Open Mon - Fri 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, Sat & Sun Closed

Growing Pains equals a Starr of Trouble

June 12, 2024

      Lake City and other areas wanted to develop a brand-new county early in the 1900s. This county would remove portions of Williamsburg, Florence, and Clarendon County.

“The proposed new county will bear the name of Rutledge, in honor of this State’s first governor, and will contain an area of little more than 400 square miles.” This new county of Rutledge would be from “Beginning at the point where the public highway known as the Spring Branch road crosses the Williamsburg and Clarendon county lines, near and to the north of Bethel Presbyterian church in Williamsburg county: running thence down said Williamsburg and Clarendon county line south 27 west 1.4 miles to the channel of Pudding swamp: thence up said Pudding Swamp to the mouth of  Douglas swamp: thence up said Douglas swamp to the Clarendon and Florence county line at Hudson’s mill: thence running said Clarendon and Florence county in an easterly direction (the centennial road being said line) to the Williamsburg and Florence county line on said read: thence running said Williamsburg and Florence county line to Bass bridge, on Lynches river, which Williamsburg and Florence county line runs from said Centennial road first end 57 east 5.23 miles: thence north 85.30 east 8.9 miles to a point on Lynches river near and south of Anderson’s bridge: thence down said Lynches river to Bass bridge: thence running the Cain and Hannah township line in Florence county to the corner of Pee Dee township in Florence county, at Bostick's mill: thence running the Cain and Pee Dee township line to the Great Pee Dee river: thence down said Great Pee Dee river to the Williamsburg and Georgetown county line near Smith’s mill: thence down the Williamsburg and Georgetown county line to Black Mingo creek to Black Mingo swamp: thence up the channel of said Black Mingo swamp to Paisley swamp to White Oak swamp: thence up the channel of said White Oak swamp to the point where the old railroad grade of the projected railroad from Cafes to Georgetown crosses said swamp: thence running the center of the said old railroad grade to a point 2.75 miles south69.30 east of the point where the southern boundary of the town of Cades crosses the Atlantic Coast Line railway track: thence 69.30 west 2.75 miles to the said point where the southern boundary of the town of Cades crosses the Atlantic Coast Line railway track: thence north 69.30 west 1.82 miles to a corner, thence south 89.15 west 4.25 miles to the intersection of the said Spring Bank road, with the public highway known as the Hebron road near the residence of Thos. R. Wilson: thence west up said Spring Bank road, the line. To the point of beginning.”[1]

This area above contained many tobacco areas and thousands of dollars worth of cotton, trucking, and berries also involved in the proposed area. This would make Lake City the best possible position for this new county seat. The reasoning for forming the brand-new county came in three distinct justifications. These justifications are the need for better roads, better schools, and a closer combination of mutual interests within a county. Some people were complaining about how only a third of the county, which was making the most money and had a large population distribution, was having to pay for the entire county roads and schools while receiving very little in school improvements and road work in the area while putting up 3/5 of the taxes. This previous saying was proclaimed by some people who wanted the change towards a new county.

       From the early looks in late 1907 and into most of 1908, Lake City was taking steps toward becoming a prosperous town due to the agriculture around the area. Lake City was becoming the 2nd largest tobacco producer in the state and eventually the largest in the world in string beans. With all the potential coming to Lake City, people of the area did not feel that Williamsburg was not helping cultivate the area at the time but wanted profit from it. Many options were presented towards the area, one was speaking towards Williamsburg again to reiterate how much support was needed to achieve the growth they were striving to make without plateauing too soon or crashing hard in a short time. The second choice was forming their county. This would allow the area to have a similar understanding and mutual interest in county development. This would also enable the area to set policies and position the county to benefit everyone within it. The last option that the area had was to relocate counties. This was a difficult process that would have county lines moved. The area would have to make sure a nearby county not only matched their interest but also would be able to maintain expectations.

