Barnwell, originally called "Red Hill" and later "the Village," was founded in 1800 when a courthouse was built on land donated by Benjamin Odom. Both Winton County and its new county seat were renamed for John Barnwell (1748-1800), a S.C. militia officer in the Revolution and afterwards. Barnwell was incorporated in 1829 with the town limits extending ? mi. from the courthouse. The heart of the city is the Circle, with its unique 1858 vertical sundial.
Barnwell is perhaps best known for the dedicated public service of its citizens as governors, legislators, and jurists. The city is also known as the home of the "Barnwell Ring", a powerful group of twentieth-century Barnwell politicians who included Joseph Emile Harley, lt. governor 1934-41 and governor 1941-42; Edgar A. Brown, president pro tem of the S.C. Senate 1942-72, and Solomon Blatt, speaker of the S.C. House 1937-46 and 1951-73.