In 1961 the Stephen D. Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed and dedicated a highway marker signifying the Flight of President Jefferson Davis, CSA, as he moved through Laurens County in April of 1865. The highway marker was originally located near the corner of Highway 56 and Highway 36, known as Jefferson Davis Road, in Laurens County. The marker was removed by an unknown party sometime around 2008. Many of those interested in history looked for the marker, including the Clinton City Museum Director Elaine Thorp, walking through fields and forests in the neighboring areas. Nothing turned up.
In June of 2013, Elaine Thorp received a call from a young Clinton High School student named Jacob Tarrant and his mother. Jacob had found the marker. While exploring a creek outside of Clinton, many miles from the original location of the marker, Jacob saw its steel corner sticking out of the mud. The young man uncovered the marker and dragged the heavy artifact up an embankment and took it to his home where he and his mom contacted Elaine Thorp. She immediately went to his home and took custody of the marker, then contacted Jennifer Sawyer who was then the President of the JB Kershaw Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy. Elaine was given custodial care of the artifact until the SC Division of the UDC could make decisions on its restoration. A Division Committee was formed with Elaine, a UDC member, as chairman, and slowly work began on the restoration, relocation, and rededication process.
With a lot of research concerning replacing the marker on the highway, working with the DOT, purchasing a private piece of land on the highway for its relocation, or placing it in the Clinton Museum, it was decided that the museum was the safest location for it. The marker, made of heavy steel, was refurbished by a local steel fabrication company. The letters on the marker were hand painted because over the years they had faded to the point of being unreadable. The marker is the property of the SC Division United Daughters of the Confederacy and is on loan to the Clinton Museum. The beautiful story boards surrounding the marker tell of the journey of Jefferson Davis through Laurens County and are the research work of Elaine Thorp.
On April 30, 1865, CSA President Jefferson Davis left the Cross Keys House in Union County, SC and entered Laurens County, stopping along the way to give speeches to those that would listen as he fled the Federal Army. He and his entourage spent the night at the Lafayette Young house in Laurens County near the original location of this highway marker. Sadly, the house today is in disrepair. From there President Davis crossed the Saluda River near Cross Hill, SC, on to Cokesbury in Greenwood, SC and from there to Abbeville, SC. This location is often called the birth and death of the Confederacy. It was here in what is today called the Burt-Stark Mansion that Davis met with the Confederate Council of War for the last time. On May 3, 1865, Davis and his men crossed the Savannah River into Georgia, stopping in Washington, Georgia and on to Irwinville, Georgia where he was captured by the Federals. He was imprisoned but never tried for treason as the Federal Government could not validate the charge. On October 17, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution with Congress restoring Davis’ US citizenship.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, April 17, 2016, almost 151 years later, members of the JB Kershaw Chapter UDC and the South Carolina Division UDC jointly rededicated this piece of history to the old Confederacy and her President. Division President Ann Shugart stated how unusual it is today for such a young man to take an interest in history and to go to such great lengths to see that an artifact is returned to its rightful owners. The rededication began with the unveiling of the marker in the museum, followed by a brief service in the yard. Present were JB Kershaw Chapter members as well as some Division Officers and Chairpersons. Chapter President Eloise Verdin presided over the service as colors were presented by the Color Guard of Honor from Greenville, SC who carried the US flag, the SC flag, and the 1st National Flag of the Confederacy, known as the Daughters’ Flag. But, the most important person that day was Jacob Tarrant who beamed with delight at the unveiling of the marker. Jacob was introduced and recognized during the service and received a standing ovation from the crowd attending. The JB Kershaw Chapter had awarded Jacob the Jefferson Davis Silver Medal in May of 2014. This medal is given to a student who goes beyond the call of duty to preserve history, certainly well deserved of this young man.
Rest in peace, President Davis, your journey is over and your final remembrance has come home.
-By Jennifer Sawyer