The ill-fated SC silkworm experiment of 1866


Prior to the War Between the States South Carolina’s Fairfield County was among the most prosperous areas in the state and the nation.

A good part of this wealth, it should be noted, was in the form of slaves.

According to U.S. Census data, Fairfield County population’s in 1860 included 15,534 slaves. A decade later not only were all those individuals freed, but the county’s population of blacks had decreased by 9 percent, to approximately 14,100.

In addition to the above loss of “property,” Union troops had done severe damage to the county seat of Winnsboro, burning much of the city in the waning days of February 1865, shortly after having laid waste Columbia, S.C., to the west.

So by the following year, with many of the county’s able-bodied white males dead or crippled from the war, a significant percentage of former slaves having moved from the area and general destitution evident throughout the region, residents were desperate.

One plan hatched was to try to create a silk industry in Fairfield County.

Katharine Theus Obear, writing in 1940 at age 88 in Through the Years in Old Winnsboro, recalled that a supply of silkworms were acquired and distributed to individuals in the county.

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Old Brick Church a journey back in time

Enjoying South Carolina’s history often involves crowds, buying tickets or spending time in musty libraries.

However, there are more than a few places well off the beaten path where one can revel both in the beauty of nature and Palmetto State history.

One such place is the Ebenezer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Fairfield County.

Better known to locals as the Old Brick Church, the small, simple structure has a rich history that belies its quiet place in the sloping hills four miles north of Jenkinsville on SC Highway 213.

Built in 1788, the picturesque rectangular building has a gabled roof and bricks that were made by members of the congregation around the time the US Constitution was being written.

Its symmetry and understated, elegant masonry is a throwback to the days when some congregations combined function and form with an understanding that a house of worship didn’t necessarily have to be an ornate colossus or an unimaginative log cabin.

The Old Brick Church’s interior is as spartan as its exterior, featuring straight-back pews, a dais-style pulpit with plain rails around two sides, and a slave gallery, according to the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

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