Historic Structures

Snee Farm - Charles Pinckney House, Mount Pleasant South Carolina

Date added: September 2, 2016 Categories: South Carolina House Plantations & Farms

Snee Farm was the plantation or country seat of lawyer, planter and noteworthy politician, Charles Pinckney (1757-1824). Pinckney is among the most influential and successful politicians in the history of South Carolina. He was elected twelve times to the state legislature, served four times as governor of the state, and as U.S. Minister to Spain (1801-05). Pinckney sat on the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention where, as a staunch Federalist, he rallied for a strong national government. He is perhaps best known as the author of the "Pinckney Draught" to the Constitution. Although there is some debate as to the full impact of this draught on the final document, at least thirty-one of Pinckney's provisions were accepted. Always at the vanguard of state politics, Pinckney's political views would later turn from Federalist to reform-minded, Jeffersonian Republican. He headed that movement in South Carolina, a strong supporter for state's rights.

Although unquestionably influential, Charles Pinckney was also a controversial figure. He has been characterized as vain, extravagant and a bit of a ladies man. As the leader of the South Carolinian, Jeffersonian Republicans who sought to defeat the Federalist planter oligarchy (into which Pinckney himself was born) he was viewed by some as a traitor to his class. Yet, he stood undefeated in all elections and is known as one of the founders of the South Carolina political tradition. This is due in part to his enthusiasm for popular politics and aggressive pursuit of equality of opportunity. Towards these ends, while governor, Pinckney supported such issues as the creation of a public school system, the establishment of a State Board of Agriculture; construction of roads, lighthouses, and inland navigation; judicial reform and the repeal of property qualifications for suffrage. His leadership in South Carolina politics and his popular support are virtually without precedent, despite any controversy. As one biographer stated, "Pinckney possessed that iridescent genius which offends some and dazzles others" (Dictionary of American Biography, pg. 613).

Snee Farm existed as a working plantation of 700 to 1000 acres from the late 1690s through the 1940s. The land was a royal grant to Nathaniel Law in 1698, and it went through several changes of ownership before Col. Charles Pinckney purchased it from John and Ann Savage in 1754. Col. Pinckney (1731-1782) was a wealthy Charleston lawyer and planter, who also was elected to the colonial assembly, eventually serving as president of the Senate. Pinckney resided on Queen Street in Charleston, and maintained three plantations in the surrounding countryside, including Snee Farm. Upon his death, to his son Charles III, he specifically left his Charleston properties on Queen and Union Streets. He further stated that the remainer of his property, including his three plantations, be distributed among his wife and children after the last reached legal age (Will A:431) . Thus, Snee Farm eventually fell to Charles, who owned it from approximately 1782 until 1817, when it was sold to help settle his debts.

While Charles Pinckney owned Snee Farm, the British took it over and used its as an internment camp for American officers, including Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Gen. William Moultrie, in the early 1780s. Moultrie noted that, "Col. Pinckney and I were in excellent quarters at Mr. Pinckney's place called Snee Farm" (Moultrie II: 116) . According to his own diary, George Washington "Breakfasted at the Country seat of Govr. Pinckney" before crossing the Cooper River to Charleston on his journey through the southern states in spring 1791.

Although Charles Pinckney III owned Snee Farm for more than thirty years, it does not seem to have been one of his major residences. In his letter inviting Washington to "make a stage" there on his way to Charleston, Pinckney said, "... It is a place I seldom go to or perhaps things would be in better order" (Jackson and Twohig 127). Pinckney did not spend the warm months at Snee Farm because of the malaria attacks brought on by residence there; instead he moved to Shell Hall, a summer house he maintained in Mt. Pleasant where the sea breeze reduced the mosquito hazard (Williams 410) . He leased Snee Farm to John Splatt Cripps in 1795. In 1801, he was appointed minister to Spain by Thomas Jefferson. The management of his property evidently suffered during his absence. By the time he returned to Charleston in January of 1806, Pinckney had major financial problems. In 1817 his trustees sold Snee Farm and other unproductive properties to help settle his debts.

