Colonel William Bratton House – 1766:
The oldest structure at Historic Brattonsville, known today as the Col. William Bratton House, is believed to have been constructed circa 1766 by Col. William Bratton (ca. 1742-1815). On August 11, 1766 William Bratton and his wife Martha Robertson (ca. 1749-1816) purchased 200 acres of land on the south fork of Fishing Creek from Thomas Rainey and his wife. This deed is the first conclusive record that placed William Bratton in present-day York County. Aside from the 200 acres of land, William and Martha also purchased the improvements on the property, which included all the “Houses buildings Edifices Garden Orchards Trees [and] woods.” The deed implied that the Brattons were already living in a house on their newly acquired property in 1766
Originally the house was a two-story horizontal log structure containing one room on each floor. It served as the primary residence of the Bratton family. Log construction was the most common method of building houses in the Carolina Piedmont throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Bratton’s log house conformed to a tradition that came out of the Delaware Valley that was later refined in the Piedmont. The rectangular plan used by the Brattons was inspired by the Anglo-tradition of one room, side-gabled houses with aligned front and rear doors. However, the Bratton’s house varied from that tradition as the house was built of log and the doors were not centered in the façade. The log building techniques used in the Piedmont originated in mainland Europe with dovetail notching developing principally from Germanic traditions in log construction. Historians have attributed the blending of these Old World traditions to the German and Scots-Irish settlers of the Carolina Piedmont.
During the American Revolution Col. Bratton was an active Patriot leader. Unfortunately, Col. Bratton left no written account of his military service during the war. However, according to the statements of his subordinates in hundreds of audited accounts and federal pension applications, it is evident that William Bratton saw combat in approximately 26 battles that spanned North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. 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, Andrew Neal, and John McClure. Prelude to the battle, Col. Bratton’s wife, Martha, was threatened by British officers on the porch of the Col. William Bratton house in their effort to determine the whereabouts of her husband.
Following the American Revolution Col. Bratton became an early entrepreneur in York County. In 1786, he established a tavern in his house. Historians have speculated that a shed room was added to the east side of the house to accommodate Bratton’s new enterprise. At some point after 1793 Col. 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 enslaved people. It is evident that Col. William Bratton owned a few enslaved people at the time of the American Revolution and continued to acquire more until his death in 1815. When the very first United States census was taken in 1790, three years before the invention of the cotton gin, William Bratton owned 12 enslaved people. By 1810, seventeen years after the invention of the cotton gin, William Bratton’s enslaved population had nearly doubled. This is further supported by William Bratton’s will, which indicates that Bratton owned 23 enslaved individuals at the time the will was written in 1813. Much of William and Martha’s economic success can be attributed to the enslaved people who worked in the home and in the fields.
See African American History for more details on the enslaved population at Brattonsville
Colonel William Bratton died at home on February 9, 1815 at the age of 73. In his will, he gave ownership of the Bratton plantation with its improvements, livestock, and enslaved people to his youngest son John Simpson Bratton. John Simpson lived in the house until 1826 when he moved to a new two-story, timber-framed house across the road. This house, referred to as the Homestead House, would become the center of John S. Bratton’s plantation.
The enslaved population’s successful production of cotton on the Bratton plantation made John
Simpson Bratton extremely wealthy. It is understood that Bratton used some of this wealth to renovate the vacant Col. William Bratton House for use as a school. From 1839-1846 this school, known as the Brattonsville Female Seminary, operated under the consecutive leadership of Catharine Ladd, Hugh McWhorter, and Mary Ann Poulton. The seminary offered a curriculum that included spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, and history as well as courses in the fine arts including drawing, oil painting, miniature painting, needlework, and music.
Following the close of the Brattonsville Female Seminary in 1846, it is likely that John Simpson Bratton’s son, John Simpson Bratton, Junior (1819-1888), resided in the house with this wife, Harriet Jane Rainey (1826-1912) until the construction of their Italianate plantation house, Forest Hall, in 1854. The Col. William Bratton House likely remained vacant until after the American Civil War when Agnes Bratton (1835-1914), the recently widowed daughter of John Simpson Bratton, Senior, moved into the house with her four daughters. The 1870 United States Census indicates that there were two African Americans, Archy and Mary Strait, living in the house as well. Although this is the first documented evidence of African Americans living inside the Col. Bratton House, this was probably not the first occurrence of this living situation as enslaved people likely also lived in the house at different points in time serving in various capacities before 1865.
Agnes remained in the house with her daughters until they moved to Columbia, South Carolina in the late-nineteenth century. Following Agnes’ departure, the Col. William Bratton house was leased to sharecroppers through the 1950s.
On January 28, 1960, R. Fisher Draper, a retired IBM manager, acquired the Col. Bratton House and surrounding acreage. Three years later, Draper gave the house and 1.4 acres to the recently established York County Historical Commission. The Col. William Bratton House is currently closed to the public due to restoration and preservation efforts. Once complete, the house is to be preserved, furnished and interpreted to represent the seminary’s early years of operation when it was led by Catherine Ladd, and later Reverend Hugh McWhorter, with schoolroom and living quarters for the residents and instructors.
The Homestead House – 1826:
The Slave Houses – Circa 1828
The vast majority of the Bratton’s fortune was made off the backs of enslaved peoples. An inventory of enslaved African Americans belonging to the estate of John S. Bratton, Senior indicates that by 1843, there were 139 enslaved people working on the Bratton plantation. This growing enslaved population required housing. The earliest known document recording the number of slave houses on the Bratton plantation is the Eighth Census of the United States. The census taker H.H. Drennon recorded 20 slave houses in association with the Bratton plantation on July 7, 1860. This number presumably included the eight brick houses adjacent to the homestead house. Today, only two of the original brick slave dwellings still stand. Three of them have been reconstructed, two remain in ruins, and one is no longer represented on the landscape.
Though the actual date of these structures is unknown, there is some evidence to suggest that they were built around 1828. A number of factors may explain the Brattons’ decision to use brick for their slave structures. Primarily, the brick slave houses would have displayed the Brattons’ wealth to all who visited. The brick houses were likely reserved for enslaved artisans and those African Americans responsible for domestic duties, while the field hands lived in log or frame houses near the fields.
Thanks to continued research, we are constantly learning more about the enslaved African American population at Brattonsville. As on most cotton plantations, the enslaved people that worked in the fields of the Bratton plantation would have most likely worked in groups known as “gangs” that were consistently monitored by an overseer. Documentary evidence suggests that the Brattons relied on overseers Elijah Clarke and Charles Curry for oversight of the enslaved people and day-to-day operation of the plantation. Not every backcountry South Carolinian profited from the institution of slavery the same way the Brattons did. In fact, the majority of white South Carolinians in the upper Piedmont were yeoman farmers living in modest log houses with their farmsteads focused on self- sufficiency.
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.
See African American History for more details on the enslaved population at Brattonsville
One of the three reconstructed brick slave dwellings, the kitchen was 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. The daily work in the kitchen would have been carried out by the enslaved African Americans who worked on the Bratton Plantation.
The diary is one of the two original brick slave dwellings at Brattonsville. It is believed that the first floor was a home and workspace for an enslaved family charged with domestic tasks. The ventilated, partially submerged cellar was likely used as a cool storage for the dairy, especially butter, produced on the plantation.