1954 book offers glimpse at Nieuport Plantation

August 20, 2009 

(Originally published on Aug. 27, 2002)

“Sea Islands to Sand Hills” is a 1954 book of South Carolina photographs by Carl Julien, noted photographer, with an introduction by Chlotilde Martin, a well-known journalist of Beaufort.

Two full-page photographs in the book were intriguing. One showed “Slave Houses, Nieuport Plantation, Beaufort County;” the second was a picture of “Diamond Trunk, Nieuport Plantation, Beaufort County.” The plantation name was not known to me.

“Notes on the Plates” in back of the above book were of little help. The slave cabins were “believed to have been built prior to the Revolution … Nieuport, or Newport, was once a prosperous rice plantation belonging to the Cheves family.”

The second photo showing Diamond Trunk (a wooden gate used in regulating water levels in rice fields) was described in the notes as “Nieuport, or Newport, now owned by the Carolina Laurention Company, which leases it to Percy K. Hudson. Rice is no longer grown here as a commercial crop but to attract wild duck for shooting.”

Crossing its grounds unknowingly

The only hint as to location was that Nieuport was a rice plantation, which would have placed it at least some two-miles inland and at the turn of the tidal waters. It was only after some research I found that over the years, on the way to and from Charleston, I had crossed the ground of Nieuport, or Newport Plantation, while crossing the Combahee River bridge U.S. 17. On the west side of the Combahee is a Beaufort County boat landing. The river is also the boundary with Colleton County. According to S.C. law, the Combahee River south of the bridge is considered salt water (when fishing), the northern stream is freshwater.

The 1784 last will and testament of Hon. Henry Middleton (1717-1784) left to his son and heir Arthur “all my lands on South side Combahee river (Nieuport) …” and other properties. The next heir, also named Arthur (1795-1853) was also described as “of Nieuport Plantation.”

The latter graduated at Harvard College in 1814, “was called to the Bar in 1823, and then planted his Nieuport estate. He lived much abroad, especially in Paris and in 1837 was U.S. Secretary of Legation and charge d’affairs at Madrid for eight years. His second marriage was in Rome, 1841, to Pauline, Countess Bentivoglio …” according to a family genealogy.

The vanished town of Radnor

In June, 1976, The Beaufort Gazette published my column on “The Vanished Town of Radnor,” located at a former ferry crossing on the Combahee River, where U.S. 17 now crosses the bridge. Rounded in 1734, Radnor was located strategically on “the road to Port Royal and Purysburgh.” The new town had the support of influential men, including William Bull and his son Stephen. Its last official mention was some 20 years later. After that, Radnor became another of the so-called “dead” towns in South Carolina, only recalled by a historical marker on the side of the highway.

“On Sept. 8, 1732, Thomas Lowndes conveyed 6,000 acres of land between Pocotaligo River and the Combahee to William Bull. On the western part of this purchase, Bull founded his Sheldon Plantation. Another portion, he gave to his son Stephen, and this became known as ‘Newbury.’ On a third tract of land bordering the Combahee River, William Bull laid out the town of Radnor.”

In 1995, Suzanne Cameron Linder, in her large and scholarly tome "Historic Atlas of the Rice Plantations of the Ace River Basin — 1860," wrote “in 1763, inhabitants of the area seeing Radnor as the most convenient place between Charleston and Port Royal for loading and unloading ships, petitioned the provincial council to make Radnor a port of entry. Although there is no record that the council took any action on the petition, this attempt to create a port may have influenced the naming of Newport plantation, which included Radnor, the proposed site of the new port … Newport remained in the Middleton family and was planted in rice as late as 1912. In the 1980s the owner was Percy K. Hudson. In 1995, Nemours Plantation Wildlife Foundation owns Newport.”

A seeming contradiction

There is a seeming contradiction as to the early ownership of Nieuport Plantation — whether it was the Bull or the Middleton family. The Ace Basin book states that “A Memorial of Feb. 25, 1762, describes how Henry Middleton (1717-1784) consolidated all those properties into a plantation known as Newport.” In 1762, Henry Middleton married his second wife, Mary Henrietta Bull, daughter of William Bull. The same year, she took ownership of property on the Combahee adjacent to one of William Bull’s properties.”

In Vol. 63 (1962) of the S.C. Historical Magazine, there was mention in an article “Middleton Correspondence, 1861-1865” of “Henry Bentivoglio Van Ness Middleton, son of Arthur Middleton of Nieuport Plantation, and Paulina, Countess Bentivoglia.” It could be that prior to and up to 1734, the land comprising the future Newport Plantation was part of the acreage owned by William Bull. Between then and 1784, Hon. Henry Middleton became owner of the Nieuport-Newport Plantation. The Middleton family then retained ownership until 1912 or later.

Longdon (of London) Chavez, as one of the executros of the will of Henry Augustus Middleton, at public sale, Dec. 20, 1887, sold “the said Newport plantation to Harriet Middleton, Isabella Chavez, Anna M. Hunter and Alice Middleton, for the sum of $21,050 … All the plantation called Newport situate in Prince Williams Parish in Beaufort County, containing 600 acres of high land … and on all other sides (bounded) by the Combahee River, including the right and franchise of the Combahee Ferry.”

John Morrall’s claim — 1970 On Sept. 14, 1970, Mr. John Morrall appeared before Beaufort City Council to advise its members that, according to state law, the 100 acres of “the town of Radnor still belongs to Beaufort County … because it was taken off Mr. Bull’s taxable property and was dedicated as a piece of land for the Town of Radnor.”

Suzanne Cameron Linder, in her Ace Basin book, stated “the attempt to create a port may have influenced the naming of Newport plantation, which included Radnor, the proposed site of a new port.”

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