Historic Structures


Colonel William Bratton House – 1760s

In 1766 William Bratton (ca. 1742-1815) purchased 200 acres (0.81km) of land from Thomas Rainey on the South Fork of Fishing Creek in what was then Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. According to the deed of transaction, Bratton was already living on the property at the time he purchased it. At this time, the Fishing Creek area was on the Carolina frontier and was only thinly settled. Mecklenburg County records show several Bratton families settling in the Fishing Creek area in 1765 and 1766, and William’s purchase of land was likely part of a larger family migration. Bratton’s whereabouts prior to his settling on Fishing Creek are unclear, although ongoing research by Culture & Heritage Museums staff seeks to shed light on this question. Colonial records indicate that Brattons were living in Augusta County, Virginia, as early as 1740 and were quite prominent there by the 1750s. At this time Augusta County was on the Virginia frontier and during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) its inhabitants suffered greatly from Indian raids. Many of the families in Augusta County migrated to the Carolina Piedmont in the 1750s and 1760s to escape Indian depredations, and the Brattons may have been a part of this migration.

What is clear is that Bratton’s ancestors (probably his parents) were immigrants from the Ulster Province in northern Ireland and were part of the large Scotch-Irish migration to America in the first half of the 18th century. Bratton family traditions indicated that they came either from County Armagh or County Antrim; however, current research leads us to favor County Tyrone as the most likely point of origin. William’s wife, Martha Robinson or Robertson (ca. 1749-1816), was also Scotch-Irish. Bratton family traditions recorded in the late 19th century state that William was born in Ireland and that Martha was born at sea during the Atlantic crossing. These same traditions indicate that William Bratton lived in Pennsylvania before moving South and that he married Martha in Rowan County, North Carolina. These traditions are as yet unverified by any reliable documentary evidence.

The date of the Bratton house’s construction is also uncertain. Virginia Mason Bratton (1867-1960), the last family owner of the house, claimed that the house was built in 1776, but there is no documentation to support this. The Rainey-Bratton deed transaction clearly indicates that William was living on the property in 1766, but this does not necessarily prove that the house is that old. It is certain that by 1780 William Bratton, his wife Martha and five of their children were living in what is now known as the William Bratton House. The location of the house was well-chosen and lay at the intersection of two important colonial roads: a north-south road known variously as the Armour’s Ford Road, Armstrong Ford Road, or Lincoln Road; and a road running to the southeast known as the Rocky Mount Road.

For many years, the William Bratton House probably looked a lot like the McConnell House. It was a single-pen, story-and-a-half log house that rested upon stone piers. The log walls were likely uncovered and the few shuttered windows would have been small. The date of the brick chimney is unknown—it may be original to the house or a later addition. The timber-framed back room was probably added by 1800. Family tradition states that by 1780 a porch was located on the front and archaeological investigations seem to confirm this. The date and function of the narrow windows above the porch are debated. They may be original to the house or a later addition. Some suggest they were used as gun ports while others conjecture that they were built simply to allow light and air into the upper level. It is possible that the openings were designed with all of these functions in mind.

At the time of the American Revolution William Bratton was a significant individual in the New Acquisition District of South Carolina, now known as York County. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1776 and a tax collector in 1777. He served as a captain, major and colonel in the New Acquisition militia and was one of the few slave holders in the area. The New Acquisition played an important role during the American Revolution. Men from the New Acquisition like William Bratton served in all of the important campaigns and battles in South Carolina between 1775 and 1783. On July 12, 1780, a small yet significant battle known as Huck’s Defeat took place on the plantation of James Williamson, a nearby neighbor of William Bratton. It was here that Loyalist forces under the command of Capt. Christian Huck of the British Legion were defeated by local militiamen led by William Bratton, Edward Lacey, John McClure and others. According to several sources, prior to the battle one of Huck’s soldiers put a reaping hook to Martha Bratton’s throat and demanded to know her husband’s whereabouts. Martha risked her life by refusing to betray the location of Col. Bratton’s camp.

After the American Revolution, William Bratton, now referred to as “Colonel Bratton” from his service in the war, continued to prosper socially, politically and economically. In 1786, Col. Bratton, eager to take advantage of the heavy traffic on the road that ran in front of his house, obtained a license to operate a tavern. He was again appointed tax collector in 1784 and in 1785 he became a justice of the peace and a district representative to the South Carolina House of Representatives, a post he held until 1790. In 1791 he became a state senator and remained so until 1794, when he became sheriff of the new Pinckney District (1795-98). At some point after 1793 Bratton acquired a cotton gin and joined the surge of cotton cultivation occurring throughout the upper South. To facilitate his cotton planting, Bratton acquired more land and slaves. In 1790 Bratton owned 12 slaves, making him one of the larger slave owners in the region. By the time of his death in 1815, Bratton had increased his slave ownership to 23.

