Standing at the southern edge of Charleston’s hospital district is this impressive mansion known as the Governor Thomas Bennett House. The grand structure was completed around 1825 as the residence for wealthy planter and businessman, Thomas Bennett, Jr. The house is now owned by the Roper St. Francis Foundation and serves as an event facility.
The house is a fine example of Federal architecture, popular between 1780 and 1830. The interior floor plan is that of a typical Charleston double house with four rooms on each floor separated by a central hallway. This plan, in addition to being built upon a raised basement, allowed for excellent airflow in the days before air conditioning, a much needed necessity in the sub-tropical weather of the Lowcountry. Notable interior features include extensive moldings, woodwork, fine plaster accents, and perhaps most impressive of all, a free-floating staircase located at the rear of the entrance hall. This staircase is one of two in the City of Charleston, the other belonging to the famed Nathaniel Russell House. These staircases wind around to the upper levels of the home with no means of visible support, giving the appearance of a floating or disconnected staircase.
For his time, Thomas Bennet, Jr. was one of the state’s wealthiest and most progressive residents. He was educated at the College of Charleston and, along with his father, worked a rice and lumber mill that was once adjacent to the house. He owned three plantations in rural Berkeley County, including Moreland, Pagett’s Landing, and Pimlico, each situated on the Cooper River.
(William Harrison Scarborough | Gibbes Museum of Art)
Bennett was also an architect, a banking manager and Charleston’s intendant, or mayor. He served on the South Carolina House of Representatives for three non-consecutive terms and the South Carolina Senate. From 1820 to 1822, Bennett served as South Carolina’s 48th governor. During his time as governor, residents became alarmed when they caught wind of the proposed slave rebellion led by Denmark Vesey. The city arrested any suspected slaves, including four from Bennett’s household. Three of the men were found guilty and hanged with Denmark Vesey on July 2, 1822.
Bennett was troubled by how these legal proceedings were handled and took his concerns to the state attorney general, who informed Bennett that rights were available only to freedmen. After the court proceedings ended, Bennett published an article publicly stating his opinion that the insurrection had been highly exaggerated. His accusations were rebuked by James Hamilton, Jr., then intendant of Charleston, who claimed the white residents of the city had to be protected by quick action.
Bennett left his position as governor this same year but later served as a state senator from 1837 to 1840, where we was well known as a Unionist. He died in 1865 and is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.
Located beside the main house is this two-story structure which originally served as the slave quarters for the home. The kitchen would have been on the main floor of this dependency, built away from the main house both for the sake of heat and the fear of fire. Upstairs were bedrooms where the enslaved people who took care of the property slept. The building has been repurposed as an office.
During a 1980s restoration, the garden was completely redone, and that is the plan we see today. Lush flower beds surround a verdant lawn adorned with a tiered fountain. What once served as one of Charleston’s finest private residences now is among the most sought-after event venues in the city. Weddings, corporate events, and other functions are often held here.
The Governor Thomas Bennett House is listed on the National Register:
The Governor Thomas Bennett House is an outstanding example of Federal style architecture. It features exceptional design, proportions, and details of the period. The house is also significant as the home of Thomas Bennett (1781-1865), Governor of South Carolina 1820-1822. Probably built ca. 1825, the house is a two and one-half story clapboard structure set upon a stucco over brick English basement. In typical Charleston fashion, a one-story piazza supported by an arcaded basement extends down the front façade (south). In the center on the main level is an elaborate entrance which features engaged columns, sidelights, and an elliptical fanlight with heavily carved moldings. Above the entrance (on the second story) is a tripartite window with sidelights and entablature which is flanked by two 9/9 windows on either side. A semicircular fanlight is located in the pediment in the attic level with a dormer window on either side. Notable features include the elliptical stair which extends, with no visible means of support, to the second floor. The west façade reveals 20th century additions: part of the piazza has been enclosed and extended, and the northernmost end has had a two-story wing added to it. Included within the nominated acreage is the old servants quarters. Listed in the National Register January 31, 1978.
More Pictures of the Governor Thomas Bennett House