This month in South Carolina History: May 21, 1757- The Winyah Indigo Society is incoronated
Around 1740, Georgetown planters began to gather at the Old Oak Tavern, located on Bay Street, on the first Friday of each month. They discussed news from England, local events, and the best methods to cultivate and harvest South Carolina’s staple crop, indigo. According to legend, initiation and annual fees were paid in indigo and by the 1750s the club found itself in possession of a sizeable treasury. The members decided to use the surplus funds to establish a school for the poor. In the summer of 1757, the club was incorporated by the Governor and Council of South Carolina.
The Act of Incorporation lists the officers of the society as Thomas Lynch, President; Joseph Poole, Senior Warden; Samuel Wragg, Junior Warden; Nathaniel Tregagle, Treasurer; Joseph Dubourdieu, Clerk; and Charles Fyffe and William Shackelford, Junior, Stewards. Society rules indicate that the officers were fined between fifty cents and five dollars if they failed to attend meetings. The year after the club was incorporated, it received a royal charter from King George II.
According to the history of the society, in 1853, Francis Withers bequeathed five thousand dollars along with a lot at the corner of Prince and Cannon Streets in Georgetown to the club. At that point, the society was able to construct a large building to be used as a school and headquarters for the organization. Designed by architect Edward Brickell White, the building was completed in 1857. White also designed Columbia’s Trinity Episcopal Church and the French Huguenot Church in Charleston. Two years later, the books from the Georgetown Library Society were transferred to the building. From 1865 to 1868, Winyah Society Hall was used as a hospital for Union soldiers.
The Winyah Indigo Society School was re-organized in 1872. In 1887, the Legislature established the Winyah Graded School District and the society’s school merged with the graded school. In 1903 the society began the practice of bestowing an award on the honor graduate of the high school. Current members of the Winyah Indigo Society continue that tradition. The society’s hall is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as an event venue. We were delighted to feature it on the South Carolina Historical Society’s 2018 Fall Tour.
Brought to you by the South Carolina Historical Society.