William Bratton died on February 9, 1815. The City Gazette of Charleston, S.C., published this obituary: “He was one of the old revolutionary characters, worthy to be remembered. . . His services were zealously devoted to his country throughout the Revolutionary war and for many years afterward in the [State] Legislature. . . He has left a widow and numerous family, besides a large circle of friends and acquaintances to lament his loss.” Martha Bratton died a year later, on January 16, 1816. Both are buried at Bethesda Presbyterian Church cemetery in York County, South Carolina. An inventory of Colonel Bratton’s property dated April 12, 1815, valued his personal property (excluding house and land) at $8247.75. Of that amount, $6,505 was listed as “Negroes.”

Much of William and Martha’s economic success can be attributed to their slaves who worked in the home and in the fields. It is unknown at this time where William Bratton’s slaves lived. Excavations conducted in the early 1990s indicate that at least some of the Bratton slaves resided in a small structure located just north of the house. This building is shown in an 1840s painting by Martha Bratton, granddaughter of Col. William and Martha Bratton. This small building might also have served as a detached kitchen, a common feature of Southern homes.

Upon entering the house, visitors will find the interior furnished as a tavern from the late 1780s. Although we know Col. Bratton operated a tavern, we do not know exactly how he would have utilized his house as both a residence and a tavern. To date, there are no surviving records that indicate how he divided the home between living quarters and public space; thus the current furnishings and appearance of the house interior is conjectural. The furnishings in the house are a mixture of antiques and reproductions. The large pine corner cupboard in the main room probably dates from between 1790 and 1810. The fearsome boar’s head over the mantel is that of a European wild boar; such trophy heads were not uncommon in taverns of that time. In the kitchen, the bed likely dates to the second quarter (1825-1850) of the 19th century whereas the chest of drawers likely dates between 1790 and 1820. The small corner cupboard also likely dates to the early 19th century.

Like the McConnell House, the furnishings of the Bratton House feature a considerable quantity of relatively inexpensive red ware and some of it, such as the platters on the mantel, are very Germanic in design; again, this is another sign of Moravian influences. The house also features reproductions of two sets of very common 18th-century-style chairs-- ladder backs and Windsors. Ladder, or slat back chairs were produced by local craftsmen throughout America from the colonial period well into the 20th century in the South. Ladder back chairs exemplified regional characteristics such as the design of the slats and finials, the style of the feet, and the turnings. Ladder back chairs were frequently painted and their seats were covered in a variety of materials, including leather, cane, split oak, rush and wood plank. Generally not considered “formal” seating, ladder backs were the seating of common people or were relegated to informal spaces in elite, style-conscious households. Windsor-style furniture was tremendously popular with Americans of all classes throughout most of the 18th century and well into the 19th century. Often painted in bright colors like green, black, red and yellow, there were many regional variations in design and detailing. As a furniture style that was relatively inexpensive and basically mass-produced, Windsor furniture was traded across America. The Windsor chairs in the William Bratton house are “bow-backs” a very common Windsor variation. In 1839 the house underwent a major renovation. Col. Bratton’s son, Dr. John Simpson Bratton, converted the house into a young ladies’ academy for the education of his seven daughters and other local girls. To operate the Brattonsville Female Seminary, he hired Catherine and George Ladd of Macon, Ga. Both were accomplished in their fields. George trained as a portrait painter under Samuel F. B. Morse, the noted artist and inventor. Catherine was an educator, needleworker and poet; her poetry was occasionally published in the Southern Literary Messenger under the pseudonym Morna, along with William Gilmore Simms, Edgar Allan Poe and other lesser known writers.

To modernize the old house and make it usable as a school, a frame addition was constructed on the south side of the building. The entire building was covered in weather boarding, the windows were enlarged and glass was added, and new Greek Revival-styled mantels were installed. The total cost for these renovations was $442.32. Thus, the house in its present appearance most accurately reflects the 1840s.

