Upcountry Crossroads: Historic York | Mary Long's Yesteryear (1990)


A look at the historic city of York, one of the first settlements and judicial districts established in upstate South Carolina. Mary Long skillfully weaves in stories of famous and infamous residents as she looks at the people who turned a small crossroads into a thriving settlement.

In 1772, the boundary dispute between North and South Carolina was settled, establishing the boundaries between the two Carolinas. The British had begun a survey In 1735, completed in 1772, establishing the boundaries and settling the dispute. In 1785, the County Court Act was set by the S.C. Legislature. It assured that the British would have established a judicial district in this area of the Upstate much sooner, but the American Revolution interfered with those plans. The largest settlement, of the area however small, was designated the County Seat. Called Fergus Crossroads, this was the site where three wagon roads crossed from King's Mountain, Broad River and Charlottesburg crossed. A year later, the people called ihe settlement by the name of the county it was located within, hence the name, Yorkville. 

First, four churches were built. Next, a court house and a jail, with a pair of stocks and a whipping post.  Yorkville attracted quite a number of lawyers because of its prominence in the Upstate as a judicial district. One of the attorneys who gained a national and South Carolina reputation in politics was William Smith. In 1808, while serving as President Pro Tempore of the S.C. Senate, he was elected judge of the Constitutional Court of Appeals. He is said to have been one of the sternest judges ever to serve the State of South Carolina. Every political setback increased Smith's animosity toward others. To him, politics was not  just a career, it was a personal war.  He grew up in or near Yorkville and was a boyhood friend of Andrew Jackson. He had a bitter hatred of John C. Calhoun, which stemmed from differing political beliefs.  In 1816, Smith was elected to the U.S. Senate, but served only one term, during which the intense debates over the Missouri Compromise were taking place. After losing his Senate seat, Smith was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives.

During the turbulence of the 1820s, Smith had his greatest impact. Smith was a supporter of States' Rights, as was John C. Calhoun. In November 1825, Smith introduced three resolutions: anti-banking, anti-internal improvements and anti-tariffs.  All three were intended to limit the powers of the federal government. All three passed. This was the beginning of the anti-nationalism movement in South Carolina and the first official act of state government that supported States' Rights. Although both men were against tariffs, they differed over how states should deal with those tariffs. The Nullification Party under Calhoun believed the State of S.C. to be a sovereign entity, independent of federal rule. Their belief was that they did not have to abide by any federal law, and that the States' powers superceded those of the federal government. Smith and the Unionists considered this view to be absurd, believing that the sovereignty of a state resided with the American people, and that the federal tariffs should be corrected through the judicial process. Smith argued that they gave up any rights of nullification when they adopted the U.S. Constitution. In 1832, the Nullification Party gained the upper hand, passing the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring the tariffs null and void.

Judge Smith returned to his home in York and disassociated himself from S.C. politics. He sat alone and his hatred of John C. Calhoun grew to immeasurable intensity. In 1833, Smith moved to Huntsville, Alabama and was offered a position as U.S. Supreme Court Judge, but turned it down. 

By 1823, York had grown to a population of 451. A new courthouse, designed by Robert Mills, was built. The next three decades were prosperous. Although South Carolina had begun the Secessionist movement, very few military leaders came from South Carolina, with one exception: Daniel Harvey Hill, described as one of the Confederacy's most brilliant and fiery commanders. After graduating from West Point, he served in the Mexican War, and while in Virginia teaching at Washington and Lee, resumed his friendship with Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. In April 1861, Hill joined the Army and was made commander of the First North Carolina Volunteers, an infantry unit that won for the Confederacy the first land battle of the War Between the States, at Big Bethel Church near Yorktown.