Sunday, December 09, 2012
South Carolina 3: John Champneys (Rose Grower)
When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under “South Carolina” in the index at the right
Weather: A bit warmer for a few days; last rain 11/10/12; 9:48 hours of daylight today.
What’s still green: Rose stems, juniper and other evergreens, red hot poker, yucca, Madonna lily, Japanese honeysuckle, Saint John’s wort, vinca, moss phlox, soapworts, sea pink, pink and yellow primroses, sweet pea, beardstongues, gypsum phacelia, pampas and needle grasses.
What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot and sandbar willow branches.
What’s grey or blue: Snow-in-summer, pinks, Silver King artemisia leaves.
What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.
Animal sightings: Small brown birds.
The berries eaten by native birds are disappearing; those of plants introduced from elsewhere are drying on the vine or branch, unrecognized as food.
Weekly update: The American Revolution was not kind to Hezekiah Maham or John Champneys, who were beyond the age of adventure when war was declared in 1776. One was 37, the other 33.
Champneys had a plantation on the banks of the Wando, between the Cooper and the Atlantic on the northeast side of Charles Town where seven to eight acres were devoted to “trees, plants, shrubs and flowers of every kind which can minister to use or ornament” and “nature is improved, but no where violated.”
All changed when he refused to sign the oath of loyalty in 1777. He was given one year to sell his land and leave. The next year, when the General Assembly demanded reaffirmation of the oath from neutrals, Champneys recalled the response of the banished supporters of Parliament during the English civil war in Barbados when he published “An account of the sufferings and persecution of John Champneys: a native of Charles-town, South-Carolina; inflicted by order of Congress, for his refusal to take up arms in defence of the arbitrary proceedings carried on by the rulers of said place. Together with his protest, &c.”
When the British took Charles Town in 1780, Champneys was among those who returned. The next year, the war time governor, John Rutledge, offered loyalists the opportunity to reclaim their citizenship if they served six months in the militia, but he explicitly excluded men, like Champneys, who had been banished before 1780. That same year, 1781, Champneys married Mary Harvey, the widow of William Wilson.
The fourth General Assembly met in exile in Jacksonborough in January, 1782, after the British had surrendered at Yorktown but before they had vacated Charles Town. Rutledge asked them to name the loyalists who were most noxious to the incipient state. After much wrangling, they were close to issuing a list in February when William Henry Harvey, Mary’s brother, requested the property of their brother Alexander be given to him, as the rightful heir, rather than confiscated.
Two days after Harvey’s petition, the General Assembly rejected any such diversion of loyalist property. Instead, the members agreed to defer sales of real property, but not slaves, until their next session in January 1783 to give loyalists time to appeal. Like the British before them, they wanted to work the slaves to pay their war debts.
When the assembly issued its final list of 238, it included Alexander Harvey, who had signed the official greeting welcoming Henry Clinton to Charleston, and his mother’s first cousin, Joseph Seabrook, who had accepted protection from the British.
In 1783, soon after the British withdrew, the General Assembly established the trial rights for loyalists and scheduled hearings where they could come with their supporters to show they weren’t a menace to the community.
Rebecca Brannon has suggested that many tried to establish they had helped the rebel cause by taking in orphans, secretly helping prisoners, or using their positions to soften the British treatment of their neighbors. One she mentions was Joseph Seabrook, who claimed he had been “prevailed upon by his neighbors to take a Militia Command under the British Government in order to prevent plundering.”
Charles Town artisans weren’t happy to see so many well-to-do loyalists petitioning for clemency when the Treaty of Paris, that would take effect September 3, upheld the right of those merchants to collect debts assumed during the occupation when the peace severed the economic ties with Britain that had sustained the pre-war economy.
The city was rocked by riots in July and incorporated as a separate entity, Charleston, with an intendant in August.
On March 26 of the following year, 1784, the General Assembly passed a general amnesty act that removed many from the original Confiscation List and placed them on the list of those to be taxed. Alexander Harvey was not removed, but Seabrook was.
Soon after, Charleston rioted again, and a secret group warned thirteen to leave or die. Twelve were merchants who had just been removed from the Confiscation List. The other was John Champneys.
There are no on-line reports of activities by Champneys that would have made him a continuing target. The most likely reason is that his wharf made him the creditor of many. We know he had a mortgage on fifteen stores and land owned by Richardson, Wyatt, and Richardson on the wharf. When the heirs sued one another in 1791, the judge, Henry William De Saussure, discovered Champneys had overbilled the partners, and owed them money.