In Southern antebellum society, planters looked upon education as an asset for daughters entering marriage. Rather than a means for advancing a career, such an education provided young ladies with the social skills and knowledge with which to navigate in elite and polite society. At Brattonsville, the Ladds offered courses in arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, rhetoric, astronomy, natural and moral sciences, music, fancy needlework, “modern” languages, reading and writing. The Ladds remained at Brattonsville from the summer 1839 to December 1841 before moving to Feasterville, S.C. During much of the 1840s, the Bratton daughters attended other schools like Limestone High School. In the 1840s the seminary served as many as thirty students. By the Civil War both males and females attended the academy at Brattonsville. The success of the academy was so great that Dr. Bratton commissioned the building of a brick building (the Brick House or “Bricks”) to accommodate the growing school. It is not clear whether the Brick House was ever actually used for this purpose, but we do know that it was used as a store and home by Napoleon Bonaparte Bratton, the youngest son of Dr. John S. and Harriet Bratton. The interior of the academy is furnished to reflect a typical schoolroom of the 1840s. The needlework sampler is a reproduction of a York County piece originally stitched by Jane Meek Adams. Although it has no direct connection to Brattonsville Female Seminary, it is similar to the type of work that young ladies in attendance were expected to complete. The painting of a ship on the far wall is believed to be an original work by Martha Bratton (granddaughter of William and Martha Bratton) under the tutelage of Catherine Ladd. There is also a landscape painting showing the Col. Bratton House and lands circa 1840. This work is a reproduction of another painting by Martha Bratton that is still in the possession of Bratton descendants. The Italian-style landscape painting on the back wall is a reproduction of a work by Elizabeth Robinson, a student at the academy also under the tutelage of Catherine Ladd.

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McConnell House – Early 1800s

Moved to the site in 1983, the McConnell House is a historic structure that originally stood in the nearby town of McConnells, South Carolina. It was probably built by Reuben McConnell before his death in 1837. This structure represents a common house type found throughout the Carolina Piedmont from the late 18th century through much of the 19th century. Housing for most Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries was generally small and simple, and often poorly built. In 1798, approximately half of the free Americans lived in houses valued under $100.8 The McConnell house probably falls into this category. Historians such as Richard Bushman have classified the people living in this type of home as “middling sort.”

The total area attached to a home of this sort might have ranged from as little 50 acres (200,000m2) to several hundred. Clearly, agriculture was the foundation of the Carolina Piedmont settlements. Although family sizes varied (just as they do today), in 1790 the average family in North Carolina was seven, whereas in South Carolina it was five. There were, of course, exceptions: Rev. Woodmason claimed in 1768 that in parts of South Carolina that there was not a “Cabbin but has 10 or 12 Young Children in it.” Col. William Bratton, a neighbor of the McConnell family, had eight children.

The house is a one and a half story, single-pen log structure with half-dovetailed notching. According to architectural historians, half-dovetail notching is either a central European import or a technique developed in America. It eventually came to be a favored notching technique among the Scotch-Irish. At some point in its history the house was covered with weather boarding as it is today; the current weather boarding was added by Historic Brattonsville in the 1980s. The house is elevated on piers of stone. Elevating houses off the ground became a common Southern practice that allowed air circulation during the hot summers and kept the foundations out of the mud during the winter.

One of the most curious architectural elements of the McConnell house is the Federal-style mantel. The style of this mantel, also referred to as Adams- or Classical-style, suggests it was built around 1820. Seemingly out of place in this simple house, it is not known whether the mantel is original to the house or was added later.

Two features suggest the house’s Ulster origins. Rectangular shaped dwellings with opposing doors were common in Ulster and the northern British Isles, though most dwellings there were made of stone or sod rather than wood. The gable-end exterior chimney is a recreation based on the ruins found at the original house site. According to some architectural historians, gable-end exterior chimneys originated in the British Isles.

The enclosed corner staircase is another feature found in houses built by families who emigrated from the British Isles. Although we cannot say with certainty how the upstairs was used, it is likely that children and/or any slaves the family might have owned would have slept there. Tools and equipment, a loom, and/or grain might also have been housed there.

As would be expected for the home of backcountry farmers, the interior of the house is rather plain and sparsely furnished. Most furnishings are purely functional with little decoration. The walls are whitewashed to improve the structure’s appearance and to brighten the interior. The bed and single-drawer table are two of the few antique pieces in the house. Both of these items probably date to the second quarter of the 19th century (1825-1850). Most of the rest of the items found in the McConnell House are reproduction pieces, including the long table and kitchen dresser or cupboard.

