811 Fair Street, Camden, SC 29020
Post Office Box 501, Camden, SC 29021
Phone: (803) 425-1123
About The Bonds Conway House, Our Headquarters
The Bonds Conway House, circa 1812, serves as headquarters for the Kershaw County Historical Society at 811 Fair Street in Camden, SC 29020. An image of the house forms the Society’s logo.
The unique and proud history of this charming cottage is, in essence, the history of the man who built it–Bonds Conway, the first enslaved person on record in the Kershaw County Court House to have purchased his own freedom.
Bonds Conway was born in Virginia in 1763. He was a servant belonging to Edwin Conway, assigned to Edwin’s son Peter. Peter Conway and Bonds moved to South Carolina in 1792, joining other members of the Conway family. It is evident, from the following entry in records at the Kershaw County Court House, that Peter regarded his servant with trust and respect:
Be it known by all persons that it is by my permission to let my servant Bonds pass and re-pass to and fro, as he pleases. Also to hire himself, and be free of mosetation of any person or persons, he having conducted himself in a just and faithful manner. My servant Bonds also has the right to trade.
(Signed) Peter Conway,
February 10, 1792
In 1793, Edwin Conway sold Bonds to Zachariah Cantey, a prominent local citizen. The following affidavit was attached to the Bill of Sale:
I hereby ackowledge that I purchased the within named Negro man, Bonds, with his own money, of Mr. Edwin Conway, and do relinquish any title or claim to him.
Thus, at about the age of thirty, Bonds, who had taken the Conway surname, became a free man. He used his freedom intelligently and industriously, earning his living as a skilled carpenter. About 1812 he began to acquire land extending through the center of the block bordered by York, Market, King and Lyttleton Streets and, by the time of his death in 1843, he had purchased this entire parcel of land. In his will he divided his property among four of his eight surviving children. Each of these four sections had a house on it.
The Conways were a close-knit family, as documented by a treasure of family letters, now housed in the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, South Carolina. The last member to bear the Conway name was Dorcas Conway who gave the family property in 1890 to her daughter, Mrs. Sally Dibble. In 1906 Mrs. Dibble sold the house to Allen Ross.
The Bonds Conway House was purchased by the Kershaw County Historical Society in 1977 and moved to its present location on Fair Street behind the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County. The United States Department of the Interior provided matching funds to restore the house in 1978, and the restoration was completed in 1980.
In the restoration, the original architectural details, first executed by Bonds Conway, have been carefully retained. The heart pine floor boards on both floors are original to the house, as are the roof beams. The ceiling in the main room and the book room and the framing of the house are also original. Of special notice are the mantelpiece and the woodwork in the central room. The well proportioned interior and the trim lines of the exterior are further signs of a naturally talented and conscientious craftsman.
Today the Bonds Conway House serves as the office of the Kershaw County Historical Society. A continuing effort is being made to furnish the house in the manner of a 19th century cottage, and appropriate landscaping is an on-going effort of the Society.
Sometimes in the restoration of historic homes, the smaller, less impressive houses are overlooked. The Kershaw County Historical Society is grateful that the Bonds Conway House, so rich in black history, is firmly entrenched in the heritage of Camden.
The Bonds Conway House is located at 811 Fair Street, between DeKalb and York Streets. It is open to the public on Thursdays from 1:00 to 5:00 p. m. and at other times by appointment.
You can learn more about Bonds Conway and the Bonds Conway House by viewing files of information at the Camden Archives and at the South Caroliniana Library, and Caroliniana additionally has online digital images of the Bonds Conway family papers (Choose BROWSE COLLECTION).