Lessons from History at Walnut Grove

Dr David Hume traces an Ulster family to a 1760s plantation house in South Carolina

In the stillness of Walnut Grove Plantation in South Carolina, it is possible to imagine another era. An era not quite so peaceful, when the settlers in the area faced attack from the Indian Cherokees, and when the fires of revolution blazed, bringing destruction in their wake.

Walnut Grove is a beautiful Georgian plantation house, set in extensive grounds with bright flowers adding to its picturesque quality.

It was once home to an Ulster family who had crossed the Atlantic and made a new life for themselves in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, an area heavily populated by settlers from the north of Ireland in the period prior to the American Revolution.

Situated near the city of Spartanburg, it is located in the countryside beyond the urban areas. Reaching Walnut Grove requires you to leave the main highway and drive along a much smaller road.

On the right hand side, a sign alerts you to a small folk part, with a schoolroom, doctor's office, farm outbuildings, a kitchen separate from the plantation house, and herb and vegetable gardens.

Walnut Grove has been a museum since 1961 when the late Thomas Moore Craig and his wife Lena gave the site to the Spartanburg County Historical Association.

Craig was the great-great grandson of Charles and Mary Moore, who built Walnut Grove around 1765.

I first visited Walnut Grove in 1993 and it was my introduction to the history and landscape of South Carolina, which had come to be home to so many Ulster-Scots in the 18th century.

The guide on that occasion, an elderly lady named Ruby Lee Stevens, was able to show two items of particular association with Ireland. One was a map of the island, then the Kingdom of Ireland. The second was a Bible box, which once transported the family Bible and legal documents across the Atlantic.

The Bible box at Walnut Grove dates back to 1675. These had, Stevens informed me, been brought by the Moores, from Ireland.

Last year, during a family visit to the Carolinas, I went back to Walnut Grove for a fleeting visit en route further south. It was enough to give that flavour of a bygone time.

In the stillness it was possible to imagine that Kate Barry would come walking along the path to the house as she had done in the 1780s.

Barry is something of a heroine. In a history often dominated by males, her name stands out. She was born Margaret Katherine Moore, daughter of Charles and Mary Moore, in Ireland.

The Moores are believed to have been from Co Antrim or Co Down, circa 1752. Their first-born child would grow up to marry Captain Andrew Barry, who served in the South Carolina militia.

Andrew Barry's military career during the American Revolution has been somewhat lost to history. Kate was an excellent horsewoman and acted as a scout and messenger for the American cause. Whenever General Daniel Morgan, whose roots lay in Draperstown, assembled his troops at Hanna's Cowpens, 13 miles from Walnut Grove, Kate Barry mounted her horse and rode out to give the call to arms to the patriots in the countryside around.

The family would have been well aware of what was at stake. Like many Ulster-Scots, they had thrown in their lot with the American cause. Their house had been attacked by 'Bloody' Bill Cunningham, a notorious government loyalist, and a young captain named Steadman, who was ill in bed, was shot and killed where he lay.

Bloodstains can still be seen on the floorboards in the upstairs room where the murder took place, and have been verified as such. Two other young men, trying to escape from Cunningham and his marauders, were shot outside the house and were buried nearby. Steadman is believed to have been engaged to another daughter of the Moores at the time of his death, explaining his presence in the house.

The outcome of the Battle of the Cowpens in 1781 was crucial to the Revolutionary War. The Americans met the finest troops of Europe on an open battlefield and, by a process of tactical manoeuvres, won the day. A total of 926 British troops under the command of the notorious Banastre Tarleton were killed.

It was a tremendous victory and sealed the fate of the Revolution. Having lost battles at Cowpens and Kings Mountain, Lord Charles Cornwallis could not subjugate the South. He had stirred up a hornet's nest of resistance, much of it generated within Ulster-Scots settlements in the Piedmont region of South Carolina and the mountains of North Carolina.

After the war, things settled down at Walnut Grove and elsewhere. Charles Moore lived until 1805, his plantation comprising 265 acres at the time, while 750 acres had been given to his two eldest sons, General Thomas Moore (who represented the area in the US House of Representatives between 1801-1817) and Dr Andrew Barry Moore (1771-1848), who practiced medicine for 48 years in Spartanburg County. A reconstruction of his office, complete with medical implements, forms part of Walnut Grove plantation today.

Walnut Grove was also home to the Rocky Spring Academy, where the children of the family and their neighbours were taught Greek and Latin, mathematics and spelling. They were taught firstly by Charles Moore, then by a long line of teachers. Even in the Upcountry, the Ulster-Scots emphasis on education was strong.

The Moores did not arrive directly in Spartanburg County, coming from Pennsylvania in a movement of Ulster settlers further south. The guide book for Walnut Grove describes 'a numerous and cohesive group, the Ulster-Scots'.

The book also notes that 'Groups of these people originally migrated to Pennsylvania and Maryland early in the 18th century. As time passed, many of them moved on to western Pennsylvania and then into the valley of Virginia, where some remained. Others moved on after a few years into Piedmont North and South Carolina'.

'The first documented glimpse we have of Charles Moore, the builder of Walnut Grove,' the book tells us, 'Is in Anson County, North Carolina, where he witnessed a land deal. Then, along with 14 other Ulster-Scots Presbyterian families, he went into the old Ninety-Six district of South Carolina in the 1760s'.

Although his land grant was in 1767, it is likely that Charles Moore and his family were at Walnut Grove before that. Settled in America, they had brought eight children from Ulster, and two more would be born in their new homeland.

Today, there is no mistaking the legacy of the Moores and the Barrys. En route to Walnut Grove, we passed Moore Post Office and Moore's Chapel Baptist Church. Nearby, at Nazareth Presbyterian Church, gravestones of Barrys, Moores, and other Ulster families can be viewed.

Sweltering heat greeted us at Walnut Grove last year. It was the hottest day of the summer, and not a good one for Ulster visitors to be wandering about in the open. It made me reflect on how the Moores and their children would have acclimatised to the change from the east coast of Ulster, whether Antrim or Down.

It probably took some getting used to. Yet the landscape was not much different from home. Walking along the pathway from the house towards the family cemetery, you can look out over a large field and imagine yourself across the Atlantic.

This article first appeared in The Ulster Scot, official publication of the Ulster-Scots Agency.