The bedstead is one of the central pieces of furniture in a house such as this. On this simple bedstead is a single mattress. Historically, mattresses were usually stuffed with corn shucks or straw. Wealthier people used goose down, chicken feathers or cotton batting and frequently used two mattresses. During the winter the bed would be moved closer to the fire for warmth.

The ceramics on display are mostly red ware (red clay fired at a low temperature) with a few pieces of white salt glaze (imported ware fired at high temperature). Some of the red ware pieces feature designs favored by the German Moravians and traded throughout the Carolina Piedmont. The most “Germanic” pieces are the yellow or cream slip-decorated plates on the mantel. Most of the iron tools and kitchen utensils on display are reproductions. Locals might have purchased or bartered for similar items from William Hill’s Ironworks, “the largest and only important iron establishment in the state.”

For much of America’s early history, specie or hard currency was scarce. Consequently, most people relied upon complex systems of barter and credit. Stores kept careful accounts and often served as banks, extending credit to their customers. Farmers brought hemp, coarse linen, goose down feathers, beeswax, leather, whiskey, deerskins and other items and “sold it” to the store owner. In return they were extended credit or purchased material such as salt, gunpowder, sugar, ceramics, iron wares, tools and finer textiles.

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The Homestead – 1820s

The Bratton family was one of the most influential families in York County for several generations. Business endeavors begun in the 18th century by Col. William Bratton were continued in the 19th century by his youngest son, Dr. John Simpson Bratton (1789-1843). Seizing the new opportunities and wealth cotton planting offered, Dr. Bratton turned a modest plantation into a large one. Records from the York County Comptroller’s Office reveal that by 1827 Dr. Bratton owned 3,540acres (14.3km2), 40 slaves, 80 town lots (most likely in Yorkville), and stock in trade worth $500. As a significant planter and slave owner, Dr. Bratton also acted as banker and store owner, while his son Robert McCaw Bratton served as postmaster of the Brattonsville Post Office. As their wealth increased, Dr. Bratton and his wife, Harriet Rainey Bratton (1795-1874), were able to position themselves as leaders in local society. In the early 1820s they began building a grand new home to accommodate their growing social status.

Construction on the Homestead began in 1823 under the supervision of contractor Henry Alexander. The lumber used in the house was likely cut from the property and processed in the Brattons’ own sawmill; the stones used in the foundation were quarried from the property, and the bricks used in the chimneys and outbuildings were made on the plantation. When the house was completed in 1826, it was a typical Federal-style four-over-four with a center hall, interior chimneys, Federal (Adams or Classical) style mantles, wainscoting (the paneled lower part of the walls) and carved staircases. Alexander’s addition of the side wings after 1826 demonstrates a Greek Revival influence. The present porch is a reproduction of one added in 1854.

The bright red and gold paint colors inside the Homestead are one of the most striking aspects of the building’s interior. The paint colors used throughout the Homestead are based on paint analysis of original remains. The painted wainscoting found upstairsis original to the Homestead and is very similar to that found downstairs. Paint was an indicator of the Brattons’ status, as many paint pigments (especially reds and yellows) were costly. ‘Graining,’ or creating a faux finish, was an attempt to imitate more exotic and expensive woods and was considered stylish in its own right. With the exception of the north wing, every room in the Homestead was used in the filming of the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot (2000).

The Bratton family continued to prosper after the death of Dr. Bratton in 1843. The 1850 Federal Census of York District, South Carolina, shows Harriet as the third wealthiest person in the district in terms of land, with real estate holdings valued at $25,000. A decade later the census valued Harriet’s personal property at $85,000, with $24,000 in real estate. Her son, John Simpson Bratton, Jr., had $110,800 in personal property and $24,000 in real estate. He went on to build Hightower Hall (Forest Hall) in the 1850s. At the outbreak of the Civil War, both equally shared land holdings totaling at 8,000acres (32km2). The Bratton family occupied the homes on site into the late 1910s. By the late 1950s the Homestead was electrified (but did not have indoor plumbing) and served as a boarding house, while the detached assembly/dining hall was used for hay storage.

