Dr. Tom Mack has always thought of himself as a local history buff, but he dug a little deeper for his new book, “Hidden History of Aiken County.”
“I think the idea has probably been germinating for some time, but I signed the contract back in the spring, and I worked on the book for about six months, over the summer especially. I spent many happy hours at the County Museum, at the Aiken library – they have an interesting archive there – at the Caroliniana Library and at the Gregg-Graniteville library,” said Mack.
Mack, who holds the G.L. Toole Chair in English at USC Aiken, starts the book more than a century back from the founding of the town – in 1540, when explorer Hernando de Soto became the first European to set foot on what is now Aiken.
While his arrival boded well for the future settlers of Aiken, it was less promising for the area’s first locals.
“I decided to start with Hernando de Soto because we do know he crossed the river into what would become Aiken County in 1540 on his quest for gold and silver,” he said. “He also met the Lady of Confitachiqui, who was the ruler of all the lands between the sea and the mountains, and took her prisoner – hauled her up to North Carolina. She escaped though, and we don’t know her eventual fate.”
The book concludes in 1989, with the purchase of Joye Cottage by Steve Naifeh and Greg Smith and their decision to deed the property to Juilliard. Each chapter can stand alone, but they fit together to form a chronological narrative.
Many of the stories are seeing print for the first time in the new book, according to Mack.
Others he approached from a fresh angle, such as the old familiar tale of the Battle of Aiken.
“Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was the leader of Sherman’s cavalry, and Gen. Joe Wheeler led the Confederate Army at the Battle of Aiken. Kilpatrick is always portrayed as the villain and Wheeler as the hero,” said Mack.
“But I think most people would be surprised to learn the two of them knew each other, and they corresponded even during the war across enemy lines; they had been classmates at West Point. So I have a chapter where I refer to them as ‘frenemies,’ and I think people who think they know the story of the Battle of Aiken will be surprised.”
Mack will give a presentation and sign copies of “Hidden History” at a meeting of the Aiken Kiwanis Club at 1 p.m. Thursday at Cumberland Village. His next book signing and presentation will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at a meeting of the Horse Creek Valley Historical Society at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Graniteville; and then from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Aiken County Public Library.
“I’m hoping readers will take away something about Aiken County they didn’t know before, and they’ll take home a handy reference they can return to time and again,” he said. “I found out new things; I thought I knew a lot about Aiken County. But I myself discovered a lot in spending those many hours researching for this book.”
Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University.