods now, after early supper, usually assembled together from farm-house to farm-house to engage in picking the lint of the cotton from the seed. The fun began in this sort of a way: A young woman of satisfactory beauty leaves the brightness of the blazing fire, kindled in September more for light than for warmth, goes to the cotton heap, fills her apron with the snowy locks. She then steals away into a quiet corner ostensibly in the desire to be alone, and not to be bothered by any intermeddler of the opposite sex. One can almost hear her say so, as she casts an angry, forbidding glance at a hardheaded looking fellow who at present seems disinclined for any work, at all. Now, look at the fellow. The young woman has scarcely composed herself comfortably, when he of the hard-head approaches her and, notwithstanding her gestures of disapprobation, squats himself with a bump down on the floor before her,-falling on his knees. Meanwhile, illustrating the contagiousness of example, the whole company become divided off into couples, and an unintelligible, murmuring whisper floats through the room, till the clock strikes twelve, when they all leave for their respective homes. So it went the rounds from house to house. (Kibler 1988, 73-74)


After the cotton gin came into the Fork, farmers "began to cultivate cotton for market. The progress of cotton culture from 1830 down to this date [1891] is well known and belongs to 'the present.' I conclude with some account of the large spinning 'wheel,' one of which was exhibited at the Atlanta Exposition [of 1881] as an implement belonging to the past. It needs no particular description from me, as hundreds of them are to be found in the Dutch Fork, at this day. Some of my most delightful reminiscences are connected with the modern spinning-wheel. My mother reappears in living shape and feature as I recall her spinning-wheel. I can see her walking to and fro before the spindle giving to the wheel a revolution of such rapidity, that, for a moment, nothing could be seen but the hub and the rim. I have seen with boyish admiration many a young woman engaged at this kind of work. No other occupation displays the God-given graces of woman so admirably as when she walks over a sanded floor, with her waist untrammeled by the accursed corset, and her teeth gleaming through noble smiles—her spinning-wheel all the while with whizzing acclamation testifying to her strength and willingness to labor for the comfort other home." Thus Mayer in 1891 shows that he is of the good old stock, with the old blood of the Fork asserting itself.

Catherine Monts stated that she learned to spin in 1848, at the age of ten and by fourteen had learned to weave. "The children in every family in our community had to help with the spinning," she declared. "In that way we kept the weavers supplied with thread. Four cuts made a hank and usually a mother set one hank as each girl's task. When that was finished she could run out and play. We used a sleigh and harness to weave. A good weaver could make five yards of fine cloth or six yards of coarse cloth, per day. 400 sleigh made coarse cloth, 500 a little finer, and 600 was generally used for the cloth we made into dresses. Each color had to have its own shuttle. I have woven with 700 sleigh carrying a number of shuttles to make checks and stripes. We also colored the threads before we started to weave. (Kibler, 1988, 75)

Before Cotton:

"Before the advent of cotton, flax and wool were the materials from which cloth was made, as it had been in the old country. In the early fall, flax stalks were gathered from the fields. The sterns were broken into fragments by "flax-breakers," which Vennie Mayer recalls as being "a board three feet long with nails to rake the stems." A few nights' exposure to damp and a few days' subjection to the heat of the sun, were enough to remove the woody pulp from the enduring fiber. Then the fiber was carded and placed upon the spinning wheel's distaff, which was "made of a three-pronged dogwood branch peeled of its bark so as to be as white and smooth as ivory. The prongs were about as large as goose-quills, and ten or twelve inches long, while the stems from which the prongs diverged, and which fitted into the spinning wheel's socket, was about six inches long and as thick as one's finger." The "bunch of flax" was put on the distaff, the thread was started and shaped by the spinner's fingers, and then brought down within reach of the twister, "which after twisting it sufficiently, wound it upon the spool." The wheels were much smaller than the usual ones we picture. Around 1800 and before, at least one of these little flax spinning wheels was "in every house" in the Fork.

