Grandest home site is atop of Cook's Mountain

This 1903 granite marker is positioned on James Cook’s S.C. / N.C. border in upper Marlboro County at the boundary angle where the line makes a sharp 30 degree drop toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Northeast of McCord's Ferry Road (Highway 601) near the Jumping Hill Gun Club, there's an unpaved turn off that leads toward Cook's Mountain. Few folks get into this wilderness because it's private property and posted 'no trespassing.'

Before Union Camp Corporation reseeded their property north of the historic circa 1850 Wateree Country Store, motorists glimpsed that sugarloaf demi-mountain far in the distance where the Congaree and Wateree meet.

Tucked into those sandhills and overlooking an oxbow on the Wateree is one of South Carolina's little-known treasures - the homesite of the colonial English cartographer, James Cook.

An upstate legend maintains that the English cartographer traveled the Carolinas and knew the land better than any man before him and that he selected the area of Cook's Mountain as his personal fiefdom, thinking it to be the choicest parcel in the colony.

No, our mountain is not named for 'The' James Cook, explorer of the Pacific.

The English cartographer who mapped colonial South Carolina in 1772 bears the same name as the Cook of Hawaii and New Zealand fame. Some Carolinians have mistakenly attributed Cook's Mountain to the man who charted the Pacific.

Our 'Carolina' Cook, however, held the regard of King George III for his highly accurate map and for completing the South Carolina / North Carolina boundary that had been an ongoing difficulty since 1736.

James Cook used Cook's Mountain as his base of operations due to its central location in the state and its easy access to the Wateree, Congaree and Santee Rivers, as well as to the nearby McCord's Ferry Road.

All land deeds in colonial South Carolina were required to be stamped and registered in Charleston, thereby frustrating and impeding the orderly development of the Carolina Upcountry.

Yet, as onerous as the filing process was for backcountry settlers, James Cook's job of mapping was made much easier because he could examine numerous surveyor maps of land grants that saved him months, maybe years, of field work. Nowadays, having one's surname listed on the 1772 Cook Map of S.C. is one of those telltale marks of Carolina distinction.

As precise as most of it was, Cook's map was not without a few serious flaws. Our state's northern boundary shared with our sister, the old North State, does some fancy maneuvering around the old Waxhaws region. Cook was summoned from London to establish a proper boundary line 40 years after Carolina was divided into two colonies, North and South Carolina. James Cook surveyed the boundary to the Savannah River in 1771 through 1772 by slashing trees and dragging chains through some of the most impenetrable wilderness on the Eastern seaboard.

One of the most knowledgeable sources on the two-state boundary dispute is retired history professor, Louise Pettus, of Winthrop University in Rock Hill. According to Dr. Pettus, 'There was no N.C. - S.C. boundary line at all before 1772. So both colonies claimed land east of the Catawba River and the northern most part of the Waxhaws. The exception is the northern part of Lancaster County, just above the Waxhaws, which was granted to the Catawba Indians who chose to be in S.C. rather than N.C. That line was drawn in 1764. Records of the land grants before 1772 are located in Anson County patent books (Mecklenburg was a part of Anson County until 1769.) All of the N.C. county records are in the North Carolina Archives in Raleigh, N.C.

In 1772, British surveyors laid out the N.C. / S.C. boundary line west of the Catawba River in a straight line but they (James Cook and party) used the Camden (S.C.) road often called the Camden road or the Camden to Salisbury road, or the road was called the Salisbury road only; or, on some of the early Lancaster County plats, it is the 'Great Road to Philadelphia,'or just ‘Great Road.''

In another essay on the Cook survey confusion, Pettus states, 'Surveyor, James Cook, finally drew a line 11 miles south of His Majesty's intention.

Confused, fatigued and suffering from the rains, the hot weather and the insects, the surveyor stopped on the Camden - Salisbury Road, south of the Catawba lands.

Instead of latitude 35 degrees, the surveyors had run a course of 34 degrees and 49 minutes.

The error cost South Carolina 660 square miles of land.'

The highway known as the 'Old Camden - Salisbury Road' has been replaced in more modern times by U.S. Highway 601 - which is known as McCord's Ferry Road in Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties. James Cook probably had had enough of the heat and chiggers and headed for the more sublime environs of Cook's Mountain, elevation 372 feet above sea level.

He submitted his map to London publishers, and in 1773 it became the most accurate scale drawing ever rendered of the colony.

Certain challenges to river bends and tributaries caused Lowcountry native, Henry Mouzon of Williamsburg County, to undertake his own version of a South Carolina map, and in two years Mouzon corrected both the Catawba and the Upstate river errors of the Cook map. Mouzon, a descendant of Huguenots and a cousin and cohort of Francis Marion, was educated as an engineer at the Sorbonne.

A year ago a prominent property consultant, Plantation Services of Charleston and Albany, Ga., circulated a prospectus offering the Cook's Mountain estate for sale. '1131 Acres near Columbia, South Carolina. A property on a mountain....on a river….less than two hours from the sea. $4,900,000. Seventeen miles east of Columbia on the Wateree River is a property known as Cook's Mountain.

It is one of the most spectacular properties in South Carolina. Land types on the property range from an almost primeval hardwood forest along the river rising through uplands to the highest elevations in the central part of the state. The property has a wide variety of plant and animal life. The ‘mountain' itself rises to an elevation of 372 feet above sea level, an anomaly in this area that offers scenic views for miles. The mountain was the home of Mr. James Cook, a famous cartographer, who produced the Cook Map of South Carolina in 1773.'

Richland County Council desired to purchase the property to preserve it as a recreational site, but they were outbid by a national landfill company. A national garbage-disposal company now controls Cook's Mountain, a Richland County landmark that faces an uncertain future after years of public use.

A division of Republic Services bought the property last month from the mountain's longtime landowners for $5.1 million, according to Richland County property records.

The March 1, transaction was expected and Republic is now actively marketing the property for resale.

Will Flower, a spokesman for Republic, said the company is in no rush to sell the land, but also is 'not in the property-holding business.'

For the time being, the Cook's Mountain Hunt Club has an arrangement to lease a portion of the area for its members' use.

Citizens of the Midlands hope that this beautiful historical site known as Cook's Mountain can someday be a county or state park where all may partake of the grand vistas and 'salubrious clime' that so appealed to 18th century English cartographer James Cook.

(Dr. Thomas B. Horton is a history teacher at Porter-Gaud School. He lives in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant. See more columns online at www.moultrienews.com. Visit his Web site at www.historyslostmoments.com.)