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Lancaster County SC Genealogy

Clems Branch

by Louise Pettus

The small, clear stream known as Clems Branch meanders across the North Carolina- South Carolina state line headed eventually for Sugar Creek, a more vigorous stream, thence to the mighty Catawba.

Clems Branch, supposedly named for Clem Davis, early settler, doesn't get much name recognition, even in Lancaster County where it ends its course. Maybe a few, a very few, Revolutionary War Buffs could place it. Battles are better remembered than temporary camps.

In June and July 1780, Thomas Sumter and aobut 300 men used a spot on John Culp's land as a place to recuperate. Sumter had been made responsible for all that fanshaped territory from the junction of the Broad and Catawba rivers up to the North Carolina line.

Charles Town had fallen in May, and Cornwallis must have considered that, for all practical purposes, he had taken South Carolina. In only a matter of time, he would push through the Carolinas and end it all for the colonies in Virginia. So it would seem.

Sumter's army was in disarray. Christian Huck, Philadelphia lawyer turned Tory, was terrorizing eastern York County.

There seems to be no way for Sumter to control the high road from Blackstock's to Ninety-Six, whereby he could maintain contact with Gen. Andrew Pickens.

Sumter's mne needed badly to recover, and to procure more lead and powder.

Daniel Green Stinson wrote that from Clems Branch a Sgt. Ben Rowan took a few men and went as far as 200 miles into North Carolina to get lead. The men drove packhorses, and brought back 250 pounds of lead on each horse.

Other soldiers left Clems Branch for powder. About 35 Catawba Indians, under the chief General New River, often served as guides.

There were blacksmiths making and repairing rifles and manufacturing swords. Leather workers practice their craft. Foragers gathered the necessary foodstuffs for the coming campaign.

Capt. John McClure, who headed a company of mounted riflemen, was out trying to recruit more men and to urge the despondent frontier people that all was not lost. McClure was soon to die of his wounds at Hanging Rock.

"An interesting affair," as one Sumter biographer termed it, occurred when the officers returned from Ramsour's Mill battle and set up camp at Clems Branch. These officers held "a confention of the whole" and elected Thomas Sumter as their general. The election created a delicate problem for Governor Rutledge who had commissioned, without knowledge of the election, a Colonel Williams to be general. Sumter's election prevailed.

John Rosser says that in the 1820s and 1830s the old Sumter camp was used as a busy farmer's camping ground for market and trading wagons. There was always a blacksmith present to repair the wagons, and a tavern known as Seymour's. In this manner, the camp site stayed cleared for a half century or more. How many battle tales much have been recounted over the campfires of a later day!

Today there is nothing, no sign or marker, to remind us of the Clems Branch campground and its small but significant role in our region's history.