              The option the area was more inclined towards was shown by Lake City starting the process of building interest in a courthouse and a county jail. Later in the year, a supposed fund of $75,000 was made to make these public buildings as soon as Rutledge County was formed. They also had Mr. Stuart Starr and Senator A.H. Williams in conference with Governor Ansel and Attorney General Lyon, within a discussion about the technicalities of establishing the proposed Rutledge County as of January 1908. Places like Sandy Grove, and others potentially wanting to join the proposed County.

              There were many arguments against the formation of this county. At the time it would cut the voting population of Williamsburg County in half. That Lake City, the proposed county seat, out of its entire population did not have an African-American property owner or African American engaged in business there. There were many concerns especially for the Sandy Grove area, because it was a part of Clarendon County and still had a tax debt of forty years (if they were to move to a new county the area would have to pay taxes in both the new county as well as Clarendon).

             There was a test vote within the Pee Dee and Hannah townships in Florence County, and a majority of 4 to 1 signified their wishes to be in the proposed county.

The 4 concerns many citizens in the proposed county would ask

1.) Do we need a new County?

2.)Where would the seat of the County be located?

3.) Is it the right time to form a new county

4.) Would it be profitable to leave the current County and start Rutledge County or move to another County?




            The Problem with the development of the County and getting support from the people within the proposed County was a select group of people. Much despair for the movement was with a group of people who were the loudest in support of a new county and the prosperity that would come from it. Stewart Starr, and, much later in the1917s, different townsmen with some businessmen connected within the area.  People like Former Senator A.H. Williams and others headed a group whose intention was to tackle issues within the community that the current county they were in was not doing or failing to help within the area. Williams’ group was focused on improving the roads (due to their poor conditions), school/education (to keep them modernized and kept them maintained), and finally they were worried about their taxes. Between 1907-1909 taxes jumped 12% and to many people in the area, it was a huge jump for little reason as to why they were rising so high. One huge selling point that Both Starr and Williams agreed on was that Rutledge County would be a more defined area and that the population inside the area would have similar interest areas. In places like Olanta, in the second iteration of Rutledge County, the other big point they made was not only in representation of the area but that traveling to bring concerns that the area and distance was a huge aspect even in the county court system. With Lake City, the center places like Johnsonville, Coward, Cades, and some parts of the surrounding area considerably less time to get to court and the county court would be closer to home.  


           These people, the group being fronted by Stewart Starr, were the loudest, were looked at with much more scrutiny, and looking at exactly what they were saying. Starr is the prime example. He would boast figures like, “3/5 of taxes are paid by this part of Williamsburg County” and “two-thirds of the voting power of Williamsburg is in this area”, as well as, many other claims. He even began talking to other newspapers about how they should support this movement. Many of those, including his business partner in his newspaper, did not support the idea of a new county. This had to do with the new county speculating on profits in trucking, as well as, within the agricultural area being extremely profitable. These speculations were because the potential of a National Guard Recruitment Center to be established in Lake City would increase the trucking industry to support the troops being here, as well as the current market for tobacco, cotton, strawberries, beans, squash, and other accompanied the year already establishing a good economy for the area. They needed a single company not to pass inspection which could lead to the military setting up a company to be formed and recruited in Lake City. This showed that even though Starr when it came to pushing toward Rutledge County, Starr excelled at the attraction of businesses towards the area, he lacked in a key area which was public relations with the potential county.

               The downside of any movement is that loud people tend to become the public face of the movement and can leave bad impressions that can be bad for a movement. Starr would publicly thrash his opposition with little foresight on what it could do in the long run and how it could influence the decisions of average citizens. He criticized papers, like the County Record, for not only failing to support the movement but he would also misrepresent or misquote people and data from across the State. The County Record multiple times corrected him on not only his misquotes and gave reason as to why they said a certain thing during that time but also criticized his ethics as a journalist. He was invited to the County Record, as well as other papers due to his position as commissioner of communication for the Rutledge County movements due to his position as commissioner of communication for the Rutledge County movement, to speak on why Rutledge County should be formed. He spent not only time in his paper but the space in other papers to attack the editors for not supporting the movement and the little he did speak on the subject that he was invited on he would throw multiple numbers in front. This was for him to seem knowledgeable on the subject, however, many times he was reprobated for fluffing the numbers. He would speak about how the county value was way above Calhoun County (which was the lowest county in South Carolina at the time).

