The Port of Georgetown is located in east South Carolina where several rivers enter Winyah Bay about 65 nautical miles (85 kilometers or 52 miles) northeast of the Port of Charleston. The Port of Georgetown is a deep-water port on the Intracoastal Highway and the second busiest seaport in South Carolina. An early shipping center, the Port of Georgetown is rich with history and historic landmarks. During the American Revolution, the Port of Georgetown was occupied by the British. The 2010 US Census reported a population of 9,163 in the Port of Georgetown.
The Port of Georgetown has a diverse economy that includes manufacturing and tourism. It is home to a steel mill owned by ArcelorMittal. With a comfortable climate, many beaches, and plantations that have transformed into residential communities, the Port of Georgetown has become a popular place to retire. Heritage tourism is a growing part of the Port of Georgetown's economy.
It is likely that the first inhabitants of the Port of Georgetown area were the Cofitachiqui, one of the most civilized tribes in the Southeastern US. However, the Cofitachiqui seem to have disappeared in the last decades of the 17th Century. Spanish explorers met the Cofitachiqui when DeSoto arrived in 1540. At this time, the Cofitachiqui were a powerful nation, and other indigenous tribes would not venture into their hunting grounds.
English settlers also found the Cofitachiqui when they arrived in the future Port of Georgetown area in 1670. Historians believe the name may have disappeared rather than the people and that the Cofitachiqui were known as the Catawba after 1685. English trading posts quickly grew into settlements in the Port of Georgetown region.
The plan for the Port of Georgetown was created in 1729 as a four-by-eight block grid that is known as the Historic District today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Soon after the Port of Georgetown was formed, trade with native tribes began to decline. Local planters raised indigo as a cash crop, and rice was secondary. The success of both crops depended on slave labor. Through most of the middle 18th Century, agricultural profits were considerable. The first public school was opened in 1757.
Two Port of Georgetown planters, Thomas Lynch Sr. and Jr., were signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Port of Georgetown supplied General Nathanael Greene's troops from the Continental Army, and Francis Marion led guerilla actions in the Port of Georgetown area.
After the American Revolution, rice became the leading crop for the Port of Georgetown, and big rice plantations grew up around the Port of Georgetown's five rivers. In 1840, the Port of Georgetown region contributed almost half of all rice grown in the United States, and it was the world's biggest port for exporting rice.
Profits from rice created a wealthy planter class with luxurious manor houses and a relatively closed social network. Built on the labor of slaves, this elite group survived until the American Civil War. Port of Georgetown resident Joshua John Ward owned more slaves than anyone in the United States with over one thousand slaves working on his plantations. The Port of Georgetown's rice crops also supported a prosperous merchant community in Charleston. Many of the plantations from this era survive today.
Both the county and the Port of Georgetown suffered the post-Civil War Reconstruction period from 1865 to 1876. Lack of capital to prepare for new crops, unfavorable weather, and the shortage of labor without slaves brought the failure of rice crops between 1866 and 1888. Although planters continued to grow rice through the early 20th Century, it never again reached the scale or profitability it had before the Civil War.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Port of Georgetown economy had shifted to lumber-based activities. Several lumber mills operated on the Sampit River. The Atlantic Coast Lumber Company brought much-needed relief for the Port of Georgetown economy. At the turn of the century, the Port of Georgetown started modernizing. Electricity, phone service, sewers, railroads, and paved streets with sidewalks appeared. The Port of Georgetown seaport thrived, and the federal government established a combined Post Office/Customs House.
The Great Depression brought hardship to the Port of Georgetown. Early on, the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company went bankrupt, resulting in massive unemployment. However, in 1936, the Southern Kraft Division of International Paper opened a lumber mill in the Port of Georgetown. It was the world's biggest lumber mill by 1944.