by Amy Hedrick
Pierce Butler was the third son of
Sir Richard Butler and of
Irish descent born 11 July 1744. Arriving in America as a Major in the British Army, he was
first stationed in Boston, then later to Charleston, South Carolina, where he
met and married Pollie Middleton in 1771, daughter of Thomas Middleton.
Their marriage notice from the South Carolina
Gazette reads: On Thursday last Major Pierce Butler, of His Majesty's 26th
Regiment, was married to Miss Polly Middleton, daughter of the late Col. Thomas
Middleton, who commanded the Provincial Regiment on the expedition against the
Cherokees in 1761. [dated Thursday 17 January 1771].
Pierce Butler was enlisted in the 29th Regiment
of the British Army and in this capacity came to America. He was present at the
Boston Riot on 5 March 1770. Previous to this he had been with his regiment in
South Carolina. At the break out of the American Revolution, he resigned
his commission in the British Army and served in the American Army from
Major Butler was a delegate to Congress in 1787, a member of
the convention that framed the Federal Constitution, and served several times as
a senator from South Carolina.
His land holdings included Butler's Island, Woodville [on the
mainland] and Hampton and St. Anne's [on St. Simons Island], growing both cotton
All of his estates were self-sufficient, anything that was
needed was made or grown on the plantations. The slaves were serious and
adept craftsmen, blacksmiths, cabinet makers, carpenters, tanners, tailors, etc.
The homestead stood at the confluence of Hampton River and Jones Creek
Major Butler ran his plantations like a military institution.
The slaves were not allowed to visit or socialize with the other workers, nor
were they allowed to attend special church services that were held at Christ
Church for the slaves on St. Simons Island.
In August of 1804 Aaron Burr spent one month as the guest of
Major Butler at Hampton Plantation. Due to the recent turmoil involved
with the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel with Burr, it was thought that
southern hospitality was what Burr needed.
At the death of Major Pierce Butler on 15
February 1822 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the estate was
left in the care of the manager, Roswell King, and Butler's unmarried daughter,
Frances, until his grandsons John, Butler, and Thomas Mease came of age.
The only stipend being, that they must each change their surname to Butler.
Thomas Mease died in 1823,
Butler Mease became Pierce
Butler in 1826, and John Mease became John Butler after Frances died on 18 March
Since the Butlers were absentee owners, the resignation of
Roswell King and son meant that someone had to run the plantations. In
December of 1838, Pierce Butler [formerly Butler Mease], wife Fanny Kemble, and their two daughters
Sallie and Fanny, arrived on Butler's Island. After 15 weeks of residency,
Fanny Kemble left with the impressions of horror and beauty. In 1863, she
published the famous "Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation 1838-1839,"
her own personal journal of her stay on Butler's Island and Hampton. Many
locals at the time think that impressionable Fanny fell prey to the whims
of the slaves, who knew a greenhorn when they saw one. They impressed upon
her that she did things that no other woman would do, like ride in a boat
unescorted, with male slaves. Little did she know that every woman who had
to leave the island rode unescorted, with male slaves.
By 1848 Pierce and Fanny had divorced and slowly the revenue
from the plantations started to decline and with the panic of 1857, Pierce had
to sell his half of the plantation slaves. This auction was one of the
biggest to occur in the southeast with the sale of 429 men, women, and children,
bringing in a sum of $303,850; it was known as "The
Weeping Time". About
479 slaves were retained by the Butler family to remain working on
the plantations in Glynn and McIntosh Counties.
After the War Between the States,
Pierce and his youngest
daughter, Fanny, returned to Glynn County from Philadelphia to try and put the
estates back in order. Finding the slaves in the same condition as the
estate, the newly freed men and women were willing to work on a plan of cropping
the land on shares.
Pierce Butler died in 1867, and daughter
In June of 1871, Frances Butler married the Rt. Rev. James W. Leigh.
Today the 1700 acre Hampton Plantation is now a neighborhood,
with only a few reminders of what was once a grand home place.