History Part I


                                                           The Enduring Land of Rose Hill


                                                          "Perhaps there is a little Scarlet O'Hara in each of us. I know there is
                                                          in me, for I am fascinated by the vitality, endurance, and versatility of
                                                          the land called Rose Hill." 
                                                                                                                     ~ Iva Roberts Welton 

     Rose Hill's first known inhabitants were the Yemassee Indians, who were invited to settle here in the 17th century by Lord Cardoss, the leader of a Scottish settlement in nearby Beaufort, South Carolina. The first titled owner of the land was the Barbadian planter Sir John Colleton, one of the eight original Lord Proprietors of Carolina (land granted to them by, and named after, King Charles I of England in 1718). Rose Hill was but a small piece of the 12,000 acre Colleton Neck Barony. (Colleton Neck Barony was also known as the "Devil’s Elbow" Barony because of the elbow shape of its source from Port Royal Sound around Spring Island and back into the backwaters). In the 1750s, his grandson (also Sir John Colleton) began to put the family's land to work raising cattle and growing corn, cotton and indigo.

          Like most growers of "king cotton" and "the king of the dyestuffs," the Colletons prospered. Shortly before his death in 1777, Sir John disposed of much of the Colleton Neck Barony.  Among the distributed parcels was the present 680-acre site of Bluffton, South Carolina. The parcel (1000 acres) that included Rose Hill was purchased by Mr. John Rose and was named Rose Land or Rose Hill. After his death in 1799, his stepson James Brown Kirk, inherited the estate. Later in 1804, James Brown Kirk (1780-1850), a prominent local planter and businessman from the area, bought an adjacent 880 acres that became Rose Hill Plantation. On September 25, 1828, Kirk also purchased 946 acres that is Hunting Island.  He also owned Callawassie Island which was deeded to his youngest son, Clarence Kirk.


      The community was originally known as "Kirk's Landing" or simply "May River." Later, it became known as "Kirk's Bluff" (as shown on Mill’s Atlas of 1825) because, as the name would suggest, it is situated on a high bluff. In time, the name was changed to "Bluff Town" as a compromise between the town’s two most prominent families, the Kirks and the Popes. Later the name was shortened to simply "Bluffton."    

  The town was incorporated in 1852 just prior to " The War of Northern Aggression" and is famous for being the birthplace of secessionism. There is a legendary oak tree in the town known as "The Secession Oak" where prominent men from the area would meet during the 1800s to discuss the politics of the day. On July 31, 1844, a town meeting was called to launch a protest against the federal tariff and to discuss the possibility of South Carolina's break from the Union. This became known as the "Bluffton Movement."                                                               (Photo of the Secession Oak by William Kirk, c2009) 

The Kirks, Dr John Kirk, William "Willie" Kirk were in attendance that day, and Clarence Kirk(age 10 & brother of Caroline Kirk) accompanied his father, James.  

 An old postcard showing the Secession Oak has the following info scribbled on the back in someone's handwriting:  "Mrs. Verdier, on whose grounds this Historical Secession Oak stands, tells me her husband was the the convention held under this tree where Dr. Daniel Hamilton delivered the speech when South Carolina seceded from the Union."  More than 500 people met under this oak on July 31, 1844, to launch what became known as The Bluffton Movement, which led to South Carolina's secession from the Union 16 years later.


                   James Brown Kirk 


      Portrait (left) of James Brown Kirk painted by granddaughter, Emily, at the request of her mother, Caroline.  She used the original portrait (right) as the model.
  ~ photo courtesy of William John Kirk



     Portrait (right) was the original painting done by a New York artist named Waldo & it hung above a mantel at Rose Hill.  


         In 1807, James Brown Kirk (1780-1850 m. Lady Mary Baldwin 1793-1851) of Hilton Head, SC, and by 1850 was the second largest cotton planter in St. Luke's Parish. From his crop was processed 120 bags of cotton worth $13,344. The "sea island " cotton that was grown in this area at the time was considered to be far superior to that which was grown throughout the rest of the South.

     He had 253 slaves. His plantation consisted of 2,400 improved acres and 1,600 unimproved acres worth sixty thousand dollars. He owned 14 horses, 20 mules, 20 oxen, 100 cattle, 150 sheep and 300 hogs. His dairy herd of 150 milk cows and his production of 650 pounds of butter was the largest in the district. His livestock was valued at $6,810. Kirk produced 4,700 bushels of corn, 300 bushels of oats, 23,000 pounds of rice, 200 bushels of peas and beans, and 500 bushels of sweet potatoes.
The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina
              Volume 1, 1514-1861, by Lawrence S Rowland

     Among many notable facts about James are:  (1) donated land & building funds to build the Church of the Cross in Bluffton, (2) co-founded village of Bluffton, SC, (3) started 1st school in the area (1823) - May River Academy, (4) provided money, muscle & mentoring to organize the famous "Secession Oak" political gathering in Bluffton.

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John & Caroline Kirk

     On Jan. 28, 1836, James Kirk's eldest daughter, Caroline (born at Kirk’s Bluff 1817; died at Grahamville 1864), married her first cousin Dr. John William Kirk (born at Black Swamp 1803; died at Rose Hill 1868) who was the son of William John Kirk of Charleston. William John Kirk (father of Dr. Kirk) & James Brown Kirk (father of Caroline Kirk) were brothers. 

     James Brown Kirk gave his daughter (Caroline) and son-in-law (Dr. John) the plantation land that Rose Hill Mansion presently sits on as a wedding gift in 1838. We know that the land of Rose Hill Plantation (1880 acres) was used to grow cotton, rice and indigo during these years and that the Kirks owned many slaves. Rice and cotton were the primary cash crops, but family correspondence reveals that mustard was also grown; in addition, the Kirks harvested salt from the nearby brackish creeks.   

             Dr. John William Kirk                                                   Caroline Kirk                               William (Willie)John Kirk                                                  Emily Kirk

     James Brown Kirk died in 1850, leaving sole responsibility of Rose Hill Plantation to Dr. John and Caroline.  John Kirk's education: College of S.C., A.B. & University of Pa, M.D. Church: Episcopalian.  Throughout the 1850s, John Kirk was a wealthy country planter as well as a local physician. Dr. Kirk owned valuable real estate and vast personal property, including a summer home on the May River that was burned by Yankee troops on June 4, 1863. But it was not until the late 1850s, however, that John and Caroline Kirk with their two children, Emily and William John, began to build their beautiful gothic mansion.

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