Colleton Castle at Moncks Corner, South Carolina
The Colleton family was the only one of all the province’s original proprietors to cast their lot and fortune in South Carolina by establishing a family seat and actual residence within the borders of the colony. Colleton County is named for this family. Several generations of the family lived and passed down the inheritances that formed the plantation and acreage known as the Fair Lawn Barony. Sometime after 1730, a massive brick mansion, and extensive plantation offices, outbuildings, and dependencies were constructed about a mile west from the Cooper River. Sir John Colleton, son of Honorable John C. Colleton, inherited the grounds at the outset of the American Revolution. Though opposed to British taxation and the use of force in the North, he was considered a Tory by local Patriots. He died in September 1777, leaving the estate to his widow, Lady Jane Colleton. Jane occupied the mansion when the British army occupied Monck’s Corner in April 1780. The British wanted to cut off this avenue of Patriot support and ability to retreat. The initial seizure of the grounds was purported to be overshadowed by the cruelty a few of the Legion troopers showed the women present. Such harm was done to them that it was alleged Major Patrick Ferguson threatened to hang the undisciplined soldiers, though it appears Lt. Col. James Webster interceded and had them disciplined in Charleston. The little that we know of this affair comes from Lt. Anthony Allaire’s diary. It reads:
“Friday, 14th. Remained at Monk's Corner, collecting the stores, etc. About seven o'clock at night, accidentally a store house caught fire, in which were two casks of powder; was very much alarmed by the explosion, and all got under arms. This confusion was scarcely over when three ladies came to our camp in great distress: Lady Colleton, Miss Betsy Giles, and Miss Jean Russell. They had been most shockingly abused by a plundering villain. Lady Colleton badly cut in the hand by a broadsword, and bruised very much. After my friend, Dr. Johnson, dressed her hand, he, with an officer and twelve men, went to the plantation, about one mile from camp, to protect Mrs. Fayssoux, whom this infamous villain had likewise abused in the same manner. There he found a most accomplished, amiable lady in the greatest distress imaginable. After he took a little blood from her she was more composed, and next morning come to camp to testify against the cursed villain that abused them in this horrid manner. He was secured and sent to Headquarters for trial.”
“Saturday, 15th. The army got in motion about twelve o'clock. My friend, Dr Johnson, and myself had the happiness of escorting the ladies to their plantation. Before we got there we were met by a servant informing us that there were more plunderers in the house. This news so shocked Lady Colleton and Mrs. Fayssoux, who were some distance before us, and the young ladies in a carriage, that I am not able to describe their melancholy situation, which was truly deplorable. After their fright was a little over we passed on to their house; but the ladies fearing to stay alone, Lady Colleton and Mrs. Fayssoux got into the carriage, Miss Giles behind me, and Miss Russell on a horse, which I led for fear he should make off with my fair one; they passed on with us four miles to a plantation called Mulberry Broughton, and here we bid adieu to our fair companions with great regret, they thinking themselves out of danger of any insults. We this day countermarched to the twenty-three mile house and halted all night.”
Sometime after the May 12, 1780, capitulation of Charleston, the occupying British turned the solid mansion into a fortified station and supply depot, with abatis all around, and built a nearby redoubt, Fort Fair Lawn, leading down the avenue to the river’s landing on the plantation. They also built a blockhouse on this west side of the swamp overlooking Biggin Creek. A bridge crossed over leading to Biggin Church. The creek runs adjacent to the upstream portions of Cooper River, thus making Fair Lawn an important temporary site for the British to monitor movements along the river. This outpost lasted until it was attacked by American forces under the command of Brigadier General Francis Marion on November 17, 1781. Sensing a vulnerability in the British installation, Marion sent forth Lt. Col. Hezekiah Maham with mixed units of about four hundred militia, cavalry, and Col. Isaac Shelby’s mountaineers to attack the fortifications. Maham passed on the brick mansion and decided to surround one of the outbuildings instead, which turned out to be a hospital. There was no resistance, and Maham made out with one hundred fifty prisoners and loads of precious ammunition and medical supplies. The British 84th Regiment of Foot under the command of Captain Murdock MacLaine eventually abandoned the site.
According to Louisa Carolina Colleton Graves, the British destroyed the mansion, dubbed the Colleton Castle, and surrounding buildings when they departed. She wrote,
“They burnt down the mansion…and destroyed every building including a town built on the Barony for the residence of several hundred people belonging to the estate, with the granaries, mills, etc. On this occasion, in addition to the furniture, paintings, and books, plate, etc., a large sum of money which was in my father’s strong box, and even my jewels, were lost to me, either destroyed or plundered.”
The mansion and assorted grounds were left in ruins for decades. In 1828, Fair Lawn Barony was divided into parcels that passed out of the Colleton family. The events on the family's plantation gives us an understanding of the importance of holding (and seizing) buildings and positions along the many waterways that allowed the British army to move supplies from the docks of Charleston further inland. Today, a neighborhood on the former plantation retains the Fair Lawn Barony name. Archaeologists, partnered with the American Battlefield Trust, have preserved the sites of both Colleton Castle and Fort Fair Lawn with hopes of identifying their structures and establishing them as part of the historical community’s efforts of revisiting lost stories of South Carolina’s rich revolutionary past.