By Ashley Sylva | When the Union Army arrived to Beaufort, much of the town was deserted. The white southerners fleeing ahead of the army invasion, left behind their homes, their belongings, and their slaves. Town lore says that that the only white man left in town when the army arrived was the town drunk, and that was because he was passed out, outside the local saloon.
One home in particular that was left abandoned was the Paul Hamilton House on Laurens Street, also known as “The Oaks”. Built Circa 1855, pre-civil war, the home was built by Col. Paul Hamilton. Hamilton was the grandson of another Paul Hamilton; a rice planter from St. Pauls Parrish, who Served as the Governor of South Carolina from 1804 to 1806 and served as the 3rd Secretary of the Navy under President James Madison from 1809-1813.
Fleeing the Union army left their home abandoned, and the union established their house as Union Hospital #1 in Beaufort S.C. The family had left in 1861, returning September of 1866 when Dr. Gibbs, uncle to the children of Col. Paul Hamilton rented the home, allowing the family to finally return.
The federal government auctioned off the home in November of 1866. Col. Hamilton requested, and was ‘granted’ three days to travel to Charleston to secure the funds to purchase his home back, but on the second day learned that evening at sunset that someone else wanted to buy it ahead of the full three days he was originally granted.
The intended purchaser made claims that he planned on turning the house into a school for the African Americans in Beaufort, SC. A northern Merchant, George Holmes (and later mayor) gathered together other citizens of Beaufort; together they were able to raise the purchase funds and bought back the Oaks in Col. Hamilton’s name.
In 1921, Harriette Kershaw Leiding interviewed Miss. Mary S. Hamilton, Col. Paul Hamilton’s daughter, who was residing in The Oaks at the time.
In the interview, Mary Hamilton said; “I went downtown to see if Mayor Colonel William Elliott could stop the sale. While waiting at his home my uncle came in to announce the good news that Mr. Simpson, the express agent and Mr. George Homes, a New York merchant [who resided in Beaufort] had heard of the proposed sale, raised the money amongst the businessmen and just before sunset paid for the home and the name of Colonel Hamilton. I had said that I would never shake hands with the Yankee but that night across the counter I offered mine in thanks to Mr. Holmes” (Mary S. Hamilton, 1921).
The Beautiful and majestic home stands still today, 163 years of standing ground in little Beaufort, oh if walls could talk, imagine the stories these ones could share.
ESPB contributor Ashley Sylva is a west coast transplant
and WWII historian who switched gears into historical
and genealogical research when she came to live in the