Several years before the American Revolution, Richard Winn from Virginia moved to what is now called Fairfield County. His lands covered the present site of Winnsboro, and known as “Wynnsborough.” The village was laid out and chartered in 1785 upon petition of General Richard Winn. Colonel John Winn and John Vanderhorst, who all served in the Revolutionary War.
In 1780 Lord Cornwallis spent a hard winter here after the defeat of the British and Loyalists at Kings Mountain. At that time, the village of Winnsborough had about 20 dwellings. By the time Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was patented in 1794, Fairfield County was well on the way to becoming one of the biggest producers of upland cotton in the state. In 1830 Richard Carthcart built an imposing townhouse in Winnsboro to enjoy the amenities of the bustling town life away from his country cotton plantation.
An early cultural impetus for the growth of Winnsboro was the founding of the Mt. Zion Society in Charleston in 1777. Several well-known Charlestonians joined with Winnsboro’s founding fathers to set up a preparatory school in this healthy upland environment. The establishment allowed not only the sons of wealthy low-country families to prepare for furthering their educations at the College of South Carolina, Harvard and other early universities, but also for the schooling of the “up-country” children. By the early 1800s, Mt. Zion College had attracted the sons of many notable South Carolinians who would become leaders across many fields in our young nation and state.
In 1848, then well-known educator Catherine Ladd and her artist husband purchased the Richard Cathcart home and set up a boarding school for the education of young ladies. The Winnsboro Female Institute would become a counterpart to Mt. Zion College, and girls from many places came to learn both the cultural and academic masteries necessary to develop ladies of social standing.
The Winnsboro Female Institute closed just as the rumblings of war preceded South Carolina’s secession from the Union in January of 1861. Ladd converted her efforts to the formation of the Soldiers’ Aid Association, putting aside her pen and taking up a needle. She organized the women and girls of the town into production crews for soldiers’ clothing and foodstuffs. She is known to have contributed to the designing of the Confederate flag while salvaging the village’s pots and pans for conversion to Confederate munitions. After the war, the area was economically depleted and families couldn’t afford to send their daughters to boarding school. Ladd became a leader in bringing arts to the community, writing and publishing her poetry and plays in national magazines, and conducting theatrical and musical productions to help the townsfolk survive difficult times. In 1870 Ladd began to teach again, but only at short while as she began losing her sight and died in 1880.
The old Winnsboro Female Institute building on Congress Street was converted to a house after many decades of commercial operation. It emerged again as an educational establishment is 1976 when it was restored and converted to the Fairfield County Museum.
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