While 0. B. Mayer watched his grandmother at work on one of these in the 1820s, he noted that they were already going out of use, and this date is corroborated in Scott. Mayer reports being "impressed, young as I was, with the quietude attached to the occupation. She was seated on a low bench, and with her foot she moved a treadle that communicated motion to the wheel similarly to what is now done with a sewing machine. A band formed of twisted thread passed over the wheel and around the spindle to which quite a rapid movement was given. With the thumb and fore-finger of one hand she pulled down a small quantity of flax from the distaff, and by the aid of the other hand gave it the form of a rough roll which caught by the twister, was quickly finished into a smooth thread and wound upon the spool or quill. The noise produced by the revolving twister, and the humming of the wheel made up a continuous, monotonous buzzing sound which, combined with the bending over of the body and downward gazing of the eyes, was highly favorable for meditating. Thus for hours the spinning would continue, with nothing to interrupt it."

Cotton nap "could not be fixed on the distaff and be drawn down by the fingers to the twisting flyers, as was done with the flax and wool; so it was first fashioned into rolls by cotton cards." All spinning soon came to an end, however, because with cotton, which did not last toughly for a long time like the linen made of flax, required replacement too frequently for the housewife to keep up with the demand. Thus inventions of greater speed were needed to replace the ways "known to our Dutch Fork ancestors, so averse to change and progress." "Moreover, as the days drew on when the desire for 'changeable suits of apparel' was to outstrip all handiwork, and the gentler sex to require oftentimes as much as eighteen yards of stuff for one dress, with a trailing 'superfluity of naughtiness' at least a yard long, the distaff and the little spinning-wheel were forced to retire and the fingers to call for the help of steam-power. Multiplicity must ever be at the expense of durability. Desire can be strained beyond gratification. Neither the strength of steam nor the rapidity of electricity shall ever be able to satisfy the imaginations of men's hearts, rushing on from 'vanity of vanities' to vexations of spirit.'" Thus, in 1891, with these words, Mayer was again strongly advocating the old ways and the old values. He then hopefully predicts that the time is coming when "mankind reeling under satiety" will seek the simplicity of former days. Then the little flax wheel will greet the "children of repentance with a louder and more melodious hum while spinning the thread for the white linen in which the millenial people are to be robed." For him, this fabric symbolized the Dutch Fork's virtues of endurance, simplicity, genuineness, and doing one's work honestly and well, traits that he felt were slipping away in the modern era." (Kibler 1988, 75-77)

Cotton Lamentations:

There are two considerable stretches of original forest remaining in Dutch Fork, to indicate what was the natural appearance of the country in the far past. One of these is the tract of one hundred acres of superb oak-land that surrounds St. John's church, and belongs to it; the other contains about fifteen acres of heavily timbered land, and lies in front of the Pomaria residence, at a distance of three hundred yards from it. There are many other small remnants of primitive woods scattered about, but they are not sufficiently extensive to aid the fancy in picturing the "boundless contiguity of shade" that once extended so widely over this fair region. When the white people, following John Adam Summer, came into these wilds, they found that the Indians had made a few small clearings, and had been cultivating them rudely for the production of a large kind of grain, since a time to which their memory did not reach. Botanists have given to this grain the name, Zea Maize, but in common language, it is called Indian Corn, from the fact that it was first found among these Indians. They, however, must have used it very sparingly, in the form of hominy (an Indian name, according to Webster), or by simply parching the grains, since their little fields probably did not yield all together more than three hundred bushels. It is easy to infer that the white settlers, accustomed, as they were, to eat bread with their meat, and soon discontented with jerked beef and venison dried in the sun or smoked in the chimney jamb, speedily brought into tillage much larger fields, which under the plough-share yielded prodigious crops of this new grain, as well as of wheat, rye, and barley; so that it was not long before the face of the country beamed with the smiles of civilization.

When we walk through such memorial remnants of woodland as I have mentioned we sigh over the destruction of the forests,—the desolations which the natural strength of the soil has so beautifully struggled to repair by means of the oldfield pine; and we say within ourselves: The oaks have been needlessly wasted! The tilling of the ground to supply man with necessary bread would not require the yeomanry of the Dutch Fork, nor of any other section of country, to destroy the vast areas of original growth which we see to-day abandoned to the broomsedge, wherever nature has failed to reforest the waste places with the old-field pine. Nor would there have been a necessity for any prodigal clearing of land even by the introduction of cotton, so long as the young people for pastime separated from the seed, with their fingers and thumbs, sufficient lint to aid the flax and the wool in supplying raiment for the families; but when the cotton-gin was patented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, and gin-houses and screws were erected allover the land to supply the world with what had suddenly become a great staple,—then, and not til then, did the murderous attack upon the glorious forests begin.

