Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

Willtown, Black Mingo: The Rise and Fall of an Early Village in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

Willtown, Black Mingo: The Rise and Fall of an Early Village in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Article excerpt

ON MAY 20, 1788, PATRICK DOLLARD, A TAVERN KEEPER FROM Prince Frederick's Parish, South Carolina, rose to address an assembly gathered in the Exchange Building on the Charleston waterfront. The state legislature had summoned this convention to debate the merits of the proposed federal Constitution. Knowing himself in the minority, Dollard began his oration with "the greatest diffidence" to those aristocrats who strongly favored ratification. However their eloquent speeches may have moved him, Dollard confined his delivery to "the sense and language of [his] constituents." "They are nearly all, to a man, opposed to this new Constitution," the tavern keeper reported, and he could not, in good conscience, "betray the trust reposed in [him] by them." Perhaps an awareness of his constituents' solidarity encouraged him as he spoke, for he concluded his diatribe on threatening terms. According to Dollard, the people of Prince Frederick's Parish would never accept the Constitution, and if it passed, a "standing army" would have to "ram it down their throats with the points of bayonets." Surely the harsh words of the maverick tavern keeper surprised his fellow lowcountrymen. Indeed, the lowcountry supported ratification by a vote of 121 to 16.1 Respectable tidewater federalists must have wondered about Dollard and the region he represented. Had they asked, they would have discovered that he resided near the center of Prince Frederick's Parish, an ecclesiastical precinct encompassed by Georgetown District. More specifically, Patrick Dollard hailed from Black Mingo Creek, and his tavern served the inhabitants of its primary village, Willtown.

Today, Black Mingo Creek snakes through the swamps of northeastern South Carolina much as it did over two centuries ago. Large cypress and oak, extending their limbs from the banks, shade the water for much of its course. Occasionally, a homestead breaks the pattern where high ground permits. Black Mingo takes the first half of its name from the tint of its water which, as one local author describes it, "has a clear brown color about the shade of a weak tea." Peat produced in the swamps gives the water its distinctive look. Local historians trace the second half of the creek's name to Native American origins. Some believe that Mingo Indians inhabited the area prior to white settlement. Others suggest that "Mingo" might simply have meant "black" in a local native tongue. At any rate, Black Mingo Creek constitutes the largest tributary of Black River, which spills into Winyah Bay near the port city of Georgetown. The creek remains navigable for small craft, but during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, schooners and flatboats ventured up seventeen miles to a well-recognized, high bluff on its southern bank.2

To the casual present-day visitor, this unusually high bluff offers little more than a beautiful view of the creek. A careful inspector, on the other hand, might discover shards of glass, brick, or clay pipe. If particularly adventuresome, he or she might even notice a small, unkept cemetery on the edge of a wood. Nevertheless, little exists to remind the modern observer of the landing's former importance. The creek may not have changed over the last two hundred years, but the surrounding land certainly has. Although one might not know it today, the village of Black Mingo, later know as Will town, once sat on this bluff overlooking the creek. Here, two centuries ago, a bridge spanned the water, schooners docked to load produce, and Patrick Dollard operated his tavern, Red House. From the middle of the eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century, Willtown served as a focal point for the Black Mingo community. Exploring the area in 1843, Samuel McGill, a young doctor from nearby Indiantown, recorded his romantic musings on the already-defunct village:

In the many strolls in and around the site of old Wiltown we had, in my imaginations, the scenes transpiring long years ago, the noise of the bar room and the billiard tables in the hotels, and the activity along its streets, the dash of young men and the beauty and grace of the town as they dance on the bridge spanning the creek, or float in the little boats. …

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