Historic Structures

Windsor Castle Ruins (Windsor Plantation), Port Gibson Mississippi

Date added: September 3, 2021 Categories: Mississippi House Mansion Plantations & Farms

The builder of Windsor, Smith Coffee Daniell, II, was born in Mississippi in 1826, the son of an Indian fighter turned farmer and landowner. His own holdings were so vast (eventually totaling 21,000 acres in Mississippi and Louisiana) that he studied law at the University of Virginia in order to better administer his estates. In 1849 he was married to his cousin Catherine Freeland (1830-1903), by whom he had six children, and in 1859 he began building Windsor. Basic construction was done by slave labor, and the 16-inch bricks for the walls were made at a kiln across the road from the house. Skilled carpenters were brought from New England for the finished woodwork, and the iron stairs, column capitals, and balustrades were manufactured in St. Louis and shipped down the Mississippi River to the port of Bruinsburg, several miles west of Windsor. Daniell died at age 34 on April 28, 1861, only weeks after completing his home at a cost of $175,000.00.

During the Civil War, Windsor reputedly was used as an observation post by the Confederates, who sent signals from its cupola across the Mississippi River to Louisiana. It is also said to have served as a Union hospital after the Battle of Port Gibson in May, 1863, its mistress having dissuaded Federal troops from burning it.

Windsor remained the home of the Daniell family until February 17, 1890, on which date a fire broke out after a house guest accidentally dropped cigarette ashes into debris left by carpenters making repairs to the third floor. All was destroyed except a few pieces of china and the columns, balustrades, and iron stairs (one flight of stairs and some sections of balustrade are now installed at the chapel of nearby Alcorn College). The property was inherited by a daughter of Smith Coffee Daniell, II, Priscilla (1850-1932), who had been married at Windsor on December 13, 1888, to Joseph Moore Magruder. It next passed to Priscilla's niece, Katherine Daniell Magruder, whose heirs were Thomas Daniell Magruder, John Martin Magruder, Robert Walter Magruder, and Samuel Bertron Magruder. The family cemetery located a mile north of the ruins contains the graves of Smith Coffee Daniell, I, II, and III, their wives and a number of children, Catherine Hagruder Skinner (grandmother of Smith II and his wife), and Frisby Freeland (Revolutionary War soldier and father of Catherine Freeland Daniell).

The original floor plans and only known photographs of Windsor were destroyed in the 1890 fire, but the appearance of the house has been reconstructed from data supplied by Smith Coffee Daniell, IV (1885-1970), grandson of the builder. Mr. Daniell, who was born at Windsor and lived there until it burned, presumably relied on his own recollections, family tradition, and his professional training as a civil engineer to produce a physical description and layout of the house. The material is deposited with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and no other primary documentation is known to exist. Of the twenty-nine original columns, twenty-two remain standing today, evoking the grandeur as well as defining the dimensions of what was the ultimate expression of residential Greek Revival architecture in antebellum Mississippi. In order to preserve the ruins, the Port Gibson-Claiborne County Historical Society sponsored in 1970 a stabilization program which included sandblasting, waterproofing, and removal of cedar trees which grew atop the capitals.