Rock House: an anti-plantation SC colonial home

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When the Rock House was built in 1758 in Newberry County, SC, it sat along the main road that stretched between Charleston and the South Carolina Upstate. Today, it’s nearly a mile from any road, not because the structure has been moved but because roads have shifted.

The Rock House is as simple as its name. A two-over-two rectangular structure, it was built during the French and Indian War with two rooms downstairs and two upstairs.

Today, it’s the oldest structure in the county, even if its age is showing. Parts of the building’s walls are have fallen away, several dozen bricks from one of its two chimneys lay scattered about its interior, the east side of the edifice is covered in vegetation and its insides are filled with hay and flecked with numerous wasps’ nests.

Yet, the dilapidated state also offers the opportunity to glimpse the guts of the dwelling by exposing a side view of the walls, a mixture of fieldstones and mortar a foot thick.

Surrounded by acres and acres of golden wheat swaying gently with the afternoon breeze, the aged structure retains a special mystique, even if it’s been vacant for decades.

Old Stone House Newberry 6 3 2016 037Tradition holds that the house was built as protection against Indians.

During the French and Indian War, many tribes found themselves caught between English colonies along the Eastern US seaboard and French territory that ran from the Gulf of Mexico up into what would become Canada. In the Carolinas, the Cherokee, desperate to retain their traditional lands and fend off encroaching whites, attacked settlers in what was known as the Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-1761).

Settlers all along the Carolina frontier were on guard during the conflict.

A historical marker set on the road a good distance from the structure does little to enlighten visitors as the house’s history.

It says, simply, “On December 7, 1756, the Council of the Colony recorded a petition of Jacob Hoffman for 200 acres of bounty land. He was granted this acreage on Palmetto Branch in 1758. The building on this tract, which has long been known as ‘The Rock House,’ exhibits details of construction which support the local tradition that it was built before the American Revolution.”

Not exactly a glut of information.

The Rock House was built with small windows, along with attic end windows with small holes. The attic windows were built as a position to place guns, according to George Leland Summers’ 1950 work Newberry County, South Carolina: Historical and Genealogical Annals.

The two-over-two style structure was common for frontier homes built during the Colonial and Antebellum eras.

While the home may have been built with safety in mind first and foremost, it wasn’t without amenities. The floors were constructed with thick heart pine wood and its window frames were carved. The dwelling’s joists, roughly three by six inches, were hewn with a broadax, and wooden pegs are evident throughout the house, according to Newberry County, South Carolina: Historical and Genealogical Annals.

It’s difficult to say how much longer the Rock House will last. As long as it’s not hit by the tail end of a hurricane or a tornado, or vegetation isn’t allowed to grow into the walls and break apart mortar and stones, it could easily survive for at least another half century.

Should the roof blow off, vandals take key pieces of stone or something unexpected happen, however, the Rock House could crumble relatively quickly.

No matter what its future, it’s easily outlived the expectations of the individual or individuals who built it nearly 260 years ago.

(Below: View of interior showing damaged chimney and collapsed bricks.)

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High Hill Baptist Church retains old-time atmosphere

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High Hills Baptist Church is an antebellum structure with an interesting history, but like many old rural Southern churches it would seem its best days are behind it.

The congregation was begun in 1772 and the current church building was erected in 1848, replacing an earlier structure that dated to 1803.

Richard Furman (1755-1825), influential in spreading the Baptist faith in South Carolina, was the first pastor of the church, taking over at the tender age of 18.

Furman was a native of New York who had moved to Charleston as a youth. At 16 he converted to the Baptist faith, turning away from the evangelical Calvinism of his family. Two years later, in 1774, he was ordained as pastor of High Hills Baptist Church.

Bees coming and going into hive in wooden column on front of High Hills Baptist Church, Stateburg, SC.

Bees, left, corner, coming and going into a hive in wooden column on High Hills Baptist Church, Stateburg, SC.

The High Hills of Santee area, around present-day Stateburg, SC, was, from the colonial era until the War Between the States, noted as a healthful region where wealthy planters from the South Carolina Lowcountry would escape to during the summer months, when malaria and yellow fever were especially prevalent.