Champneys apparently moved to Saint Augustine, where, in 1785, he sold his property to Francis Philip Fatio, a Swiss national, with the understanding he could buy it back after the confiscation deadline. The same year, his wife petitioned again on behalf of her brother, who she said was now in England being treated for insanity, and requested safe passage for John to return to request a trial. Neither was accepted.
The Wando plantation was advertized for sale in 1786.
Champneys remained in exile, and his wife petitioned again in 1787 for his safe return to settle his affairs and remove her and their family to England. This time, the General Assembly accepted the petition but did not act until 1789 when it finally lifted his banishment, but didn’t return his wharf.
Sometime, he bought his new plantation on the south side of the city where William Williamson had established “one of the most elaborate early gardens” with six acres of water and ten acres of “pleasure grounds.” Williamson had died in 1785, leaving his estate to his half sisters, one of whom, Elizabeth Grimké, was married to John Rutledge.
Why the 44-year-old Champneys was finally accepted is not clear. He may finally have found a sufficiently influential sponsor, the General Assembly may have found it no longer could refuse after it had accepted worse men like Henry Laurens’ brother-in-law, Elias Ball, or it may have realized the war crisis had dissipated when the worst offenders had left and several years passed without rioting.
Mary filed one final petition in 1790. Back when her brother was leaving, she had bought a slave nurse from him at an inflated price, and now needed to regularize the woman’s position. She claimed the mulatto had been afraid at the time of the man who wanted to purchase her and she had had to outbid him.
While the Champneys had been fighting to return to Charleston, new men had been moving there who introduced the spirit of voluntary organizations we associate with the young republic. Andrew Michaux, a botanist sent by the French, started a nursery on Goose Creek and helped organize the Agricultural Society of South Carolina in 1785. Physicians trained in Edinburgh and Philadelphia founded the Medical Society of South Carolina in 1789, while others built the Orphan House in 1790.
When Champneys returned, his name appears among these new men, not among the established planter elite. He was a commissioner of the Orphan House from 1792 and 1796. As treasurer of the agricultural society in 1797, he had trouble collecting dues, and Thomas Pickney sent him a pamphlet about new ways of cultivating rice when he was president in 1810.
The year he died, 1820, the 77-year-old man was listed as a subscriber to the history of the Episcopal church being written by Frederick Dalcho, a Mason who joined the medical society in 1801, and helped organize the botanical garden in 1805.
Champneys’ life was defined by his plantations, the one on the Wando when he was an active entrepreneur, the one to the southwest when he as a civic leader, and the time between, spent in the wilderness of north Florida.
What we know of those plantations, at least the latter, however, has been defined by his enemies. The man who attributed the gardens to Williamson was David Ramsey who had jailed in Saint Augustine by the British and later married Laurens’ daughter Martha.
Brannon, Rebecca Nathan. Reconciling the Revolution: Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Community in the Wake of Civil War in South Carolina, 1775-1780, 2007; includes references to William Henry Harvey, Alexander Harvey and Joseph Seabrook.
Cothran, James R. Gardens of Historic Charleston, 1995; includes Ramsay’s description of Champneys’ second plantation.
Dalcho, Frederick. An Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South-Carolina, 1820.
De Saussure, Henry William. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Chancery of the State of South-Carolina: From the Revolution to [June, 1817], 1817.
Richardson, Barnard. Will described on genealogy website by Amanda Herbert, 21 February 2001.
Rogers, George C. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys, 1980 second edition; provides information on oath and Champney return.
Trinkley, Michael and Debi Hacker. "A Context for the Study of Low Country Gardens" in Tranquil Hill Plantation: The Most Charming Inland Place, 2007; includes advertisement for Champneys’ first plantation, with description of garden.
1. Native juniper berries on prairie, 6 December 2012.
2. Juniper berries on prairie, 6 December 2012.
3. Quasi-native sand cherries, 5 December 2012.
4. Purple leaf sand cherry, 5 December 2012.
5. Non-native pyracantha berries in Española, 5 December 2012.
6. Non-native apples down the road, 5 December 2012.
7. Non-native privet berries, 5 December 2012.
8. Quasi-native Virginia creeper berries, 5 December 2012.
9. Virginia creeper berries, 5 December 2012.
10. Non-native grapes down the road, 5 December 2012.
11. Grapes, 5 December 2012.
12. Non-native Russian olives, 5 December 2012.
13. Russian olives, 5 December 2012.
14. Non-native fruit on unknown tree in Española, 5 December 2012; now believed to be a Callery Pear.