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the beginning and the demise of old towne plantation

The Beginning and Demise of an 18th Century Charles Towne Landing Plantation Home.

There are ruins of an old plantation house at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, South Carolina whose history covers many of the poignant events that made Charleston the interesting city it is today. Like a lot of cities, much of its history showed progress and economic stability, but a good bit of Charleston’s history is also a story of wars, sadness, and devastation.

On August 17, 1669 three ships, The Carolina, The Port Royal, and The Albemarle set sail from England on a voyage to America. The ships were loaded with food, supplies, crop seeds, and around two hundred optimistic settlers hoping to find a good home in the new world.

The expedition had been financed by a group of eight men who in 1660 had been instrumental in helping Charles II take his place as the king of England after the death of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell had ruled England from 1649, when he had King Charles I executed, until his death in 1658. For a while his son Richard stepped in as ruler of England, but he proved to be an unpopular leader and soon left England.

As a reward for their loyalty and restoring the English monarchy, the new King Charles II, son of Charles I, gave the men a grant to establish a colony in America which would give them the opportunity to make a profit off land sales and rents. Given the title of Lords Proprietors, their plan was to establish an English settlement in the area of Port Royal Sound, near today’s Beaufort, South Carolina. The area had been explored by William Hilton in 1663 and Robert Sandford in 1666 and both had found the area suitable for English colonization even though it was less than 150 miles north of territory occupied by the Spanish.

After stops in Bermuda, Barbados, and Nevis, and losing two ships in the fleet to storms, the colonists in the ship The Carolina sailed into Port Royal only to be warned by the friendly Escamacu Indians living on what is now Parris Island, that a group of hostile Indians, the Westos, had moved into the area and were causing a lot of trouble. Not wanting to have to fight Indians while they built their homes, the colonists decided to move on.

On the advice of the Cassique of Kiawah, a prominent chief in the Cusabo Nation of some 12 tribes that lived along the coast of what is now South Carolina from Port Royal to Cape Romaine, the ship sailed north another 80 miles to a river that Robert Sandford on his voyage in 1666 had named the Ashley River, after Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the Lords Proprietors.

On April 12, 1670 the ship Carolina landed in a small creek on the west side of the Ashley River about three miles from the mouth of Charleston Harbor. The creek location was chosen because it could not be seen by Spanish ships sailing up from Florida. At that time, the Spanish still claimed territory north of Florida that became Georgia and South Carolina and occasionally sent scouts to the area.

After the long voyage, the nearly one hundred tired colonists from England, Ireland, and Barbados were happy to find a permanent home. The colonists named the landing site Albemarle Point after George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, an English military officer who had been one of the people who helped bring Charles II out of exile and who had been chosen as one of the Lords Proprietors. Colonists aboard the two ships that had been damaged in storms managed to find replacement ships and arrived a few weeks later.

For several centuries before English settlers arrived in the area that became Charleston, South Carolina, the twelve tribes of the Cusabo Indian Nation had lived peacefully along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. They hunted in the forests and built large mounds or middens with the shells of the millions of oysters, clams, whelks, and mussels they harvested from the marshes and waterways. Unlike some of their neighboring tribes, they were not preoccupied with carrying on warfare. The land and water provided plenty of food as well as material for clothing and housing, and they seemed to be content with their situation.

When the settlers arrived at Albemarle Point, the tribe living in that area at that time, the Kiawah, welcomed them and soon a bustling trade was established between the two peoples. The Kiawah and other Cusabo tribes were especially helpful in providing corn, beans, squash and other food items to the colonists whose food supplies were limited to what they had brought on the ship. In fact, it is doubtful that the small English settlement could have survived without the help of the resourceful Cusabo.

The Cassique of Kiawah was especially helpful in not only helping the colonists find a good home away from the hostile Westo tribe, but he encouraged his people to be friendly to the English. In a show of respect for his efforts, in 1970 a statue sculped by artist Willard Hirsh of the Cassique was erected at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the colony.

It was not long before the replacements for the two English ships damaged in storms arrived at Albemarle Point, and of course, more people required more food and more land. In just a few months conflicts arose as the settlers began moving into areas the Indians considered theirs. An example of one of the problems encountered was that when settlers brought in cattle and turned them out into fields to graze, the Indians claimed the cattle were on their hunting ground and killed some of them for meat and hide. This infuriated the owners of the cattle, and some of them took their revenge by capturing a number of Indians and selling them as slaves to plantation owners in the Caribbean Islands.

As more English arrived at the colony, now called Charles Towne after King Charles II, the Indians began to be pushed back and many of them moved to other areas. The Kiawah, for example, the tribe that had welcomed the English and helped them with food, moved to an island a few miles south of the English colony. Today the island is known as Kiawah Island.

Over the next ten years the population of the English settlement grew to over 1000 people, some in the original settlement area and others in farms and plantations spread up and down the Ashley and Cooper Rivers on both sides of the Charleston peninsula. Then in 1680 many of them still living at the landing site packed up and moved across the Ashley to the peninsula that was then called Oyster Point. This area gave the colony deeper water for larger ships and better access to the Atlantic Ocean which facilitated trade with other colonies up and down the coast and with Europe.