Francis Deliesseline bought Snee Farm and held the property until 1828, when it reverted to the Master in Equity because Deliesseline was unable to meet the terms of the mortgage. William Mathewes purchased the property that same year and owned it until his death in 1853. It seems most likely that either Deliesseline or Mathewes built the existing house.

William Mathewes described himself, in his last will and testament, as a Planter. Indeed, it appears that he owned considerable property. His will, which leaves his real estate to his two surviving daughters, lists five "plantations" including Snee Farm, two other tracts of land, a "lot of land with the buildings thereon" in Mazyckborough and a "wharf lot" in the same, a "Ferry place" and Ferry, as well as "my house and lot in Charlotte Street where I now reside—" (Will K:199). His estate included 352 slaves. Mention is made in an equity proceeding following his death of a sloop "for the transport of his own crops to market." It would appear from this document that Snee Farm was not his primary residence. Reference is made, however, to "certain other articles of furniture at Snee Farm" which were Mathewes private property. This would seem to indicate that it was a place where he spent some time. The equity proceedings, Charleston Chancery Records, Bill 59, 6 December 1848, pgs. 7-8, makes the following mention of Snee Farm: “Snee Farm.... devised to (Mathewes daughter) Mrs, Hunt, containing about 700 acres of land, and settled by a gang of about forty-eight negroes, is, as your Orator has been informed, an unproductive place: That the testator (William Mathewes) bought it with the intention of making corn and hay here for the use of Milton Ferry; that over and above the provisions used on the place itself, Snee Farm has scarcely done more. . .. than to furnish bread for the hands at the Ferry, with hay for the work-mules and horses at (the) livery.”

In addition, Mathewes1 Snee Farm was platted in April of 1841 by R.L. Pinckney. The plat shows the configuration of a house with an avenue leading to the front from the south. To the southwest of the house is a row of five smaller structures, possibly a row of slave quarters, accessed with a lane running perpendicular to the lane to the main house. There is another structure, possibly a smaller dwelling, directly north of the house with a lane to the main road, and a row of three smaller structures to the southeast of it. The land is parceled and labeled as to its use. As stated on the plat, the 915.24 acres of Snee Farm was divided into 365 acres of fields and pasture, 65 acres of rice land and reclaimed marsh, and 485.24 acres of woodlands.

Mathewes left Snee Farm to his daughter Susan Hunt, wife of Benjamin F. Hunt. However, due to disputes over the distribution of the estate, Mathewes heirs sued the executor of his estate, and the suit, which involved Snee Farm, was settled by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Although as mentioned, Mathewes land holdings were fairly extensive, he was $40,000 to $45,000 in debt (by bond mortgage or otherwise). Snee Farm was evidently one of the properties sold for this reason.

Snee Farm was purchased from the estate of William Mathewes by William McCants in 1853. McCants likewise described himself as a planter of Christ Church Parish. He maintained a "house and lot in Mount Pleasant" as well as Snee Farm, possibly dividing his time between the two depending on the season. Upon his death in 1858, his house in Mount Pleasant passed to his wife and daughter. His plantation, Snee Farm, passed to his son, Lockwood Allison McCant, along with "all the stock hogs, horses, mules, sheep and cattle and all plantation carts, wagons, tools and implements thereon with provisions and fodder enough for the following year." A stipulation was made, however, "allowing my wife.... and my daughter, Mary Caroline to reside upon by plantation [Snee Farm] and to draw therefrom the supplies and support of themselves and (the) household. Snee Farm remained in the McCant family until 1870.

Several years later, in 1900, Thomas J. Hamlin acquired the property and his family lived there until 1935, when it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ewing. The Ewings' daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Stone, bought Boone Hall plantation, across Long Point Road from Snee Farm, at about this same time. The house had remained generally unchanged, but the Ewings enlarged it by adding flanking wings and making some interior modifications. The architects for these additions and renovations, Beers and Farley of New York, also designed the house at Boone Hall. The Ewings left Snee Farm to their daughter, Alexandra Ewing Stone, who lived there for several years, through the 1940s, and planted extensive gardens around the house.