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Cheraw

The Cheraw and Pee Dee Indians inhabited what is now Chesterfield County at the time of European settlement. Of Siouan stock, the Cheraws were the dominant tribe in the upper Pee Dee. The Cheraws migrated to this area in the late 17th century and maintained a well-fortified village on the river hill close to present day Cheraw. Wars and disease greatly decimated their population after a time, and around 1738 they joined the Catawba Confederacy. They left only their names and well established trading routes. By the time of the Revolution, only a few scattered families of Native Americans remained in the area. Most of Cheraw's early European settlers were English, Scots, French or Irish. Two of the earliest of these were James Gillespie and Thomas Ellerbe who started a trading center and water mill at the Cheraw Hills around 1740. Welsh Baptists later made their way up river from the Society Hill area. Almost from the beginning African Americans were brought here as slaves. By 1750 Cheraw was one of six places in South Carolina appearing on English maps and was an established village with a growing river trade. The town was the birthplace of jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie. A small park on the road, which in town is called Jefferson Davis Highway, held a monument to him, a life-size statue that depicted him playing his horn, his cheeks puffed out in the way that endeared him to generations of jazz fans. The town was an important transportation hub during the Civil War. The Confederate Army stored ammunition in warehouses by the Pee Dee River, which runs through the town. Most of the oldest sections of Cheraw along the river disappeared when the ammunition stored in those warehouses went up in a huge explosion in 1864. The small park in town held one of the few remaining buildings from that era that had survived the blast. As small as it was, Cheraw was involved in much history. In the cemetery of St. David’s Episcopal Church I came across the headstone of one Captain Mose Rogers. In 1819 he sailed the first steam-powered vessel across the Atlantic. St. David’s was the last Episcopal parish established in South Carolina during the colonial period. The cemetery at the church held the remains of both American and British soldiers from the Revolutionary War, when the church was used as a hospital. It was also the final resting place of the remains of Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War.