The original settlement site of about 10 acres sat mostly vacant for a while, but in 1694 70 acres were granted by the Lords Proprietors to James Lesade, which included the Albermarle Point landing site. In the next four years, LeSade was granted other adjoining tracts until he had accumulated 960 contiguous acres. At his death in 1703 the land passed to his wife Elizabeth and then to his brother Peter and sister Mary Neale. Since Mary was still living in Europe, she relinquished her half to Peter.

In 1716, Peter LeSade left 710 acres, including the original landing site, to his son, also named Peter, and 250 to his daughter and son-in-law Ann and John Girardeau. In 1732, the younger Peter sold his 710 acres to Daniel Cartwright for 3,144 pounds South Carolina money. Two years later Cartwright sold to John Beresford. Only five days later, Beresford sold the plantation to William Branford who paid 6,000 pounds. The value of the real estate was going up.

In the next few years, Branford bought more property, enlarging the plantation to 1008 ½ acres. Then at his death in 1772 he left 489 ½ acres to his daughter Ann who had married Thomas Horry and 519 acres, which included Albemarle Point, to his daughter Elizabeth who was married to Thomas’s brother, Elias Horry, Jr.

Two years later, Elizabeth and Elias bought the 489 ½ parcel from Ann and Thomas restoring the plantation to its original size of 1008 ½ acres. It was they who in 1774 built the elegant plantation home on a knoll some 300 yards north of the landing site. It contained a number of amenities, including the area’s first bath tub, and was considered one of the finest homes in Charleston.

During the Revolutionary War when the British occupied Charleston from 1780 to 1782, a British redoubt was built on the property near the original landing site, but, fortunately, the house and agricultural lands remained intact.

In the next few years, Elizabeth and Elias purchased other tracts of land so that by 1787 the property, now called Old Towne Plantation, contained a total of 1530 ¼ acres. The plantation produced primarily vegetables, sea island cotton, and indigo. A number of buildings such as a horse stable, carpentry shop, blacksmith shop, slave quarters, and a church were erected. The plantation was profitable, and Elias and Elizabeth and their heirs lived there comfortably for several years.

The property stayed in the Horry family until 1833 when it was sold to Anthony Barbot for $7,000 who kept it only two years before selling to Jonathan Lucas III in 1835 for $10,000, making a nice profit on his investment. It is thought that Lucas, who owned other plantations around the area, used Old Town primarily for hunting and entertaining rather than large scale agriculture as the Horry family had done. Jonathan Lucas died in1848, and in 1850 William Lucas, the executor of the estate, sold it to William McKenzie Parker and his wife Amelia for $5,500, an amount that perhaps reflected the fact that Lucas had neglected to keep the agricultural grounds in good shape.

William and Amelia restored the land and again used it for agriculture. At the same time, they were busy starting a family. Between 1848 and 1858 they had 6 children: William, Jr., Sarah, DeSaussure (named after family friend Louis D. DeSaussure), Henry, Caroline, and Amelia Mary. As a mother of six young children, Amelia had her hands full. Then in December 1860, William died leaving her at age 36 with a large family, a 1530 ¼ -acre plantation to run, and 20 slaves. If that were not enough, on April 12, 1861, only 4 months after William’s death, impatient Confederate soldiers fired their cannons at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor and started the American Civil War.

The negative effects of the war came to Charleston sooner than the city expected. By July 1861, Union ships began a blockade of Charleston Harbor, and the following November, Union forces took Port Royal Sound and several sea islands just a few miles south of Charleston. The Confederate commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, tightened Charleston’s defenses, but the situation was tense.

Amelia hung on as best she could, keeping her family safe and her plantation intact. But in September 1863 Union troops took Fort Wagner near the mouth of Charleston Harbor and began bombarding Charleston with artillery. Many residents of Charleston packed up and left to escape the danger. Amelia took her 5 youngest children and went to live with her sister in Eufaula, Alabama. Her oldest son, William, Jr., who was only 16 at the time, joined the Confederate army.

Several months later, Union troops moved up from their base in Beaufort, South Carolina and began burning homes and plantations around Charleston; when they ran across the Parker house at Old Town Plantation, they burned it to the ground.

Unable to stop the Union advance, Confederate General Beauregard moved his troops out of Charleston on February 17, 1865, leaving the job of surrendering the city the next day to Mayor Charles MacBeth who formally surrendered the city to the troops of Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig. The Civil War was over in Charleston.

While still in Alabama, Amelia got word that her home had been burned, the slaves were gone, the farm lands were in bad shape, and like a number of land owners in the war-ravaged South, there was the uncertainty of getting her property legally returned to her. The worst blow came, however, when she was informed that her son William, only now 18 years old, had been killed during a skirmish in Anderson, SC on May 3, 1865 three weeks after Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia ending the war. William had been a student at the Citadel College in Charleston, and their records indicate that he was possibly one of the last Confederate soldiers killed in combat. The war was officially over and William was close to coming home, but he did not make it.

