Camden: Historical Archaeology in the South Carolina Backcountry

By Brooks, Richard | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Camden: Historical Archaeology in the South Carolina Backcountry


Brooks, Richard, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Camden: Historical Archaeology in the South Carolina Backcountry. By Kenneth E. Lewis. (Belmont, Calif.: Thomson Higher Education, 2006. Pp. xvi, 176; $25.95, paper.)

This volume, one of twelve in the case Studies in Archaeology series, is designed for use in university settings. The general reader should not shy away from Camden, however, which examines how historical archaeology has worked at household- and community-level investigations to further our understanding of the development of Camden, originally known as Pine Tree Hill, during its first twenty-five years. The author, Ken Lewis, has been involved with archaeology in Camden since 1974, and there is no scholar more qualified to write about the archaeology of this historical town.

The book is divided into ten chapters, covers multiple aspects of the archaeological research conducted at Camden, and outlines what needs to be undertaken there in the future. The first two chapters place South Carolina and Camden in historical context in regard to Lewis's research design. The design uses world-systems theory in order to develop archaeological questions that analysis of recovered artifacts can answer concerning the colonial development of Camden. Lewis notes that the original location of Camden is a rare find, in that it is substantially undisturbed by more modern construction and has the potential to provide more information about the backcountry than previously believed. Samuel Wyly's 1750s store and mills, as well as the nearby settlement of Irish Quakers, drew farmers to Pine Tree Hill, which soon became a redistribution center of both local and imported goods. The Kershaw brothers and John Chestnut bought out and increased the volume of Wyly's business, ultimately trading with a large portion of South and North Carolina. This occurred simultaneously with infrastructure improvements and investments at Camden. Following the American Revolution, however, with the opening of the Santee Canal and relocation of the state capital to Columbia, Camden's influence and trade began to decline.

In chapter 3, Lewis discusses how archaeological research developed between 1968 and 1976 and artifacts recovered from his sampling design define the early settlement in time and space. Examination of the colonial landowner plats helped to determine pre- and post-Revolutionary War Camden, particularly in regard to artifact clusters, their relationship to individuals' holdings, and their use. From the results of the 1974-1975 sampling design, Lewis constructed research hypotheses to shed light on the role, evolution, and relationships of the community and its place in the South Carolina backcountry. …

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