Joanna Craig is passionate about South Carolina history.
And that has translated to some staggering numbers.
As the executive director for more than 26 years of Historic Camden’s Revolutionary War Site, Craig has seen the site go from a National Park affiliate to a bustling outdoor museum complex.
Craig has welcomed nearly 600,000 visitors to Historic Camden and has given nearly 91,000 guided tours – each of which brings history alive for visitors, said Jayne E. Scarborough, executive director of the Olde English District Tourism Commission in Richburg.
“She tells stories – she doesn’t just give facts when she does the tours,” said Scarborough, who first met Craig 23 years ago. “So when she talks about Andrew Jackson and his brother being imprisoned in Camden during the Revolutionary War, she has you look at his portrait as she tells the story about how he got his scar on his face – he refused to shine the shoes of an English officer who then sliced him with his saber.”
Craig also helped oversee the completion of the Kershaw-Cornwallis mansion; Jammin’ in July, one of the state’s longest-lived music festivals; History Days for more 20,000 Kershaw County third-graders; and the 225th anniversary in 2005 of the Battle of Camden, where 1,000 re-enactors withstood 112-degree temperatures in wool uniforms to bring history to life.
“We have had visits by Consuls-General of both Great Britain and Germany, the family of (German-born soldier) Baron Johan de Kalb, plus we partnered with and hosted five international conferences pertaining to the Southern Campaign (of the American Revolution) and we have seen visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries,” she said. “Many people may not realize it, but Historic Camden has been the location for several films and documentaries – from S.C. ETV to the BBC to music videos and even major motion pictures. You might be surprised how often we show up both here and abroad but often it’s what brings visitors.”
Then, there are the day-to-day tasks.
“A normal day is everything from opening and closing the site to giving guided tours to doing a contract for a wedding at the Kershaw House to fixing a toilet to helping a Boy Scout decide his on-site Eagle Scout project to answering questions as diverse as ‘How can I trace my ancestors?’ ... to ‘Have you seen any ghosts here?’” Craig said.
“No two days here are ever the same – and that is a large part of the fun of working here.”
But Craig, 73, will move on to a new chapter in life, announcing earlier this month that she will retire at the end of the year.
Still, she said, there is work left to be done.
Earlier this year, Craig testified before a Congressional subcommittee examining the establishment of the Camden (Revolutionary War) Battlefield and Historic Camden as a unit of the National Park System.
“The initiative for full National Park status is far from over,” Craig said. “Since the Battle of Camden Advisory Council started in the early 2000s, we’ve been able to preserve over 470 acres of the battlefield so far. That’s wonderful progress but we still have much to do.”
According to Craig, work that remains to be done at the site may be as much below ground as above it.
“State archaeologist Dr. Jon Leader, Historic Camden’s lead archaeologist, Ken Lewis of Michigan State and numerous other archaeologists recognize that Historic Camden is one of three known sealed colonial sites, meaning much of the original town remains undisturbed right beneath our feet,” Craig said. “It is truly a treasure trove of information on early America and how the oldest inland town in South Carolina fits into our nation’s story.”
Craig’s journey at Historic Camden has been, “a long, interesting” one, she said – one that recently has seen to fruition a 20-year-old dream to open a tavern at the site. McCaa’s Tavern opened Oct. 6 in the restored 18th century Camden residence, the John McCaa House, built in 1794.
“The opening of McCaa’s Tavern has been a wonderful accomplishment for all of us at Historic Camden,” Craig said. “It was an original 18th century house that was about to be demolished and the (Historic Camden) Foundation accepted it with the vision of making it into an 18th century tavern named in honor of John McCaa, one of the earliest tavern owners in the area and father of a doctor who once owned this building. What’s exciting is that it is not only beautifully restored ... but it now joins the Kershaw House as a unique rental space.”
Craig is hopeful that a local Camden caterer will partner with the tavern to expand it into an 18th century eatery serving colonial fare, complete with wait staff in period clothing.
As for establishing the Camden Battlefield as a National Park, that remains on Craig’s to-do list and will so beyond her retirement.
“We still have 800 noble Patriots who fought and died for this country, lying unprotected in shallow, unmarked graves nine miles north of town,” Craig said. “It is a disgrace to the memory of their sacrifice and I shall continue to fight on their behalf.”
That passion is what those who know her will miss after her retirement.
“When she told me she was retiring I couldn’t believe it – she has the stamina of a 23-year-old,” Scarborough said. “She is passionate about her site and about the South’s role in the Revolutionary War and she has a way of infecting others with her passion and rallying the troops. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to Joanna.”
Craig’s last day as is Dec. 31. After that she plans to spend more time with her two grandchildren and pursue other opportunities.
“Working 26 years here has been an amazing life experience,” Craig said. “I tell everyone on my tours to, ‘Spend a few peaceful hours where the British spent a rough year.’ I want that slogan to still be known a century from now.”
45th Annual Revolutionary War Field Days
What: South Carolina’s Revolutionary War years come alive as 500 re-enactors interpret life on the Southern Campaign trail. Cannons will roar as Redcoats and Patriots portray Southern Campaign battle tactics on an expanded battlefield on the lower grounds of the museum, followed by military court martial scenarios. Period craftsmen will ply their trades as civilian interpreters share their lifestyles with visitors who stroll through the camps. A fashion show will feature clothes from the era, while 17 shops sell goods on Sutlers Row.
When: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Nov. 7-8
Where: Historic Camden, 222 Broad St., Camden (1.4 miles on U.S. 521 N from I-20/Exit 98); free parking
How much: Adults, $10; military and seniors (62 and older), and children ages 6-12, $5; children age 6 and under, free; $25 for a family package (two adults, three kids under 12)