The 78 Site?

Have you ever wanted to go down in history for solving a mystery? Well here is your chance to get your name in the books. No one knows why the site of the first land battle of the revolution is named Ninty Six.

The 96 National Historic Site’s name is to this day shrouded in mystery. Most people will try to convince you that the name refers to the distance between itself and the Cherokee Town of Keowee. There is one pretty glaring issue with this theory, only 78 miles are between them.

Others have come up with theories that 96 is an interpretation of 9 and 6. Sets of rivers not too far away. Being 15 of the stream’s total, maybe that is it. To me, this is a good example of Apophenia. Honestly, I don’t find that theory any more convincing than 78 miles being misconceived as 96. It seems to me that no one really knows why. Of course, I can’t be so harsh if I don’t give a theory myself.

What if it is just a much more mundane number, like the number of settlers or the number of patriots who died. Both of which were about 100. How much proof exists that this is, in fact, the original name of the town? Could it not be that it was renamed after its capture in 1780? I don’t know and I’m sure that those aren’t the answers. Still, it is a mystery to this day. Maybe you will be the one to solve it.


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  1. I have an ancestor, one Samuel Campbell Clegg, who was hanged at Star Fort in Ninety-Six for being a British sympathizer. He fought for the British at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Georgia and was one of five combatants who were captured and brought to Star Fort, tried, and executed.

    • That is really fascinating family history. That is something I think everyone should do more of these days. I have an interest in my own family history but must admit that I haven’t researched as much as I should.

  2. I’m pretty sure the placename Ninety-Six predated the Revolutionary War battles by more than 20 years… going back to Robert Gouedy’s Indian trading post in the 1750s. It does seem like an 18-mile error was egregious even for frontier geographers of that day, but wouldn’t be the first time a proper name stuck despite an origin based on a math error… (e.g. “Indians” because an otherwise brilliant navigator adopted a theory on the Earth’s circumference, and the distance to the Indies, that had been based on an incorrect unit conversion… and we lost a Mars-bound spacecraft for analogous reason. It happens!) I do like the “9 and 6” theory though. I have dim memory of learning another theory, related to the latter one– that some cartographers used two opposing “curl” marks, that looked a lot like 96 without quite closing the loops in each numeral, to indicate a “divide” between watersheds, and that this symbol placed on someone’s old map of an Indian trail got confused with a placename, or just referenced as “the 96.” I cannot cite a reference for that nor have I found any evidence for it… but seem to remember reading and/or talking about it with family in my parents’ livingroom in my youth, maybe the 1970s. Curious if that rings a bell with anyone?

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