Chasing Ghosts in Camden, South Carolina

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Patriarch of the Worcester Perkins family, King was born in 1802 and died in 1912 at age 110. This photo is from the Camden (SC) Chronicle at the time of his death.

Patriarch of the Worcester Perkins family, King was born in 1802 and died in 1912 at age 110. He fathered 23 children. This photo is from the Camden (SC) Chronicle at the time of his death.

“Down here chasing ghosts, are you?”  “Yes!”  I happily answered the greeting of a fellow researcher at the Camden (SC) Archives and Museum.  The Perkins family, represented in  35 photos in the Bullard collection, has intrigued me since I first laid eyes on their photos. This summer I got the chance to research their place of origin.

Research in the census, SC digital newspaper collections, and Worcester records raised many questions that drew me to Camden.  How had Edward and Celia Perkins managed to become landowners as early as 1870, only five years after emancipation? What, if any, was their connection to the prominent Chesnut family, from whom they purchased their land? Why had they lost their land and migrated to Worcester in 1879? Why and how did they end up in Worcester, the first of several Camden families that settled in the Beaver Brook neighborhood?

These were just a few of the questions that drew me to the Sand Hills of South Carolina.  And within the first hour of my research at the archives, I knew that this trip was worthwhile.  Through digitized South Carolina newspapers that I accessed before my trip,  I found a tiny blurb that stated that King Perkins, Edward’s father, died in 1912 at the age of 110.  And sure enough, the Camden Chronicle, available at the archives, featured two stories–with photos of the ancient King–on the front page when he died.  Full of all kinds of valuable information, the articles revealed that King had been a slave of “General Chesnut”–that is James Chesnut, husband of the famous Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut.  (Chesnut resigned his seat as U.S. Senator from SC when SC seceded in 1860 and served as a close advisor to Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. ) As the archives had Chesnut’s plantation account book, I was able to find King and Tish, King’s wife, as well as “King’s Edward” listed among Chesnut’s numerous slaves.  Land records at Kershaw County’s Registry of Deeds and Probate Office revealed more details about how both King and Edward managed to acquire land from the Chesnut plantations on Knight’s Hill after the Civil War. Edward lost most of his land during Reconstruction when he was unable to pay taxes. He and Celia migrated to Worcester soon after, in 1879. (I recently learned why they chose Worcester–I will reveal this in a later post!) Additional family members followed in Edward and Celia’s wake: two brothers, Abraham and Thomas; sister Rose; niece Patsy, nephew Isaac, to name a few, all of whom Bullard photographed.

Land records also revealed that many of the Perkins family kept strong links to Camden, purchasing land there after moving to Worcester and having their bodies interred on Knight’s Hill.  On a beautiful, late spring evening I made my way to St. Paul’s Methodist Church Cemetery in Knight’s Hill and found the Perkins plot where, I suspect, several of the Worcester Perkins, Patsy and Isaac, were buried in plots that are now unmarked.

StPaul

St. Paul Methodist Church Cemetery on Knight’s Hill, Camden, SC

The grave of King Perkins, Jr., son of King, brother of Edward.

The grave of King Perkins, Jr., son of King, brother of Edward.

I came home with a treasure trove of information about the Perkins Family of Camden that has allowed me to further piece together their fascinating family story and has lead me to new information here in Massachusetts (More on that soon).

I want to thank Lon D. Outen, Research Assistant at the Camden Archives and Museum for helping me access so many records in my week there. Thanks also to W. Guerry Felder, who took time off from his own research and generously guided me to numerous sources and helped me navigate land and probate records at the Kershaw County Courthouse.

Archives

Camden is also the birthplace of Larry Doby, second African American major leaguer in the modern era, after Jackie Robinson. His statue stands outside the Camden Archives.

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