Before cotton came into use in the Dutch Fork, flax and wool were the materials from which ordinary clothing was obtained, and altogether by domestic manufacture. The cloth woven upon the simple primitive loom was wonderfully durable.... More then four hundred years ago a few nights’ exposure to dampness and to the heat of the sun for as many days removed the flax-stalks in a rotten pulp from a quantity of fibre which was woven into a fabric that received from the brush of Raphael the painting of the Transfiguration, has kept it fresh to the present day, and will last to keep it for four hundreds years longer. The same can be said in regard to hundreds of other master-pieces of painting. Strange! That a stuff of such little durability as cotton should ever threaten to become a substitute for linen, --cotton, the very symbol of rottenness and decay, while linen is the symbolic immortal material for the marriage dress of the Lamb’s Bride, --to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. (Mayer 1982, 61-62, 68-69)

The First Cotton Gin I Ever Saw
SHPO, South Carolina Department of Archives and History

At age 91, Julian D. Brown Describes the cotton gin built by his great-grandfather, Moses Brown. Located in Browntown of Florence County, the gin house, writes Elaine Y. Eaddy (1981) "is still standing on its massive supports, and its gears and wheels, in their intricate hand carved symmetry, a beautiful example of the patience and ingenuity that built America.

"My great grandfather was a farmer. He had cotton to gin and so did his neighbors. He knew of Whitney's idea so he set about building a cotton gin.

To operate such a machine he needed a housing unit and wheels and gears that would protect and deliver power to his machine. These parts must be made of wood, but being a large land holder he had ample areas of the woods from which the needed parts could be made. Long leaf pines the turpentine man's ax had never found, were rich in resin that prevented weathering and termite damage. From such virgin long leaf pines he had his slaves work off surplus wood to leave a heart of fat wood for posts he set five feet in the earth to support his ginhouse. from hickory and oak trees he made wheels and axles. The first floor was ten feet above ground allowing space for machinery. The upper floor housed the gin and cotton bins.

At the center of the ground floor a journal bearing, was set well in the earth to hold the lower end of a king post twenty inches in diameter and long enough to reach anchorage at the floor above. Two feet from the lower end a mortise five by ten inches was chiseled through the king post to receive a beam thirty feet long at each end of which two horses were harnessed to furnish power. This center king post acted as the axis of a wood wheel fourteen feet in diameter. When the horses were started this wheel turned to drive the machinery. It was strong and accurate. On the circumference holes were drilled and spaced so as to be equidistant and sized to receive pegs that engaged smaller wheels. On the axles of these small wheels larger wheels were keyed from which belts moved through the upper floor to the gin pulley. Compared to the giant gins of today grandfather's was a toy. It had about twentyfive saws eight or ten inches in diameter, and turned at a moderate speed.

Early one ginday morning my father hurried off to grandfather's to help with the work for he had cotten to gin, Tho I was a tot of four years he let me go with him. I remember so well how I had to stand some forty feet from the ginhouse to be out of danger. The horses were moving in a circle and a long flight of steps leading to the gin loft posed danger for children. I stood close by a fence made of rails such as Abe Lincoln split in the long ago to pay for some clothing. I watched the men as they moved up and down the long steps bearing baskets of seed cotton up and returning with baskets of lint to be put in the press.

Not far away stood the press, also powered by horses, in which the lint was pressed into bales. This press was also handmade. A box made of heavy boards was stationed neat the ground. The framework that held the press box in place extended some ten feet hight and to this frame two blocks of hard wood were made fast. These blocks were 2 by 3 by 5 feet. In each of these blocks a semicircle was cut out so that when bolted together a circle was formed. In this circle winding grooves were cut like threads to match a ten inch center post on which ridges were chiseled that would fit the grooves in the blocks. When the center post was turned it would move up or down. Now, a press head to fit the press box was made fast to the lower end of the center post. This would press the lint down in the box where it was caught by hooks to hold it down. Now the horses were reversed and the screw post would move up to allow a refilling of the press box. This would continue until a bale of cotton was ginned and pressed, the required time being about one day. Tho this was slow, it was much betyter than teasing the lint from a shoefull of seed in the evening as children were required to do before retiring. It is easy to feel that children were glad to wear small shoes.

