July 31, 1844
A Stately Live Oak Becomes Center Stage For The Bluffton Movement
Emmett and Teddy McCracken have passionately followed the history of Bluffton and their own family ties to this great local community throughout their lifetime. Recently, in the Stock Farm Antique shop, they shared what they knew about one of Bluffton's most important dates in history – The Bluffton Movement and the Secession Oak.
Q: Where is the Secession Oak?
Emmett and Teddy: It's in close proximity to the May River near the Stock Farm development on Highway 46. It's on private land now owned by Anna and Cal Sharp. In 1958, The McCracken family purchased property that is now Stock Farm. My mother, Naomi in looking through the deeds saw an early name - Stock Farm and that is how she named her antique business and the property.
Q: Who owned the land in the 1840's?
Emmett and Teddy: According to Alan Ulmer, there was a large house in the vicinity of the Secession Oak and according to Alan; the property once belonged to The Baynards who owned property on Hilton Head. I'm not sure who owned it in 1844, but there is still a large tabby chimney on the property that was either a separate kitchen apart from the big house or either slave housing.
Q: What was the Bluffton Movement?
Emmett: It was a time of considerable discontent of which the July 31st, 1844 date became center stage against the Federal tariff of 1842. The southern economy was at an economical disadvantage from this tariff because they had to pay a higher tariff on essential goods and merchandise from Europe. It was clearly designed to benefi t the manufacturing of products from the Northeast.
Q: Who was Robert Barnwell Rhett?
Emmett and Teddy: Barnwell Rhett was the U.S. congressman at the time from the Beaufort district. He was quite a "fire brand." He took considerable issue with the Federal tariff. Either explicitly or implicitly in his speech, Rhett was calling either for the nullifi cation of the tariff of 1842 or secession. It was one of the early calls for secession. Now you have to recognize that South Carolina did not secede until 1860 so this was one of the fi rst times the word secession was emphasized. As a personal note, it was known that Barnwell Rhett was a "tea totaler" and therefore there was no alcohol served at this gathering.
Teddy: Though, if you knew the times, people came to the gathering under the tree with horses and buggies and having a "jug or flask" was part of attending events, so who knows. Emmett: There are not too many Bluffton parties in 1844 or since that have been purely dry.
Q: I thought it was a small gathering of people under the tree?
Emmett and Teddy: Lawrence Rowland's book, The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Vol. I 1514-1861, describe it as a dinner party with Barnwell Rhett as a principle speaker. What is unknown is whether they had dinner somewhere (perhaps in the large house Alan Ulmer refers to) and then asked for the public to gather under the tree. We don't know precisely how many people came, but I envision a fairly large gathering because Rhett was a U.S. Congressman coming for a visit. Rowland's book describes a group of planters – Squire Pope from Hilton Head Island and James Kirk from Kirk's Bluff in Bluffton along with a delegation of Beaufort planters in attendance.
Q: Any of Rhett's comments transcribed?
According to Rowland's book, an eloquent oratory encouraged planters to protect their interests and stand on their principles: If you value your rights, you must resist. Submit not. Discharge your duties faithfully to yourself, your children, your country, your God and we will ensure a glorious triumph. He was seeking a statewide political movement to nullify the tariff of 1842 or secede.
Ultimately, the Bluffton Movement failed. John C. Calhoun, SC Senator did not endorse the movement and the rest of the state was not ready for such a radical course of action.
As a special commemoration of the Secession Oak will take place on Saturday July 31st in the early morning. Those attending will be able to view the Secession Oak and walk through the Stock Farm property. For details, call (843) 304-1922.