Founded as a trading post in the days of the Proprietors, Coosawhatchie thrived as a center of commerce under the Royal governors. It was a crucial location in the defense of Charleston during the Revolutionary War. After independence, it continued to grow, becoming the seat of government for Beaufort District in 1788. The principal local court was the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions, established by the Act of 1796. By 1810, the local court of equity had also moved to Coosawhatchie.(1) In 1817, the South Carolina state Senate set aside twelve thousand dollars to build a new courthouse. Probably designed by noted English architect William Jay, who was practicing in Savannah and Charleston at the time, the new structure was erected in 1819. “The Coosawhatchie Court was two stories high, forty feet in width, and fifty feet in length with a glazed pan-tile roof. The stairs were located inside the front portico and the second floor courtroom could be shut off when not in use.”(2)
A poem written in the early 1800s (attributed in one place to “Parker” and in another to James L. Petigru — although given the reference to Mr. Petigru in the poem, the latter seems unlikely) describes the town and its active legal community.
The wholesome breeze, fresh from the marsh exhaled
Thy streets so beautifully intervaled,
Thy towering Court House and thy adamant gaol
Which turns each trembling rogue that views it pale:
Thy host of lawyers, quick to give advice
And gain as ample justice in a trice,
Come, flagging muse, thy former strength
And sing the praise of gentle Petigru,
With voice so like a waiting gentle lady,
And maiden terms, that tickle and pervade ye;
Ye jurymen take care, he can mislead
Your erring judgments, make you doubt your creed,
And work and mould you, ‘til you grow so pliant
You’re sure to give your verdict for his client.
In 1840, the courthouse and jail were moved to Gillisonville, 6 miles away, in large part because Coosawhatchie was considered unhealthy. General Robert E. Lee was headquartered at Coosawhatchie when he was in command of the Lowcountry just before the Civil War. In 1912, Jasper County was created out of Beaufort and Hampton Counties, and Coosawhatchie has been in Jasper County ever since.