This cotton press stood in an open yard. To protect the works from the weather it was overed by a roof, pyramid in shape, with a square base and triangular sides meeting in an apex. This roof was anchored to the top of the screw post and as the horses made their circle the screw post turned the roof. I remember how strange it was to see a house top turning. Today the press is gone, but the old ginhouse stands a silent witness as one with bowed head and folded hands reminds the present that it stood once in the front of the cotton ginning industry.

John Fox

The life and legacy of John Fox provides a window into the world of antebellum southern agriculture. The Lexington County Museum preserves the John Fox House, as well as a number of supporting outbuildings and other historic structures.

Born on 14 December 1805, John Fox was the son of Jesse Fox and Faraba Ward. Fox married Anna Mathias on 29 March 1827, and they had two children: Sarah Ann and Joseph Ward. After Anna's death on 8 November 1830, John Fox became remarried to Eliza Ann Poindexter on 1 November 1832. John and Eliza had five children: Amanda Maria, Thomas Shelton, Mary Jane Elizabeth, James Poindexter, and John Jesse. Students from the nearby Lutheran seminary also stayed at the Fox household. The 1850 census shows five young students living with the Foxes.

John Fox was a planter, merchant, and local politician in Lexington District. John Fox's public career began in 1828 when he was elected sheriff (1828-1832 and 1836-1840). Fox later represented Lexington District in the House (1852-1853 and 1854-1855) and in the Senate (1856-1857 and 1858-1859). After the Civil War, Fox became the delegate for Lexington for the state constitutional convention in 1865. The 1860 federal census reports that John Fox owned property (real and personal) valued at $86,700. The bulk of his personal property included 53 slaves, who are listed on the 1860 slave schedule. Census records indicate that John Fox owned about 1,500 acres of land in 1860. Fox's personal papers show as many as twenty buildings in his name. On 1 July 1884, John Fox died and was buried in Batesburg. His wife, Eliza, and four children survived him. (Bailey, Morgan, and Taylor 1986, 524-525)

Food Traditions

Most of the food was grown on the nearby plantation (called "The Point") or in the yard itself. Large numbers of hogs, beef cattle, sheep and goats provided meat. Pork was the most popular meat, prepared fresh, or prepared with salt in the smokehouse. Pork not only was eaten as a main dish, but was used to flavor vegetables and for cooking oil as well. Other meats, including poultry from the yard (chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, guineas, and pigeons), wild game (rabbits, deer, squirrels) and fish caught from nearby rivers and millponds would have been prepared fresh. Since there was not refrigeration, meat could not be kept long without salting. It was cooked quickly, often barbequed in hot weather, and was cooked well done to prevent food poisoning. Even today many Southerners prefer to eat well-done meats as a matter of choice since our ancestors cooked this way.

The plantation produced large amounts of corn, some of which was processed into corn meal, grits, or big hominy. Wheat was milled into flour, and rice was also grown. Dairy cows in the barnyard produced milk that was processed into cream, butter, buttermilk, and cheese. Peas, beans, cabbage, collards, turnips, squash, cucumbers, melons of all types, pumpkins, okra, tomatoes, and both sweet and Irish potatoes came from large kitchen gardens. Some of these vegetables could be dried to preserve them. From orchards came apples, pears, peaches, and plums, may types of berries, and a variety of nuts such as pecans and walnuts. Sugar, coffee, tea, and spices, some citrus fruits, and coconuts could be bought in Columbia and were closely regulated by Mrs. Fox. The best foods went to the dining room of the Fox house for the owner's family. Enslaved persons ate the plainer foods. Mrs. Fox had to make sure that enough food was prepared for everyone to eat, but not so much that anything was wasted. To find how how many of these foods are found listed on the 1850, 1860, 1870. and 1880 census records, take our Agricultural Census Challenge.(Hilliard, 37)