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 Homestead house was constructed in 1826 by Dr. John Simpson Bratton (1789-1843), the youngest son of Col. William Bratton. The Homestead House is a braced-frame, two-story house, with two pairs of rooms on each floor, separated by a central hallway. Construction began in 1823 under the supervision of contractor Henry Alexander. Bratton selected an elevated position at the peak of a slight ridge as the site for his house. This location conveyed status as it forced peers, travelers, yeomen, artisans, poor whites, and enslaved African Americans to look up to the house from the roadway. When the house was completed in 1826, it was a typical Federal-style four-over-four with a center hall, interior chimneys, Federal style mantles, wainscoting (the paneled lower part of the walls) and carved staircases. A dining hall was added at the west end of the house at some point between 1828 and 1840 and wings were appended to the north and south ends in 1839.
During this same period, John Simpson Bratton began an aggressive expansion of his investments and landholding. He entered into a business partnership with his brother-in-law Samuel Rainey, Jr. in which they operated a store. Bratton and Rainey also purchased numerous lots in nearby Yorkville, many of which they rented out to tenants. According to the Register of Deeds for York County, John Simpson purchased 43 tracts of land in or around Yorkville totaling approximately 7,646 acres between 1824 and his death in 1843. He also began construction of a brick house at Brattonsville in 1841, known today as the Brick House. The Brick House would be used as a post office, polling place, and store for the local community, as well as a residence for members of the Bratton family. John Simpson Bratton served as the first postmaster of Brattonsville from 1820 until March 31, 1843.
Despite John Simpson Bratton’s numerous business interests, the vast majority of the Bratton’s fortune was made off the backs of enslaved peoples. As John Simpson Bratton’s plantation grew, so too did the enslaved population. The 1840 Federal Census indicates that there were 112 enslaved people working on the 3,540 acre Bratton plantation. An inventory of enslaved people belonging to the estate of John Simpson Bratton indicates that by 1843, there were 139 enslaved people working on the Bratton plantation. The enslaved population on the Bratton plantation made John Simpson Bratton, Sr. extremely wealthy. Around 1839, Bratton used some of this wealth to renovate his old home place, the Col. William Bratton House, for use as the Brattonsville Female Seminary.
See African American History for more details on the enslaved population at Brattonsville
Along with renovating his parent’s house, Bratton also made additions to the Homestead House around 1839. It is believed that Bratton hired carpenter Noah Isenhower to construct the timber-framed wings appended to the north and south sides of the Homestead House. However, not long after the completion of the wings John Simpson Bratton died unexpectedly on April 27, 1843. He died without a will, which left his estate in question. To settle his estate, a Writ of Partition was drafted and submitted to the York District’s Court of Equity on January 3, 1844. Accordingly, his widow, Harriet Rainey Bratton (1795-1874), received the “Home plantation” comprised of the Homestead House, outbuildings, and 509 acres valued at $7,126.00, as well as almost 1,800 additional adjoining acres, 40 enslaved people, livestock, and house furnishings.
As the head of the Bratton household, Harriet took possession of the Bratton plantation and the responsibilities of its successful operation. The male dominated society of nineteenth centuryAmerica would have required her to manage the plantation through men. While some historians suggest her son, John Simpson Bratton, Jr., stepped fully into the management role, it seems more likely that John, Jr. provided assistance until he established his own plantation, Forest Hall (known today as Hightower Hall), in 1854. After which, Harriet likely relied more heavily on her overseers Elijah Clarke and Charles Curry for oversight of the enslaved people and day-to-day operation of the plantation. No matter what the governance of the plantation looked like after John Simpson Bratton, Sr.’s death, the enslaved people cultivated at least 64,930 pounds of cotton between 1843 and 1845.
In the years preceding the American Civil War all the Bratton children move out of the HomesteadHouse with the exception of the two youngest boys, Napoleon Bonaparte (1838-1918) and Thomas (1837-1875), who would remain until their enlistment in the Confederate army in 1861. Amidst the movement of the Bratton children, the Bratton plantation, like many plantations across the American South, flourished. Enabled by the profitability of her cotton, Harriet Bratton hired O. P. Cranford to build a two-story portico on the east elevation of the Homestead House and to make a few interior alterations. The alteration of the Homestead House in such a manner by Harriet Bratton publically conveyed her financial success at the helm of the plantation following the death of her husband.
Following the American Civil War, Harriet, like all planters during Reconstruction, adjusted to the redefinition of southern labor and adopted sharecropping. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution freed four million people when it outlawed the institution of slavery. Slavery, which had dominated southern economics since the colonial era, was replaced with a different economicInstitution known as sharecropping. Many Freedmen were forced to enter into sharecropping agreements with white land owners. Many whites saw this as an opportunity to reestablish dominance by a new means. Southern states passed laws, called “Black Codes,” which limited the rights of freedmen. One such law required every Black adult to sign a yearly labor contract with a white person. Those that did not risked prosecution under state law. As its name implies, sharecroppers worked the land in exchange for a share of the crop. Generally, sharecroppers kept between one-third and one-half of the year’s crop depending on whether the land owner provided the tools, fertilizer, and seed. A ledger of accounts kept by Harriet Bratton indicates that 16 families were sharecropping at Brattonsville. The Ninth United States Census taken in the summer of 1870 indicates that Harriet Bratton was living with her daughter Jane Bratton Dunovant (1834-1902) and her three grandchildren. The 1870 Census also recorded two African Americans, Preston and Laura Garner, as living under Harriet’s roof. The Garner’s residency inside the Homestead House suggested that Laura’s occupation as a domestic servant was focused on service to the Bratton family and Homestead House with Preston as a farm laborer plausibly working the land in the immediate vicinity of the Homestead House. Although this is the first documented evidence of African Americans living inside the Homestead 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.
On May 2, 1874, Harriet Bratton, Brattonsville’s matriarch, died at the age of 79. Unlike her husband, Harriet had a will. The will, drafted on April 10, 1873, named her son’s John Simpson, Jr. and James Rufus (1821-1897) the executers of her estate. It is believed that the Homestead House remained unoccupied between Harriet’s death and the 1898 marriage of James Rufus’s son, Robert Moultrie (1862-1931), to Napoleon’ daughter, Virginia Mason (1867-1960). Family tradition purported that Robert and Virginia moved into the house shortly after their wedding and remained there for seventeen years. There is also some evidence that Virginia’s parents, Napoleon and Minnie Mason (1840-1915), moved into the Homestead House sometime between 1910 and Minnie’s death in 1915. Regardless, the last of the Brattons living at Brattonsville departed for Yorkville circa 1915.
Following the Bratton’s departure, Robert Moultrie rented the Homestead House and associated acreage to sharecroppers until 1943. After the last of leasees moved from the Homestead House in the mid-twentieth century, the house remained vacant for about two decades. In 1869 the York County Historical Commission acquired the Homestead House with the purpose to preserving and interpreting the 140 year old plantation house.
In the years leading up to the United States Bicentennial Commemoration, State Senator Samuel B. Mendenhall and the Historical Commission raised money for the restoration of Historic Brattonsville. The two-year restoration of the Homestead House started in 1975. The restored Homestead House opened to the public in late 1977 for tours on a limited schedule. The Homestead 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 its circa 1855 appearance and serve as the centerpiece of Historic Brattonsville’s interpretive area.
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.