The Regrets of Progress

The man stood on the front porch with a gun in his hand.  Slowly, he lifted his arm and aimed, pulled the trigger and fired a bullet into his own chest.  He fell to the old wooden porch floor and died.  He was forty-six years old and his death marked the tragic end of an amazing story.

The story began 166 years earlier. General Francis Marion, known as “The Swamp Fox” due to his legendary feats during the Revolutionary War, purchase some acreage along the swampy Santee River in 1773.  There he built a simple house and would disappear to it at times during the war.  In fact, it is suspected that he recuperated from a broken ankle he sustained when jumping from a second story window in Charleston, just prior to the city falling to the British.

The one story house was a modest affair, unlike some of the other plantations in the area. The land it sat on became known as Pond Bluff Plantation and Marion lived there for a little over twenty years until his death in 1795.  The house and land then passed to his wife, Mary Videau Marion who lived there until her death in 1815.

The house burned soon after Mary’s death.  The house that replaced it was finished around 1820 and was a reflection of the house that Marion had built, but it sat about fifty yards in front of its forebearer.  Marion and his wife died childless, so by several strokes of fate, the house and a portion of the land had gone to a relative of Mary, Colonel Keating Lewis Simons.  Mrs. Marion had given the property to the Simons family in appreciation of their protection and service to her.

 

The home was in the Simons family until the early twentieth century when Santee-Cooper came calling.  In what could be considered one of the great calamities of progress, Pond Bluff, along with many other historic plantations, churches, and cemeteries, was lost to the flood waters of Lake Marion.  Before inundating the area, Pond Bluff was burned to the ground, along with its walnut fireplaces, six paneled doors, and early kitchen and smokehouse (which might have dated to General Marion’s time).

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Pond Bluff outbuildings (all photos courtesy of Berkeley County Historical Society)

The home’s last occupant, Joseph Palmer Simons, direct descendant of Colonel Keating Lewis Simons, stood his ground, refusing to surrender to Santee-Cooper.  When all his attempts to save his ancestral home failed, Simons walked out on the front porch of the old home and shot himself dead. The last act of a desperate man.  The last act of a proud, old family who had weathered countless challenges such as war and weather, only to be torn away from their history by “progress.”

Today you can find Joseph, along with others, on an island in Lake Marion, part of an old cemetery that survived the inundation.

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Sonnet of Regret by Francis Marion Kirk, 1935

 

cover photo courtesy of South Carolina Plantations.com

 

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