Thanks to Furman’s efforts, numerous Baptist churches emerged around South Carolina during his decades as a pastor.

Furman was an ardent patriot, as well. During the American Revolution, he volunteered to serve in the Continental Army but instead was persuaded that his talents could better be used as a speaker to help gain support for the American cause.

On the fall of Charleston to British forces in 1780, General Lord Cornwallis announced a princely bounty of £1,000 for Furman’s capture, and the latter was forced to flee South Carolina.

The land where High Hills Baptist Church is located was donated by American patriot Thomas Sumter, the South Carolina militia general who played a key role in defeating the British during the Revolution.

While many of the large plantation-style homes and other structures that once dotted the area were destroyed in the waning days of the war by Union troops, some survived, including High Hills Baptist Church.

The distinctive Greek Revival structure has remained largely unchanged over the past 168 years.

Good old outhouse. Operational, as author found from experience.

Good old outhouse. Operational, as author found from experience.

In fact, there is still an operational outhouse out behind the church, one of the few churches in South Carolina with such a “facility.”

The church is showing the ravages of time, however. Bees have set up a hive in one of the wooden pillars at the front of the church, and the slats along at least one of the large hurricane shutters are deteriorating.

Given that the church has just a single service each week, and that it takes place at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, it’s likely the congregation is small.

Inside, the church features tiled floors, hard-carved walnut woodwork and old-time wooden pews.

Despite the church’s diminished role, it’s left an indelible mark on the state that continues unabated.

Furman University, one of the Southeast’s most prestigious private schools, was established in 1826, the year after Richard Furman’s death. It was named in his honor.

Now based in Greenville, Furman University was located near High Hill Baptist Church from 1829-1834. It later relocated to Fairfield County, SC, before moving to Greenville in 1851.

Graduates of the institution include Nobel Prize winning physicist Charles Townes, John Watson, the founder of Behaviorism, and SC Governor and US Secretary of Education Dick Riley.

Recalling an honest man, ‘the noblest work of God’

old waxhaw graveyard

A number of notable individuals are interred at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery in South Carolina’s Lancaster County, just south of the North Carolina state line.

These include Andrew Jackson Sr., the father of the seventh US president; William Richardson Davie, who led American troops in the Revolutionary War, served as governor of North Carolina and is considered the founder of the University of North Carolina; and James Witherspoon, lieutenant governor of South Carolina from 1826-28.

One individual who doesn’t garner the recognition of the above but is certainly worthy of acknowledgement is William Blair, who came from Ireland to the US in the early 1770s.

Like many of the men buried at Old Waxhaw, Blair served the American cause in the Revolution. His contributions are etched onto the horizontal slab that sits atop a “chest tomb,” a brick and mortar edifice constructed over his grave.

Blair’s epitaph contains more than 300 words, engraved in fine script that must have taken a stone carver a fair bit of time to craft.

It details the date of Blair’s birth and death, that he arrived from County Atrium at age 13 and that he was preceded in death by his wife Sarah, who rests next to him.

What’s of particular note, however, is the description of Blair’s involvement in the American Revolution, and his life afterward:

“He was a Revolutionary Patriot: – And in the humble Stations of private Soldier and Waggon master. it is believed he Contributed more essentially to the Establishment of American Independence than many whose names are proudly emblazoned on the page of History. With his Father’s waggon he assisted in transporting the baggage of the American Army for several months. – He was also in the battles of the Hanging Rock. – The Eutaw, Ratliff’s bridge, Stono – and the Fish dam ford on broad river. …”

View of William Blair's gravestone at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Click to see bigger image.

View of William Blair’s gravestone at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Click to see bigger image.

The engagements referred to are the battles of Hanging Rock, Aug. 6, 1780; Eutaw Springs, Sept. 8, 1781; Ratliff’s or Radcliff’s Bridge, March 6, 1781; Stono Ferry, June 20, 1779; and Fishdam Ford, Nov. 9, 1780.

Given that there were more battles and skirmishes fought in South Carolina than any other American colony during the Revolution, it’s almost a certainty that Blair saw action at other encounters, as well.

