Sandlapper
The Magazine of South Carolina

Place Names in South Carolina

Down the Savannah From Keowee

 

by Irene LaBorde Neuffer

How many syllables are in "Combahee?" What's wrong with "buncombe?" Who was the "lady" of Lady's Island? And what do scissors have to do with chit'lins?

 

The area on this side of the Savannah River covers the full length of the state's boundary from northwest to southeast, from Keowee down the river to the Beaufort Archipelago and Daufuskie Island.

Of our four largest river systems, the Savannah is the only one with other than an Indian name. Titled by the Spanish explorers here in the early 1500s, the word apparently means "flat, treeless grassland."

The large, Indian-named river systems, deciphered in Names in South Carolina articles by Dr. A.L. Pickens with the aid of Catawba Chief Blue, also are appropriately named: Edisto, meaning "black"; Santee, meaning "gentle"; and Pee Dee, meaning "wading or shallow" - notwithstanding the story that a traveling trader named Patrick Daley carved his P.D. initials on a tree by the trail through the river valley.

 

Oconee

The state's most northwest county, Oconee is a Cherokee Indian word that may mean "snake dragon" or "water eyes of the hills." Pronounced "ok-KONE-ee," it originally was established by the Lords Proprietors as a military outpost to protect settlers from hostile Indians.

 

Keowee & Walhalla

The chief village of the Cherokee Indians was Keowee, at the northwestern head of the Cherokee Path, aptly describing the plentiful "mulberry groves." The original town now is under Lake Keowee. Other preservations of the name include the Keowee River and the Keowee Courier newspaper. Walhalla, the county seat of Oconee, was settled by the German Colonization Society from Charleston, under the leadership of John Andreas Wagener. The name Walhalla is from Norse mythology, meaning "heaven of heroes" or "garden of the gods."

 

Cherokee Path

One of the two precolonial trails, the Cherokee Path wound from the village of Keowee southeast for 96 miles to present Greenwood County's Old Star Fort and the town of Ninety Six.

Meaning "fire" or "ground squirrel," the name Cherokee survives today more than any other Indian title. There is the county; the waterfall; the springs, once a resort famous for its mineral waters and now a voting precinct in Spartanburg County; the plantation on Combahee River (pronounced "KUM-bee"); the white Cherokee rose; and numerous streets and roads throughout the state.

There were more Cherokee Indians in South Carolina than any other tribe.

 

Abbeville

Settled by French Huguenots about 1790, Abbeville supposedly was named by Dr. John de la Howe for his native town of Abbeville, France.

It's the name of the county and county seat, between Greenwood and Calhoun Falls, and is best-known as the site of the first secession meeting in the state; the last meeting of the Confederate cabinet; and the home of John C. Calhoun, Maj. Thomas D. Howie (the "Major of St. Lo") and . . . Prof. Claude Henry Neuffer (founder of the first state place name journal in the United States).

 

Waddel Academy

Officially titled Willington Academy, Dr. Moses Waddel's school was in the town of Willington, now in McCormick County. Among his outstanding students were John C. Calhoun and A.B. Longstreet, a president of the now titled University of South Carolina and author of Georgia Scenes.

 

Buncombe Road

From Edgefield County up through Greenville is Buncombe Road, possibly so-named because it leads to Asheville, NC, in Buncombe County. A congressman from that area made his county famous and possibly added new meaning to the word by too frequently rising to pontificate, "I must speak in behalf of my noble constituents of Buncombe County. . . ." Groans were heard throughout the hall, and "a lot of buncombe" came to mean "hogwash" or "baloney."

 

Whiskey Road

One of my favorite postcards has a picture taken in Aiken County evidencing that Whiskey Road intersects with Brandy Lane, close by Easy Street. The local improvement society tried to upgrade the name by changing it to Cherokee Road and planting white Cherokee roses along its borders. But when winter residents returned to town, a veritable cane raising resulted in a return to the alcoholic title - actually historical, since in early days the road was used for hauling barrels of rum inland from the coast.

 

Salley

However small, the little Aiken County town of Salley (from the German family name Sahly) in recent years has become widely known for its Chit'lin Strut festival each November. Though I, like many from the thousands in attendance, prefer to eat other than the featured meat, my Claude declared he remembered when folks used to come into the country store and ask for "three yards of chit'lins and a pair of scissors."

 

Jasper County

Our flag fell at the Battle of Sullivans Island during the Revolution. Sgt. William Jasper climbed up the wall to replace the flag. The monument to him on the Charleston Battery includes his famous words to commanding officer William Moultrie: "Colonel, we can't fight without our flag!"

Jasper County is named for the brave sergeant, as are the Sergeant Jasper Apartments in Charleston.

 

Pocataligo

South of the Combahee River in Jasper County is the town of Pocataligo, named by the Yemassee Indians and meaning "gathering place."

It's too often explained inaccurately as coming from the story of the balking mule, whose owner was advised by the fellows hunkered down in front of the general store, "Poke his tail! He go!"

 

Beaufort

Named for the Duke of Beaufort, one of the latter Lords Proprietors, this coastal area at the southeast corner of the state had been termed "the most discovered part of the globe." First came the Scots, then the Spaniards, French and English, with only the English establishing permanent settlements.

In Beaufort County, Lobeco grew up around a vegetable packing house. One of our several blend names, Lobeco (pronounced "loe-BEE-koe") was concocted from the first two letters of the business owners' names, Long and Bellamy, with "co" for company. Elsewhere, blend names in the state include Irmo in Lexington County, Calico in Spartanburg, Alcolu in Clarendon and maybe even Nitrolee in Chester.

 

St. Helena's Island & Lady's Island

Although the Spanish explorers were the first of our European colonials and never made a permanent settlement, they did contribute a few place names besides Savannah.

On May 13, 1520 - recorded as St. Elena Day on the Roman Catholic calendar - Spanish sailors landed in the Beaufort Archipeligo and named the island St. Helena (pronounced "HEL-e-nuh"). So-named is St. Helena's Sound and nearby St. Helena's Parish.

The northwest section of St. Helena's island is called Lady's Island, frequently misspelled as plural, "Ladies Island." Two stories of its name origin may both be true. The first is also from the early 1500s: It was named, from the day discovered, for Spain, The Day of Our Lady, Mother of Christ on the Roman Catholic calendar. The second story is from more than 200 years later: Some 3,000 acres of land thereon were owned by Lady Elizabeth Blake, and in 1740, by act of the British House of Commons, the island was named for her.

 

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