Family Parlor

The Homestead parlors displayed the Brattons’ interest in social refinement. In the first half of the 19th century, when most Carolinians lived in houses with only a few rooms, homes with distinct parlors were rare; thus their presence suggests the level of the Bratton family’s wealth. There are two parlors in the Homestead—the “family parlor” (also known as the old parlor) and the formal parlor. The family parlor was probably the most important parlor when the Homestead was first completed. It would have served as a sitting room and entertaining room for the Bratton family. Here the family might meet to discuss daily events, and the women might engage in activities such as embroidering, reading or music. The family parlor is decorated in the “elegant simplicity” of the Neo-Classical style. The reproduction portrait on the wall in the family parlor is that of Harriet Rainey Bratton, wife of Dr. John Simpson Bratton who died unexpectedly in 1843. It is believed that this is a mourning portrait, since having a mourning portrait made a show of status and was a sign of respect for one’s late husband. Southern society placed great emphasis on mourning during the Victorian Era, and Harriet was expected to enter a long period of official mourning after her husband died. It appears on average that the length of time widows observed mourning was from 2 to 2-1/2 years, with the absolute minimum being one year and a day. During deep mourning (the first year or two), the widow was expected to wear dresses of solid black with heavy black crepe. Her fabric needed to be without any luster, hence wool or bombazine (a mixture of wool and silk) were popular choices. As the widow moved beyond deep mourning into second, ordinary and half mourning, she could wear black silk and finally grays, lavenders and whites.

Elaborate mourning practices affected women more than men. Some women feared public shame if they failed to abide by the rules of mourning. Men, on the other hand, generally did not subscribe to the belief that the wearing of black was necessary to show one’s grief. As a result, the extent of some widowers’ expressions of grief was simply wearing a weed in their hats. Even widowers who observed official rules of mourning were only expected to signify their loss by wearing a black crape armband for six months.

The picture of George Washington above the mantel is also of interest. Washington was a popular public image in the 19th century; his “love of country, freedom from petty self-interest, and the desire for the public good” were traits portrayed in biographies of the first president. His image was mass-produced to meet demand. During a period when family and national holidays were seldom celebrated, George Washington’s birthday (February 22, 1732) was celebrated with great fanfare; the birthday of America’s first president and Independence Day were the two most important days of the year.

Formal Parlor

Around the year 1828 the Brattons remodeled their home, adding two one-story side wings with Greek Revival elements. It is likely that the south or left room became the formal parlor used for entertaining guests. As such it would have been equipped with the best and most up-to-date furnishings. This room is decorated circa 1840 and is furnished en suite—that is, with matching furniture and coordinated colors used in the upholstery, curtains, and picture frames. The ability to decorate en suite was made more achievable during this period by advances in technology. By the 1840s fabrics were power woven and machine printed and furniture was made in factories using steam-driven machinery.

Most of the furnishings in the formal parlor are Bratton pieces. One of these is the sofa, originally covered in horsehair, which was considered parlor furniture in the mid-19th century. The form dates back to early Egypt, but did not become stylish in America till the early 1800s. This sofa is most likely one of two that John and Harriet Bratton purchased from a Charleston cabinetmaker in the 1840s; it is known that these sofas were the two most expensive pieces of furniture they acquired. Sofas were rare in York County in those days and they do not show begin to show up in York County estate inventories until the 1850s. Around 1864 this sofa was acquired by Dr. Bratton’s youngest son Napoleon Bonaparte Bratton and his wife Minnie Mason, and was passed down to their descendants.

Another interesting Bratton family piece is the cellaret located at one end of the sofa. This piece originally belonged to John Simpson Bratton, Jr., and his wife Harriet, who built Forest Hall (now referred to as Hightower Hall) in the 1850s. It dates to the 1850s and was used to store wine and spirits. Both the sofa and the cellaret were donated by Bratton descendants.

On the side wall is a pier table. The mirror at the base was NOT used by women for checking their petticoats, but rather reflected light and helped illuminate the room. The Empire or Late Classical style furniture in this room is typical of the late 1840s and 1850s. The difference in mantels and architectural elements in the formal and family parlors suggests the evolution of the house and the relative hierarchy of the rooms. In the original part of the house, the mantels are Federal or Adams style, while in the later rooms the mantels are a plainer Greek Revival style. The family did not replace the older styles when adding newer ones and apparently did not mind having dissimilar mantels in adjoining rooms. They did, however, attempt to unify them somewhat by painting them black. Within the original part of the house, the apparent hierarchy of rooms is indicated by the treatment of the wainscoting. In rooms that were “public” or formal, the wainscoting is actual paneling. In less important rooms, the wainscoting is imitated by painting.