When in late 1865 Amelia finally got her title situation settled, she returned to her home and moved into what had been the plantation overseer’s home which she refurbished. Very disheartened at the poor condition of her once productive property, and especially since her husband and oldest son were no longer there to help her, her first response was to contact Louis D. DeSaussure, a prominent Charleston businessman and former slave trader, and have him put the property up for sale.

A newspaper ad dated January 23, 1867 describes the property as “about 1400 acres”, 390 acres of which was cleared for the cultivation of “Sea Island cotton and other Provision crops.” 630 acres was timberland and the balance, some 376 acres was “marsh and rush lands.” The plantation included “comfortable quarters for one hundred laborers”, a “commodious” stable, as well as a blacksmith shop, carpenter’s shop, and a church. The ad also mentions a number of freshwater ponds on the property that had been “wantonly destroyed” but which could be restored to their “former loveliness.” Also “possibly reusable” were the chimney and the foundation of the “dwelling house”.

Since the entire property consisted of 1530 acres, the fact that only 1400 acres was advertised for sale, indicated that perhaps the other 130 acres was to be Louis DeSaussure’s sales commission paid in land since Amelia had little money at the time.

With some work and reliable help, Old Towne Plantation could have been made profitable again. However, it suffered the same fate as many southern estates: the property was in bad shape, there were no slaves to restore it, and Amelia, like most people did not have enough money to hire dependable help. Selling it seemed the logical thing to do, but quite a bit of the property in and around Charleston had been devastated by the war and many homeowners in the area were trying to rebuild. As a result, no buyers made an offer on the property. Amelia and her remaining children had to do the best with what they had.

Records show that for the next few years while she waited for a buyer, Amelia worked hard to keep the plantation a viable enterprise. For example, in January 1870 she entered into a “deed of bargain” with a DeSaussure Bull in which he agreed to rent Old Towne Plantation for one year for the sum of $500.00. A rather lengthy legal document stated that if Bull did not pay the $500 by January 1, 1871, Amelia would be allowed to take possession of not only the crops he had grown on her land, but “all the messuages, lands, or tenements of the said DeSaussure Bull”.

Throughout the 1870s Amelia entered into a number of rental agreements none of which provided enough money to pay her debts. Then in December 1876 in the midst of her financial struggles, tragedy struck again when her son DeSaussure died at the age of 25 when his gun misfired on a hunting trip.

In desperation, Amelia took out a mortgage on her property, but in December 3, 1877 when she could not come up with the funds to pay it off, legal suit was brought against her. Then on February 19, 1878 a judge ruled that Old Towne Plantation was to be sold at public auction.

One can imagine the sadness Amelia must have felt. She had lost her husband and two of her sons, she had had to flee her home while the land she loved was being devastated by war, her beautiful home had been burned by enemy soldiers, and now in spite of her hard work to restore the property she and her husband had purchased, she had to suffer the humiliation of having her once beautiful plantation sold by the county sheriff at public auction.

The sale was held at the Charleston County courthouse on March 12, 1878. For only $1500.00 the entire 1530 ¼ -acre plantation was sold to Charles T. Simonton acting as trustee for Julia Graves whose husband had died in 1870. Julia got a bargain. She sold part of the land then gave the bulk of it to her daughter Kate who had married Edward T. Legare. The Legare’s moved to the property and enlarged the house that Amelia had occupied.

It turned out that the Legare heirs were the last private owners of Old Towne Plantation. In 1969, Edward and Kate’s granddaughter, Ferdinanda Legare Waring sold what was left of the property, some 670 acres, to the State of South Carolina for use as a historical park. Called Charles Towne Landing State Historical Site, the property includes the original 1670 landing site and the ruins of Amelia Parker’s home.

After losing her plantation in Charleston, Amelia moved a few miles north into a home in Summerville, South Carolina where she died on March 22, 1892 at the age of 67. She was buried in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery near her husband and sons.

Wars affect people’s lives in many negative ways. The Civil War certainly had a detrimental effect on Amelia Parker’s life causing the loss of her home and the death of her oldest son who, no doubt, could have filled in and helped her keep Old Towne Plantation going.

Ted McCormack


  1. Very informative and insightful. It amazes me that Amelia had so much to handle. How could a woman handle her children, slaves, Indian relationships,a large plantation and all that goes with it? The I imagine there must have been overseers who were cruel bullies to use fear to keep slaves in line. Reminds me of movie “Gone with the wind” a little.

  2. Very informative and insightful. Amazing how Amelia had so much to handle. How could a woman handle her children,slaves,household,
    a large plantation and all that goes with it?
    Then I imagine there must have been overseers who could be cruel bullies and used fear to keep slaves in line. Reminds me of the movie “Gone With the Wind” a little. Sadly,all wars are detrimental as well as slavery.

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