ARTS AND HUMANITIES: Upstate plantations stand as witnesses to history
“With drawn pistols, they rushed into my room and the work of pillage began – jewelry, firearms, and specie (coin money) seemed their principal desire but other things such as flannel shirts, shoes, wine, coffee, tea, loaf, and sugar were not despised,” wrote Clarissa Adger Bowen about the pillaging of her family plantation in May of 1865.
While her husband was held at gunpoint against an old oak tree behind the main house, members of Stoneman’s Raiders ransacked the property in the final days of the Confederacy. Her home, Ashtabula, was only one of a number of plantations in the Pendleton District of South Carolina “visited” by the cavalry corps led by General George Stoneman. Under orders of General William T. Sherman, Stoneman was in pursuit of President Jefferson Davis, who had fled south after the fall of Richmond. If they were not able to find Davis and the Confederate Treasury, Stoneman’s men were more than happy to make up for that disappointment with any valuables that they could carry with them.
Ironically, Clarissa Bowen and members of other branches of the wealthy Adger family had earlier fled their Charleston mansions (the famous “Sword Gate” house in that city was an Adger property) to escape some of the deprivations of the war, but the armed conflict followed them upstate to their summer residences.
In anticipation that Union raiders might find their way to Ashtabula, Clarissa Adger Bowen hid her silverware on top of a highboy in the dining room, buried a small walnut chest of valuables behind the annex and stuffed her wedding ring in her hair. All of these items escaped the notice of the invaders, who ransacked the house twice on the same day.
In fact, the walnut chest, much of the silverware and the highboy that served as a temporary hiding place can all be seen today by visitors to Ashtabula, one of two plantation homes maintained as house museums by the Pendleton Historic Foundation.
Located approximately 120 miles north of Aiken, Ashtabula and Woodburn, which was owned by Clarissa’s uncle, Joseph Adger, are two of the 18 plantations built in the early 19th century around the small town of Pendleton. During that period, the area became known as a center for experimental agriculture. In fact, the Charleston families that bought upstate property, in part, to escape the oppressive heat of the coastal plain created the Pendleton Farmers Society in 1815; this group is one of the oldest agricultural associations in America.
Today’s visitor to Ashtabula will find two houses on ten acres of land. The original brick building, constructed in 1790, eventually served as a kitchen and servants’ quarters for the main house, built around 1857. The present configuration of the latter two-story, white-frame structure consists of four rooms upstairs over four downstairs with a 42-foot central hallway on each floor and one-story porches on three sides. Thanks to a number of donations from the descendants of the Adger and Bowen families, the house boasts many furnishings that date to the second half of the 19th century, when Ashtabula was the centerpiece of agricultural holdings comprising nearly 1,300 acres.
A few miles to the west of Ashtabula, Woodburn boasts a four-story clapboard house, built in 1830 by a member of the distinguished Pinckney family. Like Ashtabula, the building was conceived as a summer residence, but during the War Between the States, it became an all-year refuge for a branch of the Adger family, who added the two-story porches or piazzas on the western facade of the building. The main house is now on public view along with a reconstructed carriage house containing the traveling coach of Thomas Green Clemson, after whom Clemson University is named.
For information on operating times at both Ashtabula and Woodburn, contact the Pendleton Historic Foundation at (864) 646-7249 or visit www.pendletonhistoricfoundation.org.
A recipient of the prestigious Carolina Trustee Professorship in 2008, Dr. Tom Mack currently holds the G.L. Toole Chair at USC Aiken. His new book “Hidden History of Aiken County” will be published by The History Press (Charleston, SC and London, UK) this fall.