Breakfast or Informal Dining Room

The breakfast room or informal dining room was probably used by the family on a daily basis, thus there was little need to formalize its furnishings. For example, the wall space beneath the chair rails was painted to resemble the wainscoting in the more public rooms rather than using actual wainscoting. The furniture was not en suite, nor did it need be modern. The linen press is an original Bratton piece and may have been made on the plantation by a slave artisan. The corner cupboard dates to around 1790 and reflects Pennsylvanian influence. The theorem painting is a reproduction of a work done by Martha Bratton while she was a student at Brattonsville Female Seminary, and is still in the possession of the Bratton family.

Doctor’s Study

The room to the right of the Homestead's entrance is portrayed as Dr. Bratton's medical study. In his study Dr. Bratton might have studied medical literature, kept his accounts and stored his medications. He may also have managed the plantation from here. The medical profession in rural South Carolina in the 19th century was in a period of transition from cruder, more informal folk practice to a more scientifically-oriented professional practice. From the earliest settlements in America, domestic medical traditions were a vital part of the culture, livelihood, and well-being of the newcomers. Settlers faced new environmental conditions and illnesses; not surprisingly, they adapted their medical treatments to combine local herbs and native American remedies with traditional European and African medicinal lore. Some communities might have individuals who specialized in herbal treatments, while in isolated rural areas “every man [was] his own physician,” relying on oral traditions passed down for generations.span By the 1820s, medical practices were becoming more formalized in structure. Some men attended newly formed medical colleges in the larger cities, such as the Medical College of South Carolina which opened in Charleston in 1824; others apprenticed under local, self-taught physicians. Despite the formalization of medical training, the herbal remedies of the early settlers continued to remain a major part of the trained physician's medical knowledge.

Like many of his peers, Dr. Bratton did not attend medical school, but rather trained as an apprentice under another physician. His older brother William Bratton, Jr., was also a doctor, and both men probably received their earlier training from their brother-in-law Dr. James Simpson, husband of their sister Jane. Doctors’ offices were rare in the rural areas of America; instead, doctors traveled to their patients. The bust on the table is illustrative of a common 19th-century medical theory called phrenology, whereby personality is determined by the pattern of the bumps of one’s skull. We do not know whether Dr. Bratton practiced phrenology.

Master Bedroom/Upstairs

The furnishings in the master bedroom are original to York County but are not Bratton pieces. The large size of the room, the quality of the mantel and the use of real wainscoting suggest that this room was important and at one time was used as a public space. It is possible that before the construction of the two wings and the assembly/dining hall the family entertained in this space.

The adjacent room is interpreted as a dressing room. Note the fine faux wainscoting. The linen press in the dressing room is a Bratton piece.

The two other rooms upstairs are furnished as children’s rooms. John and Harriet raised fourteen children: William (1814-1856), John Simpson, Jr. (1819-1888), Samuel Edward (1820-1893), James Rufus (1821-1897), Robert McCaw (1825-1850), Martha Elizabeth (1825-1908), Mary Caroline (1827-1889), Sophia (1829-?), Elizabeth (1830-1904), Harriet Jane (1832-1854), Jane Eliza (1834-1902), Agnes (1835-1914), Thomas (1837-1875) and Napoleon Bonaparte (1838-1918). One other child was born in 1816 but died within three months. Although they had many children, it appears that at no time did all of them reside in the house. By the time Napoleon was born his eldest sibling, William, was already 24. The third floor is an open space conjectured to be sleeping area, perhaps for the children and/or girls attending the Brattonsville Female Seminary.

Assembly/Dining Hall

The detached assembly/dining hall was a multi-purpose room that was used for formal dinners, parties, recitals, and dances. Probably built around 1840, the separate dining hall was an uncommon architectural form. Although extravagant in concept, the hall was rather plain in appearance. It reflects the austere esthetic of the Greek Revival period in which it was built. The interior of the hall has changed greatly over time. At one time cupboards or closets were built into the front corners of the room. A staircase in the far back corner led up to the attic.

The portraits are of Dr. Rufus Bratton (son of John and Harriet) and his wife Mary Rebecca Massey. The piano forte, while not an actual Bratton piece, is the same model as the three purchased by Harriet; one of the original Bratton piano fortes is in Hightower Hall (originally known as Forest Hall) and another is in the Brick House. The two corner cupboards presently in the hall are examples of late 18th- and early 19th-century pieces. The table is set for a large dinner party.

