The Cherokee Indians were the original inhabitants of Laurens County. John Duncan (a native of Aberdeen, Scotland) was the first white settler to inhabit the area. He arrived in 1752 from Pennsylvania and settled along a creek in the northeastern section of the county, between present-day Clinton and Whitmire. Scottish-Irish immigrants out of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia became the predominant settlers in this area.
During the Revolutionary War, the area that would soon become Laurens County was the site of four significant battles, including Musgrove Mill on August 18, 1780. Today, the Musgrove Mill State Historic Site marks the location of this battle. The visitors center at the park documents the role South Carolina patriots played in winning American independence.
The General Assembly passed an act on March 12, 1785, whereby six counties were established out of the Old 96 District. Laurens County was one of those counties. The town of Laurens (known as Laurensville well into the 19th century) became the county seat.
Laurens County derived its name from a patriot, warrior and statesman, the Honorable Henry Laurens of Charleston. Henry Laurens was president of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War and later served as ambassador to France to secure aid in helping the colonies with their independence.
By 1820, Laurens was known for its tailor-made clothes. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, came to Laurens in 1824 and established a tailor shop in the town square. By 1840, the area was booming with establishments, including medical practitioners; a fancy confectionery and fruit store; carriage, buggy and wagon shops; tailor shops; building contractors; flour and corn mills; and 81 registered whiskey distilleries.
By the end of the 19th century, textiles were becoming very important in Laurens County and the upstate. The Laurens Cotton Mill was established in 1895. Mercer Silas Bailey built the first cotton mill in Clinton in 1896, and both Lydia Mill and Watts Mill were established in 1902. However, over the last several decades, textiles have been displaced by a wide variety of industries, including distribution centers, manufacturing, research firms, automobile parts suppliers and others.
During the 20th century, Laurens County gradually grew, remaining predominantly rural in character. Between 1900 and 1950, the county grew from 37,382 residents to 46,974 – a number that has grown to approximately 70,000 in 2010 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s QuickFacts).
With its outstanding location, diversified industrial base and unique quality of life, there is no doubt Laurens County will continue to grow and prosper well into the future.