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Home where Southerners first hatched secession plan for sale

November 17, 2018

BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) — If the walls of a 200-year-old Beaufort mansion could talk ....

Upon closer inspection, they can.

On the basement walls where Union troops once likely lined up to receive their pay, they wrote their names and regiment. Someone practiced writing numbers.

A note scrawled on a basement wall and dated Aug. 4, 1862, describes perhaps the most notable activity in this Greek Revival home on Craven Street downtown known as the “Milton Maxcy House” or “Secession House.”

“This is Edmund Rhett’s house. He had 42 field hands and 12 horses,” the note reads in handwritten cursive script. “In this house the first meeting in favor of Secession was held 1851.”

In Beaufort, history is always for sale.

The Prince Street home where Robert Smalls was born a slave and later returned to buy in a tax sale was sold in July for $1.399 million, property records show. The Smalls home was featured this year on an episode on HGTV.

Elsewhere in the Point neighborhood, a 4,300-square-foot home built in 1850 overlooking the river on Washington Street features an elaborate garden of boxwood shrubs and fountains and can be had for $2.45 million.

Owner Sandra Johnson has listed the 5,600-square-foot Secession House at 1113 Craven St. for sale for $2.4 million with Berkshire Hathaway Bay Street Realty. The four-bedroom, three-bath house was originally built in 1810 by Milton Maxcy as a school for boys.

Rhett, a state representative, lawyer and planter from Beaufort who bought and renovated the house into its current style during the 1850s, was an “outspoken champion of state rights and Southern nationalism,” according to a plaque welcoming visitors in front of the home. He was joined in the cause by his brother, Robert Barnwell Rhett — a U.S. Congressman and former state attorney general.

Together the brothers hosted gatherings of like-minded Southerners in the large home a block from the Beaufort River, according to the historical marker.

The home includes 10 fireplaces and heart pine floors, and a kitchen house out back that now serves as a guest house. Secession House is being sold as a private residence, its listing agents said.

During the Civil War, the home was a hospital, officers’ quarters and the place Union troops received their pay.

“Union For Ever,” one inscription reads. A soldier drew an eagle and another a caricature of Abraham Lincoln.

Former Beaufort City Council member and state Rep. Edie Rodgers, who owned the home from 1981 until 1994, said a worker was scraping the basement walls to prepare to paint them for a previous owner when the Civil War scribblings were discovered. The walls haven’t been painted since and the number of signatures has grown.

When state dignitaries visited Beaufort for the annual Water Festival parade — including former Gov. Carroll Campbell and U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond — Rodgers had them step down into her basement and sign the wall

Vice President George H. W. Bush signed the wall after holding a news conference in the house during a presidential primary campaign stop in 1988. Someone who worked closely with Bush later told Rodgers that his signature was one of the few times he had seen the president sign his full name.

″‘I think he knew he was writing for posterity,’” Rodgers recalled the man saying. “I said those other signatures have been there more than 100 years, so I think maybe he did.”

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Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com

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