Located near Aiken, Beech Island’s Redcliffe Plantation was built for former United States congressman, United States senator, and South Carolina governor James Henry Hammond (1807-1864). Construction began in 1857, and by 1859 the Hammonds were occupying the home. Though the home originally featured Georgian architecture, later alterations rendered it more Greek Revival in design.
Soon after the Hammond family moved in, the open space beneath the manse was bricked in to block cold drafts that penetrated the floor of the home’s interior. In 1886, second floor piazzas were removed by Henry Hammond, son of James Henry Hammond, due to water damage. Many architects consider this modification one that ruined the symmetry of the home. Yet another necessary change was made to the house in 1901 when the cupola that once graced the roof deemed a fire hazard and replaced with the widow’s walk that remains today.
James Henry Hammond was a pedophile who kept detailed and shameless accounts of the assaults in his diary. He molested all four of his nieces, the daughters of his sister-in-law and Wade Hampton II. He also raped at least one of his slaves, Sally, by whom he had a daughter, Louisa. When Louisa turned 12, he raped her too. His son also raped Louisa, and she bore multiple children by the two Hammond men.
The elder Hammond, who owned 300 slaves, was known for his ardent pro-slavery stance and once argued, “I firmly believe that American slavery is not only not a sin but especially commanded by God through Moses and approved by Christ through His Apostles.”
During his political career, Hammond advocated for nullification, though later, while serving in the US Senate, he opposed secession, believing the South’s wealth would serve it well in negotiations with the Union. However, when South Carolina signed the Ordinance of Secession, Hammond resigned his seat in step with his peers.
James Henry Hammond was an advocate for agrarians and is credited with the phrase, “Cotton is king.” He was an experimental (though some say inept) planter and formed the Beech Island Agricultural Society, first called the Beech Island Farmers Club, in 1847. The club still meets the first Saturday of each month and is composed of Hammond descendants as well as other descendants of original members.
Four generations of Hammonds occupied this mansion. Governor Hammond’s great-grandson, John Shaw Billings (1898-1975), who served as the managing editor of Time and Life magazines, brought the Redcliffe mansion back to life in the 1930s. Billings donated the property to the State of South Carolina in 1973, and today Redcliffe Plantation is managed by the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. Find out more about SC governors and learn more about SC plantations.
Redcliffe Plantation – Interior Views of the Redcliffe Home
These images show the interior of Redcliffe, from Governor Hammond’s study to the bedrooms upstairs.
Redcliffe Plantation Grounds
The following images show Redcliffe’s grounds, including its stables, a slave cabin, and a vegetable garden. The abutting fields were used in agricultural experiments with vineyards as well as fruit trees.
Magnolia Lane at Redcliffe Plantation
Hammond Cemetery at Redcliffe Plantation
Also known as Beech Island Cemetery, this Aiken County cemetery is the final resting place for US congressman and South Carolina governor James Henry Hammond. The cemetery was established as a private burial ground for the Hammond family and their descendants in 1864, the year of the former governor’s death.
The cemetery is near Hammond’s grand antebellum mansion. It is not to be confused with another historic cemetery in Beech Island, Zubly Cemetery.
Redcliffe Plantation is listed in the National Register:
(Redcliffe Plantation State Park) Redcliffe is representative of the architectural styles in the South during the early nineteenth century. Begun in 1857 by James Henry Hammond, it is a two-story house of wooden construction. Built on brick pillars like many of the lowcountry houses, Redcliffe maintained the pattern of a central hall with four rooms, so characteristic of the Carolina upcountry. Double-decked porches were built on all four sides. Only the front and back porches had steps down to the ground. Large French windows in all rooms opened on to the porches, upper and lower. An enclosed cupola or observatory, consisting almost entirely of windows, was built on the roof between the two chimneys.
In 1886, James Hammond’s son Henry removed the upper porch and moved the main stairs to the corner of the new porch. In 1901, the observatory on the roof was removed and replaced by a widow’s walk. Originally Georgian in style, the house now features many Greek Revival elements. Two slave quarters remain, illustrating the pattern of life prior to the Civil War. A young landscape architect, Louis Berckman from Belgium, planned the grounds at Redcliffe. The home’s builder, James H. Hammond, was elected governor of South Carolina in 1842 and served two terms. He was elected to United States Congress in 1834 and then to United States Senate in 1857. A later owner of Redcliffe is John Shaw Billings, a descendant of Hammond. Billings was Managing Editor of both TIME and LIFE magazines and eventually Editorial Director of TIME, Inc.
Contributor Jenks Farmer shares the following about Magnolia Lane: “Redcliffe’s Magnolia Lane was SC Historic Tree of the Year, 2012. It was planned and planted with the help of two significant horticulturist (Berkman Brothers) who’s nursery became the Augusta National. The Lane was the entrance to Redcliffe and it connected two house: those of father and son Hammonds. Today, though partially disrupted, it connects Redcliffe and the Farmer’s home.”