If someone asks Lauren Virgo, executive director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, to nominate someone as the county’s founder, she says she will ultimately nominate SC Senator Charles D. Hayne.
Virgo told the Aiken County Historical Society on Sunday afternoon that Hayne, a Charleston-born freeman of color, was the General Assembly member who initiated the act that created Aiken County. ‘Aiken in 1871.
“People often ask me who I consider to be the founder of Aiken,” Virgo said. “That’s a really tough question, and I’m going to explain why it’s such a tough answer, but if you had me pick one person, I’d pick Charles D. Hayne.”
Hayne was employed by the Freedman’s Bureau – the agency set up to help newly freed former slaves – and sent to Barnwell County as a teacher during the Reconstruction era.
After the Civil War ended, former Confederate soldiers were barred from voting in elections, so Republicans made up of northerners who sensed an economic opportunity moved south. Southerners who agreed with Republicans and former slaves and freedmen took control of state legislatures in the former Confederate states.
Hayne won a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1868, was reelected in 1870, and elected to the South Carolina Senate in 1872.
He was joined in the General Assembly by Prince Rivers, Samuel Lee, Gloster Holland and William Jones. This group would become known as “the Delegation”.
And it was Hayne who wrote the deed that established Aiken County on March 10, 1871 from parts of Edgefield, Barnwell, Lexington, and Orangeburg counties.
Hayne left office in 1876 when the Redeemers, a group of Democrats seeking to oust African Americans from power, violently took control of the state and began enacting Jim Crow laws.
Virgo said the successful effort to establish Aiken County was not the first attempt to create a new county in the area. She showed a petition from the 1830s which claimed that it was too far to go to the respective county seats to conduct the necessary business.