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 1771-1781.
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 and rice. All of his estates were self-sufficient, anything that was needed was made or grown on the plantations. The enslaved 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 enslaved people 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 enslaved 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 1836.
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 enslaved, 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 enslaved men. Little did she know that every woman who had to leave the island rode unescorted, with an enslaved man.
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 people enslaved at the plantation. 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 humans were retained by the Butler family to remain enslaved and 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 formerly enslaved 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 Fanny remained. 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.
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