History Part II


     We are told that in 1830s, while John and Caroline were abroad on their wedding trip, they selected plans for their manor house and also selected a builder.

Construction of the House

     Construction began on Rose Hill sometime in 1858. It has been said that an architect named Dimmick designed the house, although we learned from family letters that he was actually the plantation's overseer and perhaps only assisted in the building process. It was also thought that the mansion was built by E. B. White, the same man who built the nearby Church of the Cross (the only other Gothic building in the area - also built in the 1850s).

       Church of the Cross, Bluffton, SC                           Rose Hill Plantation House    2004                  

     Recent letters sent to us from living descendants of the Kirks have stated that the home was a design of the famous Andrew Jackson Downing (pictured above right). 

     Recently local carpenters have commented that the home was most likely constructed by ship builders and that parts of the house had actually been pre-built in England and shipped over for further assembly. During the restoration process, several of the original timbers were uncovered and found to be marked with Roman numerals – a fact that supports that theory.  Local historical records document that most of the lumber (cypress) used to build the Rose Hill mansion was cut from the Black Swamp – supplied by a nearby Okatee area family named Sanders who ran a sawmill at that time. Square nails have been found scattered throughout the crawl space underneath the house and in the woodwork of the remaining original timbers.    

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                                                                             The War Years     

     The Kirk family was already living in the home by the outbreak of the Civil War, although the interior was still incomplete. Scaffolding was sitting in the entryway where men were about to begin plastering. 

  The First Secession Flag

     During Christmas week 1860, the very first secession flag was flown in St Luke's Parish –  Designed & made by Emily Kirk and Sallie Harlee.

Here is the story as told by Betsy Caldwell in "The Island Packet" from 1993, "The Charleston News & Courier" of 1905, a book called A Short History of Callawassie Island, South Carolina by William Behan, and compiled from Kirk letters and stories from Kirk descendants:

By December 1860, Dr. John and Caroline Kirk had not yet moved into this house. It was still under construction and had been for several years. Their rather headstrong daughter, Emily (who would've been 21 at the time), decided to invite people over to the family's new house for a Christmas party – without consulting her parents first. This forced John and Caroline to move into this house prematurely to prepare for Emily's Christmas Ball.

This would be the first and the last Christmas the Kirks would ever spend here at this house together. Many local people as well as people from all over SC came to this party including some young friends of Emily's, Armstrong and Sallie Harlee, who were the children of Robert Harlee (owner of Melrose Plantation near Florence, SC ). While on their way to Rose Hill, they had to stop in Charleston on December 21 - which would've been the day after the Ordinance of Secession had been passed. They reported that the city was full of excitement and that they had caught the contagion as well.

They left for Bluffton on December 22, aboard the little "Cecile" steaming close to Ft Sumter - where another historic event was soon to take place. They stayed for a week here at Rose Hill and reported that the party was very elegant – the kind of elegance not seen again in later times. On the day after Christmas, Caroline's youngest brother Clarence Kirk (who owned Callawassie Island and who would've been a young man at that time – just a few years older than Emily) came by Rose Hill, and Caroline instructed him to take the young folks over to his house to finish the party there.    (photo left:  Clarence Kirk,  c 1895)

The next day at Callawassie, the discussion turned to South Carolina now being an independent state and needing its own flag. So Clarence suggested that the ladies design and make a flag that he could fly over his island. Emily Kirk and Sallie Harlee came up with a design that was a red flag with a single white star in the center. Clarence produced a red bolt of flannel and one of white home spun cloth from his plantation stores and they constructed this flag. Clarence Kirk then selected a tall pine tree near the landing and his men climbed to the top and fastened the flag there, stripping it's limbs to make a perfect crude flag pole.