                   Rutledge, upon creation, would be almost half a million dollars less than the poorest county in SC in property values. Many papers, from The State to the County Record, talked to the auditor in his books about the valuation and what that would entail for the area Rutledge would be a part of. This interview not only discredited Starr in his “facts” about the area but also showed that Starr would stretch the truth about the numbers and the law. The best example of his extensions of the truth was in the Sandy Grove area. This location was in Clarendon County and was debited to be taxed for the next 40 years, meaning that the area even if it were to move to a new county was required to pay Clarendon taxes as well as its own in Rutledge County or any other county they would join before the 40-year mark. Starr incorrectly kept repeating that the people of Sandy Grove would not have to pay Clarendon any taxes but that locations that were not habitable (part of swamps and rivers) also would not have to pay land taxes on those. Due to the large scale of how the county would be formed in 1907-1909, the people who wanted the county needed to get it put within the legislative system. This would mean that they would have to go to the governor and petition for a new county with documentation on the area mainly in the location and square mileage, the reasonings as to why the county should be formed, as well as the total tax records for the potential county with data from the location it is leaving(whether it be from a single larger county or a few smaller counties)


                 Starr, even though he was the cause of its failure due to his violate nature, his over-exaggeration with the data he gives, and his nature of picking fights with anyone who disagreed with him, did a lot of work to develop it to where the only thing was left was the vote for the county. He also, even though his way to achieve the result was wrong, had multiple views that were valid for an average person. Starr got men wanting to have a National Guard station in Lake City, he got many surveys done throughout the prospective county, as well as having multiple congressmen in the area in support of it. He talked about how the potential county would be more union in what should be done and in ideas due to the county area being influenced by agricultural development.  He also tries to get multiple businesses and trucking industries in the potential area, along with the plan for many courthouses and jails for the county throughout the county area. Though he was able to achieve getting interest involved in the establishment of the county; none would move forward until the foundation was set. This meant that industrial growth was temporarily stopped by the introduction of Lake City trying to be the town seat of a new government. Unfortunately, this would also lead to many speculations that the Rutledge County proposal was a scheme developed by Lake City natives and property owners artificially driving up the prices of the area.

This Article from the Keowee Courier on July 22, 1908 shows Stewart Starr's racist rants, as well as showing how business mindset he was in his approach towards Rutledge County


                       By the Year 1909 and into the midpoint of August voting had begun a multitude of people as well had already started campaigning for or against the idea of adding a new County. Many communities voted for the motion for a new county to pass the county had to be in favor with a two-thirds majority. The African American vote was huge during this period because every black vote was worth 2 white votes (This was due to reconstruction they wanted to reimburse the African American right to vote and saw this to pave it forward. Unfortunately, this led to many people, especially in the South, to not only dislike the new voting population but try to suppress their newfound voting power that in some cases could outdo anything set forward by a white populace, this became known as Jim Crow Laws), so even though the population may be predominantly white, African American's vote not only mattered but it could also sway the vote considerably. Starr, and some of his people, were very stereotypical for people back during the reconstruction period in the South when it came to acknowledging the African American presence within the political system and did not campaign for them, in fact many times Starr would say many things against the population that lived in South Carolina or about Frazier Baker. Unfortunately for Starr and Williams, when the votes had occurred, of the 991 votes that were tallied only 604 were in favor of creating Rutledge County within Williamsburg County. For the creation to be made it would have needed 660 votes for it to have carried in Williamsburg County. They were leaving a large margin in Clarendon County where it again lost.

