Abbeville County’s history goes back to the 1700s, to the time of the Ninety Six District and Granville County. Formally organized into a unit of state government in 1800, the “Abbeville District” extended from the Savannah to the Saluda, covering an area which now encompasses part of present day Greenwood and McCormick counties. Legend has it that the original visitors to this area came in 1540 when Hernando de Soto passed through in search of gold and it is said that there were scattered settlements from as early as 1710 on.
After the establishment of Thomas Brown’s trading post in Ninety-Six, the newcomer, Scotch-Irish Patrick Calhoun, father of John C. Calhoun, arrived from Virginia with four other families and settled on Long Cane Creek in Indian territory, establishing the first important settlement in 1756. Revolutionary War General, Andrew Pickens also came down from Virginia to join the Calhoun family in the Long Cane settlement where he married his first wife, John C. Calhoun’s sister.
In 1761 the settlement was nearly exterminated after a tragic Indian massacre of settlers and Pickens moved from the settlement to the village of Abbeville. There he built what was called the “Block House”, on land that he owned, as a refuge for women and children and this area was called Fort Pickens. Despite the dangers from hostile Indians, the fertile land attracted many new settlers to the area and in 1764, 211 French Huguenot exiles joined these first Scotch-Irish families. One of the founders of the “Abbeville District”, a Huguenot physician, Dr. John De La Howe reputedly named the county seat after his native city of Abbeville in France.
The oldest incorporated town in the “Abbeville District” was actually Boonesborough Township, now present day Donalds in the northeastern part of the county. Surveyed by Patrick Calhoun in 1762 the 20,500 acre township was settled in 1763 at the headwaters of Long Cane Creek and included what is now the town of Due West.
Due West itself traces its beginnings to a colonial trading post, DeWitt’s Corner, where in 1777 the Cherokee Indians signed a treaty ceding to South Carolina what is now Anderson, Greenville, Oconee and Pickens County. The modern town was founded in 1790 by Scotch-Irish settlers and the unusual name attributed to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian “Church of Due West Corner”. The ARP Church selected it as a site for Erskine Theological Seminary in 1837 and Erskine College, now the oldest denominational college in the state, was founded in 1839.
From its founding in 1785, Abbeville prospered as an up-country region. The arrival of cotton in the early 1800s established the whole county as an agricultural center. Although not officially incorporated until 1832, the town of Abbeville became one of three places in South Carolina to have an arsenal and magazine in 1792 and a Post Office was established in 1795.
Prior to the Civil War, antebellum Abbeville was the center of culture, agriculture and commerce in the upstate and the Bank of the State of South Carolina chose it as the site for one of its first three branches. Abbeville gained prominence during the Civil War for having been the site of reputedly the first organized Secession meeting on November 22, 1860 and later on May 2, 1865 Jefferson Davis held his last War Cabinet meeting here at the Burt-Stark Mansion.
After Reconstruction, Abbeville relied heavily on the railway which was built in the 1850s. New industry helped to diversify the county’s economy especially with the advent of textiles in the 1890s. The textile trade became a major economic factor with the opening of “Abbeville Mills” (now a division of Milliken) in 1895.
The 1890s also saw the founding of the newest community in the county, the town of Calhoun Falls laid out on the banks of the Savannah River at the junction of the CWC & SAL Railroads. In 1906 the Calhoun Mills Company announced it would build a textile mill and in 1908, with the mill under construction, the town was officially incorporated. Today Calhoun Falls is still on the main Richmond to Atlanta line and the mill is still in operation.