This Secession flag could be seen in every direction. It flew there until November 1861 when the Northern fleet took possession of Port Royal. While passing Callawassie, they saw this flag and fired on it, assuming that Confederate troops were encamped there on the island. All of the young men in attendance at the Rose Hill Christmas party and who helped fly the first Secession flag over Callawassie so long ago (including John and Caroline's son William) later became volunteers in the Confederate Army.      (cartoon from book by Bill Behan) 


"The young people went to work and fashioned a flag from the red flannel about five or six feet square with a yard-square white star in the center – cutting the material from under the star so it would show through from both sides."     
Louisa Jane of Melrose Plantation, Florence, SC                                                        From book by Bill Behan           

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      We are told that the Kirks were forced to flee the home one evening during dinner as word arrived of Yankee troop movement in the area. They took exile in nearby Grahamville, SC (near Ridgeland) and remained away from the home for most of the war, as indicated by letters written from Grahamville, Callawassie and Black Swamp. Caroline Kirk died in Grahamville in 1864 and is buried in Grahamville cemetery along with her husband.

     Dr. Kirk wrote his daughter Emily in late 1864 from Grahamville expressing his wish to return to Rose Hill where he would "have some prospect of saving his buildings" in spite of Sherman's advancing troops. We know that Yankee troops, stationed in the area, had burned many homes in Bluffton along the May River. Officers decided to spare the Rose Hill mansion, however, because of its resemblance to a church and because they felt that it was much too beautiful to burn. We have learned that Yankee troops also occupied the home for a short time during the war and camped out on the grounds. In 2003, a circa 1860 dropped miniball was found newly unearthed at the base of one of the older oak trees at the rear of the house.  (The flag shown is of one of these troops -- the 47th Pennsylvania.) 

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     A mirror that originally belonged to James Kirk (has "James Kirk" written on the back) and given to Dr. John & Caroline Kirk originally hung in the Rose Hill plantation house during the War Between the States and through the Pinckney years.  It was donated in recent years by one of the Pinckney descendants (Mr. Timothy Drake) to  the Bluffton Historical Society.  The society loaned the mirror to Rose Hill plantation house in April 2007 in an agreement with the Whites (current proprietors of this "on tour" home) but shortly thereafter wanted the mirror returned. The mirror was hanging in the Rose Hill plantation house during the time of the Civil War when a Yankee soldier of the 115th New York scratched the following words on the left panel:                                

"J.W. Co E
115th NY
Flee Rebels 
Hell is here
12 July 1863"     

The following documentation discusses the movement of Company E of the 115th New York:

"Here the regiment was divided into detachments for post, camp and outpost duty. Companies E and D were detailed to garrison Battery Mitchell, an outpost on Scull creek. Company B was stationed at, Saybrook, and other companies at different points on and around Hilton Head Island, until the 28th of May, when the different detachments were relieved and the regiment was again a unit at Hilton Head. On the 2d of June, Companies E and B were, by order of General Chatfield, detailed for special field duty, and went with other troops up May river, S. C., and burned the town of Bluffton. About the 27th of June, the regiment was moved to the city of Beaufort, S. C., some twelve miles up Beaufort river, where it went into camp. After remaining here a while and suffering severely from malaria, incident to the dull routine life of the camp, the regiment was again divided into detachments and sent to do outpost and picket duty on Beaufort, Port Royal and other islands adjacent to them.

On the 20th of December, the regiment embarked on transports for the old camp at Hilton Head, where it was attached to Gen. T. Seymour's "ill-starred" Florida expedition. The force left Hilton Head on the 5 th of February, 1864, reached Jacksonville on the evening of the 7th, and occupied the city without opposition. During the night of the 8th the expedition reached Camp Finnegan, about twelve miles from Jacksonville, capturing a battery of six guns, a quantity of small arms, etc., and a large amount of provisions, upon which the boys feasted until next day, when, with well filled haversacks, they moved towards Tallahassee, reaching and occupying Baldwin without opposition, and reaching Barber's Plantation during the night. The next day the troops advanced to Sanderson's Station, where they burned the railroad depot filled with corn, and several resin and turpentine manufactories, and tore up considerable railroad track, burning ties and other property belonging to the rebels. By order of Gen. Seymour, the army fell back to Barber's Plantation and remained there until the 19th."  (Flag with 34 stars is battle flag of the 115th Regiment, NY Volunteer Infantry, 1-18-1862)

     In the last months of the war and the months that followed, Dr. Kirk and his son William shuttled between Rose Hill and his daughter Emily's home in York. By 1866 Dr. Kirk and William were once again living at Rose Hill, attempting to put the plantation back to working order. After the war, letters indicate that the Kirks were in dire economic straits. Many of their former slaves who had tended the crops had run away and others that had remained for wages now refused to work.   

