The Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization founded in 1866, was comprised of Union veterans of the Civil War. Also known as the GAR, the society included chapters for white veterans and separate chapters for black veterans. Called David Hunter Post Number 9, this chapter in Beaufort was a black post formed in 1888; many of the veterans in this chapter had been former slaves on nearby Sea Island cotton plantations.
Veterans of the United States Colored Troops named their local post after General David Hunter. General Hunter was famous for illegally emancipating slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida following the capture of Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River on April 10, 1862. President Lincoln rescinded the order – known as General Order No. 11 – for political reasons, though he then permanently emancipated slaves on January 1, 1863. General Hunter also founded the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Regiment, comprised of black soldiers from Union-occupied districts.
Members built this meeting house in 1896. Alice Washington, a descendant of Fred S. Washington, tells us that, “[A]ccording to a deed, David Hunter Post No. 9 rewarded the ‘Fred S. Washington Woman’s Relief Corps the Hall and grounds for their part and to help to pay for the Hall and for their willingness in helping to care for the veterans.’ A partial list of those who signed the deed was Leroy Gibbs, Moses Brown, and Edward Wallace, Commander. This was done June 15, 1896.”
One of the more famous members of the David Hunter Post Number 9 was Robert Smalls, a former slave remembered for commandeering the CSS Planter and piloting himself, his family, and his crew to freedom. Smalls then served in the Union forces before being elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1868 and then to the South Carolina Senate in 1870. He served in the United States Congress from 1875 through 1879, from 1882 through 1883, and again from 1884 until 1887.
Today the Grand Army of the Republic Hall serves as an event site, hosting occasions ranging from weddings to meetings. The building is maintained by private groups including the Union Veterans of the Civil War and the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
The Grand Army of the Republic Hall is listed in the National Register as part of the Beaufort Historic District:
Beaufort is significant for its role as a major center of South Carolina’s antebellum plantation culture, its contribution to the history of the Civil War, and for its role it played in African-American history both during and after the war. Architecturally, the district is significant both for the high-style architecture produced by its pre-war planters and for the folk architectural patterns of its post-war African-American community. The antebellum architecture, unlike that of Charleston and Savannah, is generally made up of free standing Federal, Early Classical Revival, and Greek Revival style houses on large lots that is more akin to the architecture of the Southern plantations of the period, plantations brought to town and adapted to the heat of the summer weather and dampness of lowlands, as well as to the aesthetics of their waterfront settings.
The town’s present appearance owes much to the events of the period between ca.1860 and ca. 1935. The buildings and structures constructed during this period display a variety of architectural forms and styles, including Italianate, Gothic Revival, Victorian, Queen Anne, and Neo-Classical, and reflect the development of the town in the last half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the 1870s, more modest houses were built on vacant lots in the older parts of town. One type was a five bay I-house, similar in form to many of the antebellum mansions, but reduced in size and of balloon construction using sawn lumber. The second type was a three-bay, gable fronted house, often with Italianate or Eastlake detail. Many antebellum homes were also updated during this period with commercially milled porch details, bay windows, and larger window glass. Colonial Revival made an impact on residential building after the hurricane of 1893, and the bungalow dominated new construction before and after World War I. Commercial construction also reflected increasing prosperity. The historic district includes 475 contributing resources and 350 noncontributing resources.