The Etheredge/Etheridge surname originated in the United Kingdom. It is derived from an old English name, Aethelric, which meant noble rule. Aethel (noble) was a theme that was made famous by the Kings of Wessex. In the thirteenth century Aethelric was transformed to Aethericus, and Aethericus developed into Etheric, which became Etheredge/Etheridge in the seventeenth century. Other spellings are Ethridge, Etteridge, and Ettridge. Our immediate family uses both Etheredge and Etheridge.
How did our family come to acquire such a noble name that originated thousands of miles away? We obtained the name from Joseph Etheredge, who was a farmer and slave owner of English descent. He lived in the Germanville Township of Edgefield County, South Carolina during the nineteenth century. After the Civil War the slaves took the surnames of their masters. Our traceable history begins with people who were born slaves and were the property of Joseph.
We know of eleven brothers and sisters who acquired Joseph's last name. Most of us who spent our formative years in South Carolina on occasions have heard some elders speak during unguarded moments of relationships that were never to be discussed in public. There were repeated implications of a blood relationship between the eleven and Joseph. The nature of the blood relationship is not known and the truth is likely to forever remain a mystery. The names of the eleven are: Samuel, Mark, Henry, Martin, Letha, Watkins, Tyre, William, Gilford, Arthur, and West. It is extremely difficult to get information on households of slaves before the Civil War because the household did not exist in the eyes of the law. The census simply listed the total number of slaves owned by the master (Joseph). We have no factual knowledge of the quality life for the eleven during the years of slavery and the Civil War. There is no reason to believe it was any different than the many descriptions of slavery found in non-fiction works currently in print. There is no record of extreme cruelty beyond the cruelty of slavery itself.
The stark reality of slavery is part of this family. One of the eleven (Henry) was sold at a young age to another farm in Edgefield County and that caused contact with Henry to be lost until the 1980's when Henry's descendants, (the Stroms), in researching their family tree, discovered that Henry had been sold and had brothers and sisters. Aunt Patty Carter verified that her grandfather's brother Henry was "lost" a long time ago.
The remaining ten brothers and sisters lived in the vicinity of Augusta and Aiken Roads in an area, which would later be known as "Etheredge Town" in Saluda county. The reason we refer to Edgefield and Saluda counties is that until the 1890's Edgefield County extended from the Savannah River on the Georgia/South Carolina border to the Saluda River and Lake Murray. In the 1890's, Edgefield County was divided to become the current Edgefield and Saluda counties. Consequently, the early records of the family are found in Edgefield County. We don't have pictures of the early houses and we don't have information about living conditions in the area called "Etheredge Town" during or after slavery.
- South Carolina After 1890 -
Of the eleven, the brothers Samuel, Mark, Henry and Martin are the focus for the family book. They were all born into slavery in what was then Edgefield County, South Carolina, and their descendants are enumerated in the family book. A lot of information is still missing and we have not been able to track descendants of the other brothers and sisters (Letha, Watkins, Tyre, William, Arthur, and West). We hope their fate was better that Henry's and their descendants will be found some day. After the Civil War there are census data describing the families of Samuel, Mark, Martin, and Henry. This information provides a written record for the family history.
Records from the period immediately following the Civil War are sparse. The most interesting activity was the purchase of the land, which was to become "Etheredge Town". On Christmas day in 1885 Joseph Etheredge (a white man) sold to Samuel Etheredge (a black man) 195 acres of land. The sale is recorded in the courthouse in Edgefield, South Carolina. The following are excerpts from the bill of sale;
Joseph Etheredge to Samuel Etheredge
Signed -Joseph Etheredge-
What were the circumstances that prompted Joseph Etheredge to sell so much land to black man at a time when the Klu Klux Klan was trying to intimidate and disfranchise black people? Folklore has it that the land sold to Samuel was a battleground during the Civil War. This is possibly true because the Confederate Army used Edgefield County as a base to stop General Sherman's advance into the Cumberland Gap. Edgefield County was the gateway to the Cumberland Gap and the Confederacy sent General Wilson to Edgefield County to get in shape for the offensive against General Sherman in Columbia. Sherman's greatest resistance was in outlying areas near the Saluda River, which was near "Etheredge Town". Sherman's left flank was able to burn Lexington to the ground but was not able to advance further because of local resistance. The land that some of the homes, St. John CME Church, and the "Etheredge School" was built on would not support vegetation. These spots were said to be spots where cannons were fired and bodies stacked prior to burial.