Just as interesting is what follows after the details of Blair’s service:

“In one of these battles (it is not recollected which) he received a slight wound: but so far from regarding it, either then or afterwards, when it was intimated to him that he might avail himself of the bounty of his Country and draw a Pension (as many of his Camp associates had done) he declared that, if the small Competence he then possessed failed him, he was both able and willing to work for his living; and if it became necessary, to fight for his Country without a penny of pay. He was in the Language of Pope, The noblest work of God – an honest man. ‘No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode; (There they alike in trembling hope repose) The bosom of his Father and his God.’”

Blair died on July 2, 1824, at age 65. He and his wife Sarah had seven children, including one son, James, who served four terms in Congress.

Today, Americans remember the likes of George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette and John Paul Jones when they’re able to recall any military leaders from the Revolution War at all.

But were it not for William Blair and thousands of others like him, men who served dutifully during the conflict and then quietly went about the business of building a nation, it’s difficult to imagine that the Founding Fathers’ ambitions would have ever been realized.

(Top: View of Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Lancaster County, SC.)

In Vermont, a solution goes in search of a problem

south burlington scoreboard

In a nation of perpetually aggrieved there is diminishing room for reason.

Consider the “controversy” taking place in South Burlington, Vt.

For more than 50 years the South Burlington High School has used the “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before.

However, now there is a movement to do away with the moniker because “rebel” is said to be associated with the racist policies of the Confederacy, a former teacher at the school told the Burlington Free Press.

“It was unintentional, I’m sure, but it’s still connected to that,” said Bob Walsh, who taught at the school for 18 years. “I think it’s time for us to recognize the fact that this symbol is inappropriate and it’s time to change.”

Walsh’s comments came during an August school board meeting. He was the only member of the public to speak against the school’s nickname.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, board chairwoman, said when she grew up in the area and participated in events against South Burlington High, she never recalled any reference to the Rebels being affiliated with the Confederacy.

Julie Beatty, another school board member and a South Burlington High alum, said she never associated the “Rebels” nickname with the Confederacy during her time as a student, and said she doesn’t think students today associate it with the Confederate States of America.

The board decided to gather more public opinion before making a decision. Young said the topic will be open for public comment at the next board meeting, which will be held tomorrow.

What Walsh and others who advocate a break with the name “Rebels” seem to overlook is that not only did South Burlington split from Burlington, but Vermont itself was established by many individuals who were considered “rebels.”

Vermont was founded by Ethan Allen, Thomas Chittenden and others who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York,” according to historian Christian Fritz.

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

And, of course, rebellion was the dominant theme in the founding of the United States of America, with the Founding Fathers undoubtedly being seen as “rebels” by Great Britain.

(Top: Scoreboard at South Burlington (Vt.) High School, with nickname “Rebels” evident.)

Tolerance includes putting up with things you find disagreeable

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One of the more disheartening aspects of the “tolerance” crowd is that some members are rather intolerant when faced with opinions that differ from their own.

Take Morgan Clendaniel, the editor of the online website Co.Exist, owned by business magazine Fast Company.

While Wikipedia describes Co.Exist’s mission as covering innovation-related topics, the name carries with it the concept of co-existence, which suggests mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests.

Clendaniel would appear to be among those who believe co-existence is great – until a viewpoint they disagree with comes along.

Consider a recent piece by Clendaniel titled “While We’re Doing The Flags, Here Are Some Other Confederate Things We Should Get Rid Of”.

In it, he writes, “… the reach of the Confederacy – and the almost-insane tone-deafness of organizations and politicians who celebrate its history – goes well beyond the flag and hides in other insidious ways throughout the region.”

In a nutshell: Clendaniel really, really, really doesn’t like Jefferson Davis, who served as the president of the Confederate States of America.

Clendaniel begins by taking to task social fraternity Kappa Sigma for having “one – and only one – honorary member: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, racist, and traitor to America.”

Kappa Sigma made the mistake of wishing Davis Happy Birthday in 2013 on its national website. The fraternity was also castigated by Clendaniel for recently welcoming a new member and identifying him as the great-great grandson of the Confederate leader.

The fact is that most anyone born in the 19th century would be considered a racist by 21st century standards. Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, William T. Sherman, etc., ad infinitum. Who knows how our own views will stand up to the test of time?