The assembly/dining hall is perhaps the most recognizable room from The Patriot. The Homestead was used as Charlotte’s home in the movie, and in one scene Charlotte flees with her children across the breezeway and into the dining hall. In the movie she sends her children down a dumbwaiter into the basement below, but one child hides under the dining room table. The curtains on display were used in the movie, as were the table and tablecloth. All food displays currently on site and in the movie were made by the Culture & Heritage Museums Exhibitions Department.

The Basement

This room was a central storage and work area. Here meats and bottled wines were probably stored. The placement of a fireplace at one end allowed for a wide range of work to take place here. Here the house slaves might have performed laundry, cooking and dyeing chores to keep the household running. At one time the basement was referred to as a warming kitchen; however, there appears to be little manuscript evidence to support its use in this manner. Furthermore, there appears to be no physical evidence to support the belief that there was a dumbwaiter located in the corner closet at this time. The brick flooring was also added during the 1828 restoration; it appears that the floor might have originally been dirt like that of the brick house next door.

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The Slave House

The slave house is a replica of an original dwelling. Slave houses in the South were made of many materials: stone, tabby, brick, log or wood frame. Brick dwellings were rare. The actual date of these structures is unknown, however there is some evidence to suggest that they were built around 1828. While clay for brick-making was available on the Bratton plantation, actual construction of these buildings required considerably more skill, time and labor than the construction of frame or log cabins. Although slaves were not paid wages, slave labor was not necessarily free. Owners provided their slaves’ food, clothing, medical care, tools, equipment, housing, firewood and other necessities.

We know relatively little about the life of slaves on the Bratton plantation. The family rarely mentioned them in writings and no former Bratton slaves were interviewed by Works Progress Administration investigators in the 1930s. From census records and inventories we know numbers and names and occupations. By the time Dr. Bratton died in 1843 he had approximately 140 slaves, making him a significant slave owner in the region. Life in these brick dwellings might have been better materially than those in more flimsy log or frame dwellings, but their status as slaves still meant that the occupants of these houses had virtually no rights, worked at the desire of their owners, and lived in conditions not of their own making. Furnishings in the dwelling reflect a Spartan lifestyle: a cast-off bed from the owner’s family, barrels used as tables, and benches for seating. It is questionable whether this or any other of the slave dwellings would have had glass in the windows.

A number of factors may explain the Brattons’ decision to use brick for their slave structures. First, brick was manufactured on site and was thus relatively inexpensive. It is possible that during this period, brick might have been cheaper and more readily available because clear-cutting of the property had made wood more scarce. Secondly, brick slave houses would have displayed the Brattons’ wealth to all who visited. Other theories suggest that the use of brick slave houses reflects the Bratton family’s concern for their slaves’ well-being, or that these well-built structures were a response to abolitionist criticism about the treatment of slaves. Whatever the reason, the brick cabins were likely reserved for slave artisans and domestic slaves, while the field hands lived in log or frame cabins near the fields. Not until the late 1850s did progressive slave owners begin to advocate the construction of brick structures as permanent, more humane dwellings for slaves.

Visitors often question the holes in the structure’s walls. These are openings for “putlogs,” which were short pieces of lumber inserted through the holes to support scaffolding during construction of the building. On better houses, these openings were filled in with brick after construction was finished, but on outbuildings and slave dwellings they were often left open. You can see original evidence of these on the dairy and slave house on the opposite side of the main house.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Homestead’s back yard is the layout of its outbuildings. The plantation’s most prominent outbuildings apparently were laid out according to classical principles of symmetry. From the front of the assembly/dining hall were two rows of brick outbuildings (service buildings and slave quarters). Recent thermal imaging suggests that other structures were once standing in a line along the north side of the yard.

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Hightower Hall – 1850s

Located at the northern entrance to the historic site on Brattonsville Road, Hightower Hall is a white frame Italian Villa mansion. The house was built for John Simpson Bratton Jr. and his wife Harriet Rainey Bratton in 1856. Then called “Forest Hall,” it was the seat of a significant 19th- and 20th-century plantation. John Bratton, Jr., was born in 1819, the second son of Dr. John Simpson Bratton and Harriet Rainey Bratton. As a young man John Bratton Jr. studied medicine along with two of his brothers, James Rufus and Samuel Edward. In 1843 Dr. Bratton died unexpectedly and John was left to administer his father’s estate and assist his mother in running the plantation. Dr. Bratton’s estate was settled in 1849 and John, Jr., inherited the largest share.