About the turn of the century, Samuel Etheredge sold portions of his land to his sons in 20-acre parcels for 25 cents an acre and "Etheredge Town" grew. This was very good for the family because earlier, the state of South Carolina had passed a law that said that if a black person did not do farm labor or domestic work, he would have to obtain a license to work. Owning their own land made the family independent; this was better than sharecropping, which was a step above slavery. They cleared much of land and farmed it, planting cotton, corn, wheat, and gardens. Lumber from the land was dressed at the sawmill and used to build homes for families, the school, and St. John CME Church. They built gristmills and syrup mills where they made corn meal and syrup for eating. They also raised chickens, cows and hogs. Clouds Creek, which ran adjacent to the property, was a source of fish. There were natural springs and wells for water. Flour was purchased in 25lb. cloth sacks and the empty sacks were used to make clothes, quilts, bed sheets and other items of necessity.
A Martin Etheredge taught the school in Etheredge Town at one time. This was a one-room school that went from grades one to three initially. For fourth grade the children had to go to a boarding school in Trenton, South Carolina called Bettis Academy. The school in Etheredge Town later went to sixth grade and was operational until the early 1950s when schools were consolidated in response to the "Separate but Equal" approach to education.
The church was and is a central focus for the family. St. John CME Church is still a driving force in the Batesburg-Leesville Community. It was strategically located equi-distant between Batesburg-Leesville, and Etheredge Town. Alex Etheredge served as minister there. St. John was also a place of social gatherings for the family.
The brothers and their children were subjected to the South Carolina of the reconstruction and the first quarter of the twentieth century that is a time history books paint with factual reports of lynching by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and every conceivable act of violence. The older people didn't like to talk of the misdeeds of the early years of the twentieth century very much. It was like they just wanted forget it. These brothers born slaves and their offspring established a foundation, which nurtured the family in the midst of turmoil. These men and women who endured so much, retained Christian values and morals and went forth to pass these values to their children and others. They recognized the value of the interrelationship of the home, school, and the teachings of the church. They deserve great admiration.
Farming was a laborious job. A successful crop year was dependent upon such factors as drought, cold snaps, and the boll weevils. After years of constant farming, the land became less productive and the younger members of the family began to leave the farm to seek other employment. Easing of employment restrictions and advances in transportation made the transition easier. The new generation was not attached to the land and was prepared to leave it to seek a better life. Many of the family members moved to the big cities in the Northl and South. They did not want anything to do with farming and thus a lot of the land was lost due to delinquent taxes. The rest was sold gradually over the years. The land, which is now once again timberland, is now worth over $200,000.
Samuel and Patty Etheredge, Mack and Snaby Etheredge, Will and Hattie Etheredge all worked the land and worshipped together. They founded St. John CME Church. After the church blew down, lumber from Samuel's property was used to rebuild it. The church was the center of family activity and a focal point for life. Samuel's great granddaughter Sara Williams recalls her early life this way, "They all lived close together on Route 4 on a big ponderosa called Etheredge Town. My grandfather's (Alex) house was on a hill and my father's (Joseph) house was down the second hill by the stream. There was a spring by the house and a second bigger one on the other side of the road. We did the family wash at the big spring by the road. We had a place for picnics and we always played there. There was a school called the Etheredge School that was taught by various family members over the years. We had our own blacksmith shop where they made and fixed everything you would use on a farm. My father made syrup of all kinds and we ran the syrup mill. There was a band named the Etheredge Band that played for all occasions."
Industrial jobs that were never before available to black people began opening up and family members took advantage of the situation. Cortez and Alex Etheredge became blacksmiths in Batesburg. Raymond Etheredge setup his own dry cleaning business in Prosperity, S.C. Bozie Etheredge became an engineer for the Southern Railroad. Wesley Etheredge was a brick mason, and Squire Etheredge was a carpenter. Family members took jobs in industry, the government, the military, medicine and education in both the North and South. Many family members moved north in hopes of having a better life, joining millions of other black people who made the great migration north. This exodus continued into the 1960s. They sought economic and social freedom; settling in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, and other large metropolitan areas.
Today the Etheredge/Etheridge family is living from the east to the west coast - making positive contributions to society. Many family members either have already moved back or are considering moving back home. So many of those who remained in South Carolina have contributed to the social and economic fabric of the communities surrounding Batesburg, Leesville, and Saluda. Some have participated in the political process of the local community and hold or have held elected office. The process has come full circle. Our ancestors who were born slaves and endured great misery, somehow maintained a sense of dignity and self worth and passed those qualities on to the generations that followed. The cornerstone for this phenomenon was and is faith. Believing in the teachings of the church and following those principles in daily lives makes all things possible. A sense of community and commitment has been passed down. In the Etheredge/Etheridge family, owning property, building the community, and accepting responsibility for the community are not new principles. The family is nurtured by the process. It is our history and destiny to build and nurture the family. The Etheredge/Etheridge family will continue to strive for excellence.
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