Anderson man tracks down history in the Upstate

‘I see history as this huge puzzle that is meant to be investigated,’ says baker

Anderson Independent-MailFebruary 19, 2013 

— The Old Reformer Cannon which sits at the entrance of the Anderson County Museum arrived in Anderson before the county existed. Tradition states that it may have been brought to the Americas in 1764, by German immigrants settling in Charleston. In 1876, the cannon made an appearance during the South Carolina gubernatorial campaign.

To Brian Scott, those facts are like pieces to the puzzle of the Old Reformer Cannon.

This 46-year-old self-employed baker spent his childhood learning how to find those pieces – all the names, dates and stories that make up our history. And now he has researched and photographed more than 150 historical markers in Anderson County and more than a dozen other counties in South Carolina and Georgia.

He has recorded all of the information, including these facts about the Old Reformer Cannon, into an online database of historical markers in the United States.

“I see history as this huge puzzle that is meant to be investigated,” Scott said. “It is a puzzle that you never fully solve, and that’s the challenge.”

The hunt for the pieces of history is something his mother introduced him to when he was a boy. At the time, she was trying to research the family medical history. What turned out to be a short research project led to a lifelong passion for putting together the Scott family tree and learning who they were.

Scott said he remembers traveling with his mother to churches, old cemeteries and to libraries. The two would search through microfilm, old church records and tombstones to find the next puzzle piece that they needed for their story.

Over the years, they tracked down hundreds of people who are part of their history. They learned more than bits and pieces of their medical history. They learned that two of her ancestors, Thomas Pickens McClellan and William Preston McClellan, who were from Abbeville, fought in the Civil War. They were captured and kept at a prison in Elmira, N.Y. McClellan died a day before he was to be released from the prison and is buried there in Elmira.

Thomas Pickens came back home and married William Preston’s widow so that he could help care for her and her two children. Scott’s mother is a descendant of one of those children.

“Mom was so excited to learn about Elmira,” Scott said. “She had never heard of Elmira before. All of that was very exciting to her.”

When they first began their research, there was no Internet, Scott said. So his mother learned how to do the research the hard way: driving from church to church, and walking through countless graveyards.

Since then, Scott has learned how to use the Internet. But he still does what his mother would do. He goes to cemeteries and gathers much of his research from tombstones and old newspaper articles.

And he has expanded his search to include the stories of others. In his search for names and burial places for his own family members, he has photographed and researched hundreds of others at the Silver Brook Cemetery on White Street in Anderson.

Plus, he is cataloging all of the historical markers that he can find in the Upstate. He has recorded information on sites such as old churches, houses, memorials, schools and textile mills.

“I love learning about local history, and how my family is connected to those local events,” Scott said.

And he especially loves those moments when he can find something that he – or his mother – have longed to find.

Like the Gilgal United Methodist Church. The church is a red-brick structure that sits along a two-lane road in the midst of Abbeville County’s vast countryside. It is a small sanctuary, fitting of its setting. Yet it glistened like gold to Scott when he set his eyes upon it the first time.

“When I found this church, I was so excited because mother had looked for it for so long,” he said. “That church is where my roots are. A lot of families do not know where they started.”

And now, to Scott, finding those roots, their bits and pieces, is what is important to him. He wants to help pull as many of those pieces together so they will be preserved for the future, for a new generation to find.

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