Ruins of the Edward House Plantation, Spring Island South Carolina
George Edwards is credited with developing Spring Island into a flourishing plantation which by 1850 was producing more bales of cotton than any other holding in St. Luke's Parish. Earlier, the island's husbandry had been dominated by cattle ranching and indigo production, both activities being mentioned in late eighteenth-century sources. When exactly the transition to cultivation of cotton as the major cash crop occurred is difficult to say. However, the U.S. Census of 1800 for St. Luke's Parish does attest that a substantial work force was then available to George Edwards, listing forty slaves under his name and an additional sixty slaves belonging to the estate of George Barksdale which he (Edwards) apparently controlled. Aside f:r;om slaves, the household was small. George Edwards was then living on Spring Island with a single male companion. This situation no doubt changed after 1801 when Edwards married his cousin, Elizabeth Barksdale, who brought valuable real property as her marriage portion including Ferry Plantation on the North Santee, a house on Tradd Street in Charleston, and twenty more s]aves.
According to the U.S. Census of 1810, the couple had taken up residence at least temporarily in St. Luke's Parish, the Spring Island household then comprising two adults (presumably George and Elizabeth Edwards) and what were probably their two children, one male, the other female. Since 1800, the island's. slave population had seen significant growth, reaching 170 individuals In 1810. Slave numbers continued increasing for the next two decades, reaching a total of 336 persons by 1830, a figure which made Edwards one of the Beaufort district's largest slave owners. In 1816, Edwards bought himself a handsome brick house at what is now 14 Legare Street in Charleston and residcd principally there until his death on 11 April 1859. How much time the family spent on Spring Island cannot be said although it does seem that the main residence was kept in good order and remained furnished. The plantation itself apparently witnessed a decline after 1830, its slave population dropping to 250 individuals by 1840. Even so, the work force remained exceptionally large for the Beaufort District and was well- managed, producing 150 bales of cotton in 1850 along with large quantities of foodstuffs including 2,400 bushels of corn, 2,800 pounds of rice, 1000 bushels of peas and beans, 100 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 200 pounds of butter. Surprisingly, two hundred cattle were still ranging the island, other domesticated animals listed by the agricultural schedule of 1850 included twelve horses, sixteen assess and mules, seventy-three milch cows, forty working oxen, seventy sheep, and one hundred swine.
After the death of George Edwards in 1859, cotton production fell, the 1860 U.S. Census recording a total of ninety-nine bales of cotton which was 33 percent less than the total for 1850. Rice was no longer planted and the number of cattle had fallen, going from two hundred head in 1850 to fifty head in 1860. Indeed, it is clear the period 1859-61 was a difficult, uncertain and finally devastating one for the plantation. George Barksdale Edwards, who inherited Spring Island from his father, died in June of 1860 having apparently tried to sell a portion of the slave holdings. Litigation over his estate followed but was soon rendered moot, the old order being swept away in November of 1861 when Union troops began their occupation of the Beaufort District.
Along with most other local plantations, Spring Island was confiscated in 1862 for nonpayment of taxes, totaling $380.43 including penalties; the U.S. Direct Tax Commission reported that the property which still belonged to the estate of George B. Edwards then incorporated 2450 acres valued at $9,800. Sold at auction, the island was bought by the Fede.ra] Government for$10,500.
in 1866 Emma J. Edwards, as guardian, applied for the redemption of Spring Island, and a certificate of redemption was issued ... This event. and its rarity was mentioned in a January 28, 1866 letter from John Kirk to his daughter Emily "the fact is the Negroes will surely hold the islands. except Spring and Callawassie ...”
After 1888, Spring Island saw numerous changes in ownership, remaining an agricultural holding until purchased for development and sub-division as a gated residential community from the heirs of Elisha Walker in ca.1984.