The County Record from Kingstree and Starr had a vast melee between the two on the topic of Rutledge County. This led to multiple articles written between the two about each other as well as their opinions on the formation of the County of Rutledge.

           Starr was furious that his project had been defeated, that he and other supporters of Rutledge County, employed Attorney R.H. Welch to appeal these votes. R.H. Welch was an attorney in Columbia, he was the lawyer who was able to not only make the case for Calhoun County but also successfully was able to get it pushed, which was tasked with the job of arguing for voter malpractice to have been made that either a judge should overrule the vote or to reinstate the voting poll. Getting a lawyer told not only the seriousness and how much money supporters were willing to put into the making of the new county, but also that they wanted someone with experience, someone who could change the dream of Rutledge County to a reality.

           There was good news and bad news for supporters of Rutledge County. The good news was that R.H. Welch was the best lawyer that could be obtained in the state for this occasion. He was able to debate the case that the election was legal. Still, the voters were not registered, or a mishandling of registration in the Williamsburg County area where the proposed district was. The other problem was that the votes were not cast upon the scripted sheets that they were supposed to be on in the Clarendon County area of the newly proposed County of Rutledge (proclaims Welch as well as many advocates of Rutledge County). This went on until the Supreme Court of South Carolina in late 1909 until the beginning of February 1910. They were able to justify that the Williamsburg side could be technically declared a retrial due to the irregularities in the voting procedure, however, the main claim would be held in Clarendon County.

          The reason Clarendon County would become the major fighting point is that Williamsburg is being thrown out leads only to one part of the County votes can be valid. It is required for both parts of the County are needed to approve the creation of Rutledge. The advocates for Rutledge needed there to be enough doubt to require the court system to get a minimum revote done for the county under more strict circumstances. The Counties where the votes were being counted hired two main lawyers for both counties. JH Lesesne was the lawyer who oversaw the Clarendon County side of the arguments. He was able to defend against the claims that worked in the Williamsburg part of the case, while also only giving certain ground and being able to support the denial against their claims. The only thing that he allowed them to claim was involved in the voting process, this did not include the voters themselves, was the color of the voting slips. The County advocate lawyer tried to be technical because the color of the voting paper did not match what is required for a county vote process through the law. Many judges dismissed this technicality and it being the only leg the hope of Rutledge County had it fell to the wayside with no way of bouncing back while under the current leadership. If a person like A.H. Williams could direct someone like Starr in a direction that not only utilized his talents of speech and his personality but also was able to make sure his anger did not get the best of him. For someone like Starr to verbally attack other papers and people for just disagreeing with him. Rutledge County had the potential to make it as a county.

                   The 1909 Rutledge County vote did many things, this changed legislative laws due to the process as well as how many advocates for the formation of new counties would go across the state as well as the country to be established. Many times, these counties were not formed, and these promoters would take the money that was meant to be for this county formation and keep it for themselves, essentially robbing the taxpayers whose hope was in the formation of the new county. This was seen as a scheme that has been used not only in SC but across the country. The law that was passed had where any money that was put inside the county formation was put in an escrow account. An escrow account allows people, in the general sense, to put money into the account but only a third party (normally a bank) would have control of it until certain requirements are met. This would not only protect the monetary interest of people within proposed area but also reduce the number of pretenses of making a county.