In 1850, John, Jr., and Harriet were still living on his mother’s plantation, known as the Homestead. They owned nineteen slaves and operated a farm valued at $9,000. About four years later they contracted with a local builder to construct a house of their own 3/4 of a mile north of the Homestead.

The house plan they chose was right out of a book—William Ranlett’s two-volume 1851 compendium “The Architect,” to be exact. Included in the chapter on “Cheap Houses” in the second volume of “The Architect,” the plan was originally conceived by Ranlett to accommodate two families.

Designed in an Italian-inspired or “Italianate” style, the house featured a prominent central tower and wide, bracketed eaves that gave it the appearance of an Italian country villa. John and Harriet’s Italianate house featured a three-story central tower and a nearly square two-story floor plan with a wide central hall flanked by two rooms on each side, built upon a high brick foundation providing a sub-ground floor. Illustrating the Italianate style, the exterior featured deep eaves, large vertical windows, bracketed mounts and a low pitched hip roof. During their occupation, the Brattons called their home Forrest Hall.

By the eve of the Civil War, John and Harriet were moderately wealthy cotton planters. Their plantation consisted of 4,000acres (16km2) of land valued at $24,000. They owned 3-8 slaves who in 1860 produced more than 60 bales of cotton, 1,500 bushels of corn, and tended over 130 head of livestock including pigs, sheep, beef and dairy cattle. John and Harriet also owned three horses and twelve mules. Around their house were located a separate kitchen, smoke house, 12 slave dwellings and other plantation outbuildings.

Unlike his father, but like his grandfather Colonel William Bratton, John S. Bratton, Jr., was politically active. Prior to and during the war John served as Brattonsville’s postmaster, a position he assumed after the death of his brother Robert. He also assumed proprietorship of the Bratton Store. During the Civil War, John was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the Soldier’s Board of Relief and served in the state militia.

Following the end of the war, John attempted to maintain the local pre-war social and racial status quo. Embittered by the South’s loss and likely angered by the demands for equality by local African Americans, John joined the Ku Klux Klan along with his brother Rufus. In 1871 a local black militiaman named Jim Williams was hanged after allegedly threatening to burn Brattonsville to the ground. The Brattons were suspected of involvement, and in 1872 both John and Rufus fled York County to escape prosecution and imprisonment. After several years of exile, both men received pardons, returned home and resumed their lives as best they could. John not only ran his own plantation but assisted his aged mother in managing her agricultural operations until her death in 1874.

John died in 1888 and his wife Harriet died in 1912. Forrest Hall passed to their daughter Sophia and her husband Robert Witherspoon, and the home was referred to locally as the “Witherspoon place.” Following the deaths of Robert (1930) and Sophia (1937), their descendants rented the plantation out to tenant farmers. By the 1960s Forrest Hall had become known as “Hightower Hall,” a name generally attributed to John Gettys Smith, a local businessman, historian and preservationist. In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. R.F. Draper purchased John and Harriet’s old plantation house. Draper was an executive with IBM and it was his intention to reside at the farm once he retired. He continued adding property to the farm and by the time of his death in 1995, he had acquired 1,285acres (5.20km2). With the help of the Nation Ford Land Trust, the Friends of Historic Brattonsville and the York County Council, Historic Brattonsville was able to acquire John and Harriet’s plantation house and 485acres (1.96km2) surrounding of the Draper estate. The rest of the Draper property was purchased by the state government and became part of the South Carolina Wildlife Management system.

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Kitchen

This is a reconstructed out-kitchen built upon the foundations of the original building. According to some sources the original kitchen may have been larger. Archaeological investigation has confirmed the existence of a paved walkway that led from the door of the kitchen to the steps of the breeze way. This walkway facilitated the flow of traffic and food to and from the house.

We do not know how involved Harriet Bratton was in managing the affairs of the kitchen and the slaves who worked there. The daily work in the kitchen would have been carried out by slaves. The kitchen is furnished primarily with reproductions and they are frequently used in living history programming.

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Dairy

Aside from the slave dwelling on the adjacent property, this is the only original outbuilding. Once interpreted as Dr. Bratton’s office, the original use of this building is unknown. The building is unusual in that it has a full basement. The presence of windows, a jack arch in the north wall at floor level, and an arched chimney suggest that the basement level could have been used as a dairy or spring house. The upstairs may have been the residence of a slave or overseer, an office or a work area.

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