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The Founders

Ask a simple question, get a complicated answer. What seems like an easy question, "Who is the founder of Aiken County?" can become quickly a two hour discussion. If you want one person to point to as the founder, the most straightforward response is to list the name of Charles D. Hayne. After all, it was Hayne who submitted the bill to found Aiken County during the South Carolina Legislative session of 1870-1871. In local newspapers of the time, Hayne is referred to as the person most responsible for the creation of Aiken County along with a group of supporters.


But dig a little further and you quickly discover that the "group of supporters" extends to men of various backgrounds and years (if not decades) of behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Although not mentioned by name in Hayne's biographical newspaper article, these supporters are mostly likely linked to the first Board of Commissioners.



The Appointed Commissioners


In the legislative act that founded Aiken County, a group of men were appointed to a new Board of Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners was divided into two groups - one group was formed to define the geographical borders of the new county while the second group was charged with overseeing the construction of governmental buildings.


After conducting research using census records, historical newspapers, and journals of the time, the backgrounds of the men on the Board of Commissioners was varied. Board members represented all four counties that were being reshaped. They were businessmen, farmers, politicians. Some had served on the Union side of the Civil War and others served on the Confederate side. A number of them were men of color, some who had been born free and some who had been born enslaved. It was a truly diverse group of men, both racially and economically. They came from different backgrounds, but they worked together to form the County of Aiken.


Beginning in March of 1871, the Board of Commissioners began meeting in small groups to create Aiken County. They hired surveyors to chart the borders of the new county. They purchased land and buildings to function as the County Courthouse and the County Jail. And they collected taxes to fund it all. For over a year, these men shaped Aiken County.


Above image: The Carolina Spartan, Spartanburg, SC, May 18, 1871.




The First Elected Officials


Then, in October of 1872, the first elected officials of Aiken County were voted into office by the newly minted residents of the county. These men are often to referred to a the founders of Aiken County and they played a major role in the representation of Aiken County residents.


Above image: The announcement of the election results published in the November 21, 1872 issue of Columbia's The Daily Phoenix newspaper.


Within the ranks of the first elected officials of Aiken County, the names of (now) Senator Charles D. Hayne, Representative Prince R. Rivers, and Representative Samuel J. Lee are most commonly mentioned by historians. After her own investigative research, Aiken-area author Isabel Vandervelde published a book all about Aiken County's history. She devoted several pages within her book to the biographies of Hayne, Lee and Rivers. These same men were placed on the cover of her book. It is possible that Vandervelde focused on these three in large part because they are the only elected officials that we have public photographs of and extensive biographical information has been uncovered for them.


Above image: (left to right) Charles D. Hayne, Samuel J. Lee, and Prince R. Rivers. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


With this knowledge, it is important to emphasize that while these men were important to Aiken County's history, they do not stand alone. The other elected officials of Aiken County need to have their stories told.


Stay tuned to this blog for a deep dive into each member of the appointed Board of Commissioners and the elected Aiken County representatives and officers.


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