The Kershaw-Cornwallis house was reconstructed in 1977 on the home’s original foundations in Historic Camden. Two hundred years earlier town founder Joseph Kershaw built the Georgian-style home for himself. Kershaw came to the area he named for Lord Camden in 1758 from Yorkshire, England. He became a successful merchant who made the town a central trading hub for the colony by 1768.
In 1780, during the Revolutionary War, Lord Charles Cornwallis marched to Camden with 2,500 British troops as part of the British War Office’s plan to take control of the southern colonies. After Major General Henry Clinton succeeded in overtaking Charleston in May of 1780, he sent Lord Cornwallis to secure Camden, which he did handily. Kershaw’s home was seized by Cornwallis and used as a supply post, and the British troops remained for 11 months. Lord Francis Rawdon continued occupation of the home the following year, using it for his headquarters.
After the war, the home was used as a school for orphans before once again being occupied by the enemy when Union troops used it as their headquarters towards the end of the Civil War. The troops burned the home along with most of the town’s structures in 1865. An archaeological dig conducted in 1968 revealed the home’s original brick foundations, and it was rebuilt with historical accuracy in 1977.
Today the home serves as the centerpiece of Historic Camden, a 107-acre living history site where the annual Revolutionary War Field Days reenactment is held. The site also features many smaller homes set up as miniature museums.
The Kershaw-Cornwallis House is listed in the National Register as part of Historic Camden:
(Cornwallis House) The district concerned was central colonial Camden and its adjacent outlying areas. During British occupation, Camden consisted of two city blocks of period homes and military barracks surrounded by a palisade log fence and further protected by five redoubt and three other fortified features (a house, a jail, and a powder magazine) which were placed strategically from 100 to 1000 feet outside the town itself. Because of war and fire, all original buildings in the district have been destroyed, and much of it remains open. At the time of nomination, extensive archaeological restoration of the powder magazine site (not the building itself) and the foundation of the fortified house (used as British headquarters for Lord Cornwallis and Lord Rawdon and the home of the town’s founder, Joseph Kershaw) have been effected without destroying their historical integrity.
Camden’s significance in the Revolutionary War is directly related to the British War Office’s decision of late 1779 to establish total control over the southern colonies. Camden served as the main British supply post from spring 1780 to spring 1781 and also proved to be their garrison for two major Revolutionary War engagements, the Battles of Camden and Hobkirk Hill. The fall of Camden was a pivotal point in the eventual defeat of the British.