The “Merchants’ Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw” received its charter on December 19, 1833. Its building, shown here, was completed in 1835 and served the community until either November of 1860 or March of 1865. Of note, it was an official gold depository for the Confederate States of America and the largest bank in the state outside of Charleston.
Legend holds that it was also the last bank in the South to honor Confederate money before the end of the Civil War. Evidence does not support this, however, as an 1877 case before the United States Supreme Court – Godfrey v. Terry: 97 US 171 – determined that the bank became insolvent on November 13, 1860 and paid its last bill on August 6, 1861. In the ruling, the court accepts that the bank failed, per its charter, in 1860. This is concurrent with the failure of other banks in South Carolina. The winning argument notes the bank “ceased to pay out its bills as soon as the Confederate currency began to circulate,” which was in April of 1861.
Later, in the twentieth century, there was another bank in Cheraw called the Merchants & Farmers Bank. That bank operated at least as early as January, 1910. The only bank to precede the Merchants’ Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw was the Bank of Cheraw, established roughly a decade before its successor. The Bank of Cheraw failed quickly, however, and was in operation only two or three years.
The bank building was designed by Irish immigrant and master builder Conlaw Peter Lynch, who also designed Market Hall and St. Peter’s Catholic Church. (Lynch may have designed Cheraw’s Town Hall as well.)
The Merchants’ Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw had a number of presidents including J. C. Coit (from 1833 through 1838 and again from 1855 through 1857), James Wright (1838 through 1855), J. Elias “Eli” Gregg (1857 through 1859), and William Godfrey from 1859 though 1865.
Its cashiers included Hiram Hutchinson (1838 through 18??), William Godfrey (18?? through 1859), and J. F. Matheson (1859 through 1865).
In 1962 First Citizen’s Bank purchased the building and returned it to its original purpose. We are not sure who or what occupied the building during the preceding century. If you have any knowledge you can share, please send it to us.
Scrip – Merchants’ Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw
Until the National Banking Act was passed in 1863, the United States did not print paper money. In fact, the Constitution theretofore permitted only coins. In the absence of federally-backed paper currency, many individual banks printed scrip, or custom banknotes. In all, over 8,000 American banks printed these notes, and with no national standard in place, counterfeiting became common.
Shown above is a $5 banknote printed by the Merchants’ Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw. It depicts John C. Calhoun wearing a toga and holding a scroll that reads, “Truth, Justice, and the Constitution.”
National Register – Merchants’ Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw
The Merchants Bank building is listed in the Cheraw Historic District of the National Register:
Around 1736 Welsh Baptists came to South Carolina and settled in the Pee Dee region. In 1766 Eli Kershaw, who had been given a grant of land along the Pee Dee River, laid out the town of Cheraw. It was incorporated in 1820. Located at a key navigational point, Cheraw began to develop as a commercial center of interior South Carolina; however, the Civil War and Reconstruction temporarily halted this progress. For a time development was impeded and rebuilding was delayed. Although the town eventually prospered, much of its physical character remained unaltered. The town of Cheraw also played an important role in South Carolina military history.
During both the American Revolution and the Civil War, British and Union troops used St. David’s Episcopal Church as a hospital. The meeting house style church still stands today. Additionally in 1825, Revolutionary War figure Marquis de Lafayette stayed in Cheraw during his tour of the United States. Located within the district are a variety of architectural styles that include the early frame homes of the 1800s (often called upcountry farmhouses, or essentially I-House in type), antebellum structures with Classical Revival details and Greek Revival porticos, and Victorian houses from the turn of the century. The district also includes several churches, a cemetery, and the towns’ original boundary markers dating from 1766.