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The following is an entry from the Beaufort County, South Carolina, records: 

(The original document in Dr. Kirk's handwriting now hangs at Rose Hill Plantation House, courtesy of Kathryn Elizabeth Kirk, direct descandant of Dr. John Kirk)



Civil War Property Losses


 Kirk :  Return of Losses sustained by Dr. John W. Kirk caused by the present war of our country.  

May 1862

It appears that these are broken into family groups. It does not say so but there are parenthesis around groups which I will try to explain.
1st. column - Casey 60 through Linda 4, Ben 28 through Lunna 2, Hagar alone, B. Caesar 34 through Nullifier 2, Salinna 22 through infant, John 28 through Pleasant 2, L. Caesar 24 through Amy 8, Ben 40 through Cuffee 10, Ginney & Jack, Lena and Richard, John 27 through Dora 6, Harmondy alone and Adam alone.
2nd column - Peter 40 through Matilda 7, Fortune 24 through Geroge 3, Black Maria alone, Abram 35 through Will 5, Monday 16 alone, FEllows 24 alone, Adam and Fanny, Minus alone, Terry alone, Jackson through Caleb 3, Polly and Harry, Charles 35 through Lavinia 4, Hannah 22 through Kasey, London 24 through Eve 5, Clarinda alone, L. Billy and Bella
3rd column - Mingo 41 through infant, Ansel 35 through Rivers 2, William 30 through infant, B. Billy through Susette 11, August alone

State of South Carolina
Beaufort District
Personally appeared before me J. L. Rivers who made oath and says that he was Doctor John W. Kirks overseer five years and six months immediately previous to the breaking out of the present war, and that the above statement is correct to the best of his knowledge.
Sworn to this 31st day
of May 1862 John S. Rivers
Wm. B. Tealy(?)

State of South Carolina
Beaufort District
Personally appeared before me Doctor John W. Kirk who under oath and says that the above statement is correct to the best of his knowledge
Sworn this 31st day
of May 1862 Jn. W. Kirk
Wm. B. Tealy(?)
Magistrate Book no 2 page 24-40-52-76-98-118


     At times, the Kirks were forced to sell some of their few remaining possessions and even the wool from their mattresses to maintain a subsistence level. They did, however, manage to retain possession of Rose Hill. Dr. Kirk died at Rose Hill in 1868, and the house remained in the Kirk family until 1928.

     In his last letter (June 24, 1868) to his daughter, Emily Kirk Moore, Dr. John Kirk wrote:

         "In relation to your monetary affairs -- you should be careful -- very careful -- to keep a reserve on hand, at almost any cost, for you know not what the future may bring forth....  The day of the wealthy & independent planter is past & gone.  For anyone to pursue agriculture, he must have other pecuniary resources besides, or else descend to the plow handle, where, in this climate, a bare subsistence only can be made and a family reared without education & entirely unfit for anything else than the plow handle, the wash tub, or the cook pot.  Henceforth, the aristocracy of our country will consist of merchants and professional men."

                               ... And the rest is history  ~  or as we Southerners say, it is "gone with the wind".

              Photo of John & Caroline Kirk's tombstone.                                                            Kathryn, Bill & Ellen Kirk  2008                  Bill Kirk & son Jarrett  2009
                                                                                                                                                                                          direct descendants

                                                                           "In Memoriam"               
                         "John W. Kirk, M.D.                                                                     "Caroline wife of
                       Born at Black Swamp                                                                       John W. Kirk
                          Plantation 1809                                                                     Born at Kirks Bluff 1817
                       Died at Rose Hill                                                                       Died at Grahamville           
                          Plantation 1868"                                                                                1864"

               "They were lovely and comely in their lives      And in their death were not long divided" 

               Foot marker for Dr. John Kirk                      May 2008                     Foot marker for Caroline Kirk


To go to History Part III (The Pinckneys & Others)......

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