As for Davis being a traitor, the Founding Fathers would also fall into that category – certainly the British saw them in that light.

Next up on Clendaniel’s hit list is US Senator Thad Cochran. Cochran, who represents Mississippi in Congress, has come out in favor of his state changing its flag to remove the Confederate battle flag in its corner. However, that’s not enough for the Co.Exist editor:

“ … when the senator goes to the U.S. Senate chamber, he sits at a desk that was once used by Jefferson Davis, when Davis was a senator from Mississippi, before he betrayed his country by leading a breakaway republic based on maintaining the institution of slavery,” he writes.

Clendaniel is also irate because Cochran “spearheaded a Senate resolution in 1995 that officially makes Davis’s desk the desk of the senior senator from Mississippi. Thad Cochran made a law that he has to have the desk used by the President of the Confederacy.” Continue reading

God’s Acre Healing Springs: Curing folks for 200+ years

God's acre sign

There aren’t too many places in the world that, legally, have been deeded to God.

Artesian springs located in the woods of rural South Carolina – said to have been noted for centuries for healing properties – counts itself as one of those few locales.

God’s Acre Healing Springs, located in Blackville, a rural community in Barnwell County, SC, was a sacred site for local Indians before white settlers moved into the area in the 18th century.

It is said to have gotten its name during the American Revolution. In 1781, after a bloody battle at nearby Windy Hill Creek, four gravely wounded Tories were sent inland from Charleston by General Banastre Tarleton in the care of two comrades, who had orders to bury them when they died.

Native Americans found the six and took them to the springs. Six months later the Charleston garrison, where the British forces were based, was astonished by the reappearance of the half-dozen men. All were strong and healthy.

Ownership of the springs passed from Indian tribes to an Indian trader named Nathaniel Walker. The site was eventually acquired by L.P. Boylston. On July 21, 1944, Boylston deeded the land and springs to “God Almighty,” both officially and through informational signs he posted in the nearby area.

Continue reading

Slave wharf remnants found at planned African-American site

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In a serendipitous bit of good fortune, archaeologists probing the site of a planned $75 million International African American Museum in Charleston believe they have found evidence of the old wharf where tens of thousands of enslaved blacks first set foot in North America.

Researchers working with Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting have found timbers and bricks thought to have been part of a waterfront wharf and warehouse, uncovered during a preliminary study of the site.

The artifacts are thought to have been part of a wharf built in the 1760s by Revolutionary War patriot Christopher Gadsden using slave labor.

The wharf, the largest in North America, was built to service the rice trade, once a staple of South Carolina’s economy, according to research by Robert Macdonald, a consultant for the International African American Museum.

In time, however, the wharf “morphed into an entry point for more than 100,000 slaves during its lifetime,” according to the Charleston Post and Courier. “It could hold six ships at a time, and included an 840-foot quay and warehouses. Enslaved people were held there in crowded conditions as they awaited the auction block or transport to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.”

Charleston was the nation’s capital of the slave trade, the place where many of those who were enslaved first landed in the New World.

During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, about 40 percent of enslaved Africans brought into the country passed through Charleston Harbor. While many of these were sold around the South, a significant number remained in South Carolina.

By 1860, there were 4 million slaves in the United States, and 400,000 of them – 10 percent – lived in South Carolina. Blacks, both enslaved and free, made up nearly 60 percent of the state’s population.

It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of African slaves brought to the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries walked across Gadsden’s wharf.

A draft of the results of the initial study at the museum site, released last week, described how archaeologists dug three trenches at the site. They found bricks from the wall of a warehouse and fragments of timbers thought to come from the framing of the historic wharf.

“We believe these are actual elements of Gadsden’s Wharf. It’s huge for a preliminary first dig,” said Felicia Easterlin, the museum’s program manager.

Remnants of the wharf or the warehouse were found in all three trenches, she added.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has said he hopes the money will be in place by early 2016 so construction of the museum can begin. If that schedule holds, the museum should open in 2018.

(Top: View of Antebellum Charleston looking toward Gadsden Wharf. Source: The International African American Museum.)