                  The Main purpose of the Rutledge County Movement can be seen in three major lights. One was that the area was going to head to a productive boom that was coming in Lake City and the surrounding area in the immediate future (both with the tobacco boom incoming as well as the fruit and vegetable production growing exponentially) needing to stretch its wings, which Williamsburg was constricting the area with an increase of taxes but no seen effect on local schools with education or infrastructure and that the roadways were still horrible and not well maintained. This leads to the second point, which was a way for the areas to address problems that have already been mentioned but dismissed. Showing not only the seriousness of the multiple problems but also that the people in the area had a right to know what the answer is and what the timeline could be for their concerns to be able to get fixed. The final spotlight that Rutledge County showed was that people looked at transforming, the sides of stories and the taxes, being said that the area can always look for a way to look out for its future. This type of issue was seen further when Lake City and Olanta tried again later in 1917, though it failed, this brought the consideration of Lake City, as well as some surrounding areas leaving Williamsburg and joining Florence County.   This change would not have happened if it was not for the 1909 voting. It showed that there was a major concern in the area and enough for the motion to be almost passed. It also showed that the progress of business was ever-changing in the area. Multiple farming enterprises were able to be made not only around Lake City, but new businesses could be introduced into the area if only it had the proper tools. The Rutledge County project even though it was a failure as an entirety in creation, the ideals and spirit of it can be felt today through the area with new businesses coming up as well as many different areas embracing what not only makes them unique and having local and county governments wanting to listen to her people. Rutledge County in its conception of it still lasts to the present day not only as a thought experiment but also as an idea that its spirit will forever embody the people around here even if they never realize it.







                                                                                  “Movement of Rutledge County.” The Manning Times, November 11, 1908.

                                                                                                                 The State, Columbia, SC, April 6, 1909

                                                                                                                  The Columbia Record. April 3, 1909.

                                                                                                                 The County Record. August 12, 1909.

                                                                                                                The County Record. December 3, 1908.

                                                                                                                The County Record. February 13, 1908.

                                                                                                               The County Record. February 20, 1908.

                                                                                                               The County Record. February 6, 1908.

                                                                                                               The County Record. February 6, 1908.

                                                                                                                   The County Record. July 1, 1909.

                                                                                                                  The County Record. July 12, 1909.

                                                                                                                 The County Record. July 15, 1909.

                                                                                                                The County Record. July 29, 1909.

                                                                                                                 The County Record. July 29, 1916.

                                                                                                                  The County Record. July 8, 1909.

                                                                                                                  The County Record. July 8, 1909.

                                                                                                                The County Record. June 24, 1909.

                                                                                                                  The County Record. May 4, 1916.

                                                                             “Election Commissioners Meet.” The County Record. August 26, 1909.

                                                                                                                  Keowee Courier. July 22, 1908.

                                                                                            “Lake City Greatly Elated.” The State. September 3, 1909.

                                                                                                       The Manning Times. August 25, 1909.

                                                                                                        The Manning Times. December 1, 1909.

                                                                                                       The Manning Times. June 30, 1909.

                                                                                                       The Manning Times. March 2, 1910.

                                                                                                       The Manning Times. September 1, 1909.

                                    “Mar 20, 1913, Page 9 - the State at” Historical Newspapers from 1700s-2000s Accessed March 26,                                                               2024.

                                                                                   “No Gab-Fest For Us.” The County Record. July 22, 1909.

                                                                   Starr, Stewart. “Supplement for Rutledge County News.” The Rutledge News. August 6, 1909.

                                                           Starr, Stewart. “The Rutledge County News (Lake City, S.C.) 1908-1910.” The Library of Congress. Accessed March 26, 2024.                                                                                               

                                                                                                               The State. April 23, 1908.

                                                                                                            The State. August 18, 1908.

                                                                                                            The State. December 16, 1909.

                                                                                                              The State. January 3, 1909.

                                                                                                                   The State. June 16, 1960.

                                                                                                            The Sumter Daily Item. December 13, 1917.

                                                                                                  The Times and Democract. August 26, 1909.

                                                                        “We Want the Truth.” The County Record, September 16, 1909.

                                                                       Wolfe. “Starr Ethics.” The County Record. August 12, 1909.

                                                              [1] “Movement of Rutledge County.” The Manning Times, November 11, 1908.

Zach Blankenship
Museum Assistant
Zach assists the Museum Director and Museum Curator, does the events coordination, and handles community relations.