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In search of Ellicott Rock - Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area, South Carolina

The Ellicott Rock Trail is a popular hike for both local and visiting trekkers. The trail rambles through the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River corridor, as well as plunging into the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area.

A portrait of surveyor Andrew Ellicott
The inscription on Commissioners Rock that is usually referred to as Ellicott Rock.
Jimmy Jacobs

The Chattooga River forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia, with the trail running along the eastern shore in the Palmetto State. The river gained fame in the 1970s because much of the movie “Deliverance” was filmed on it. That picture forever made the Chattooga, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty synonymous with banjo music and “squeal like a piggy.”

The Ellicott Rock Trail, however, lies upstream of where all that action took place. From the trailhead at Burrells Ford, the pathway runs for 4.6 miles north to the junction of the borders of Georgia, North Carolina and Georgia. At that point, hikers pause to get a glimpse of Ellicott Rock. Or do they? There is a carved rock at that point, but it’s not Ellicott Rock.

Let’s start with a bit of a history lesson to explain that phenomena.

Andrew Ellicott was a surveyor born in 1754. He amassed quite a resume in the infant United States, having helped lay out the Mason-Dixon Line, did surveys in the planning of Washington, D.C., marked the Florida-Alabama border and tutored Meriwether Clark in their shared field of endeavor.

In February 1811 Georgia Governor David Mitchell hired Ellicott to survey the boundary between Georgia and North Carolina to put an end to ongoing border disputes. Ellicott chiseled the symbol “N – G” into a rock on the east side of the Chattooga River to mark that boundary at latitude 35.

Unfortunately, that site was farther south than Gov. Mitchell wanted it to be and he refused to pay Ellicott for his work.

Then in 1813 the states of North and South Carolina appointed commissioners to mark the spot where those states abut on the Chattooga, which, in theory, should have been the same place Ellicott marked. The result of that effort was another inscription on a rock. This one bears the chiseled image “Lat 35 AD 1813 NC + SC.”

Today this later inscription is generally said to be on Ellicott Rock and is the one most hikers visit on the river shore. It more correctly is Commissioners Rock.

Depending on the source of the information, Ellicott Rock is either 10 feet south, or 500 feet north of Commissioners Rock.

Seeing Commissioners Rock is no easy task. Their presently is no marker at the state boundary. As you walk north, you reach a tree on the left of the trail that has a North Carolina Game Lands sign on it. At that point you have passed the rock by about 20 yards.

To see the inscription entails backing up that distance, then climbing down the steep bank and into the water. The inscription is just above the water level, facing out toward the river.

The bottom line is that hiking the Ellicott Rock Trail in search of the inscriptions provides an adventure on the shores of the Chattooga River!

A full description of the Ellicott Rock Trail can be found in the new 4th edition of Hiking Georgia, A guide to the State’s Greatest Hiking Adventures.

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