South Carolina Plantation and Boarding House Along the Stagecoach Road

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Koger-Murray-Carroll House | Dorchester County, SC | c. 1790

One of oldest homes in the state, the Koger-Murray-Carroll House is named for 3 of its owners who were prominent officials in state government who hosted important political figures of the day. During the antebellum years, it sat at the center of a 1,200+ acre rice plantation, where hundreds of people were enslaved. And while the home spent some years as the fanciest barn in the state of South Carolina, it was restored to an earlier condition to preserve its history.

Located near St. George, South Carolina, this home is thought to be the oldest one still standing in Dorchester County. Over a 230+ year span, it was home to three prominent state government officials: Joseph Koger, who represented the Parish of St. George, Dorchester, in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1806 to 1812, and the South Carolina Senate from 1818 until 1838; John S. Murray, who served in the South Carolina Senate from 1840 to 1844; and James Carroll, who represented Edgefield District in both the State House of Representatives and Senate before becoming chancellor of the Court of Equity in 1859. 

Reportedly the only home and stagecoach stop that sat along the Old Wire Road between Branchville and St. George, it was an obvious stopover for important guests to the area, including the Marquis De Lafayette and Bishop Asbury.

Early Area History/Stagecoach Route

When the earliest European settlers arrived in this area, they relied heavily upon the native trade paths that followed the rivers from the coast inland. So when the Stagecoach Road, also called the Orangeburgh Road on some maps, was established in Colonial South Carolina, it followed a well-trodden path that came to connect Charleston to the inland settlements. This route became important for early merchants like fur traders who found a successful market in South Carolina.

Colleton District Map- surveyed in 1825 by David Rumsey, showing the location of the Koger House along the Orangeburgh Road. Map courtesy of the South Carolina Digital Library.

Early Property History

In 1774, the First Provincial Congress met and immediately began organizing how it wanted to commence governing South Carolina. The process of launching a new and independent government formally began and in 1775, Thomas Ferguson was appointed to the Legislative and Security Councils. For his service and position, he was granted acreage along the Edisto River but died in 1786, and the property was acquired by David Campbell, a veteran of the Revolutionary War who may have received the land in this district as a result of his war pension.

A House Is Built

Recent research indicates that it was likely David who had this impressive home built along the Stagecoach Road, between 1786-1792. The Federal Era clapboard home was constructed of Black Cypress that was milled on the property and rests on brick pillars laid in the English Bond pattern. Of the two exterior chimneys, the date, 1792 was inscribed in a brick, believed to have been completed that year by David Campbell. The veranda has a hipped roof, is supported by six wooden posts, and shelters five bays, the center one being an eight-paneled door surmounted by a three-paned flush transom.

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The interior features two rooms on either side of a central hallway on both the first and second floors. Each of the four rooms is wainscotted and features a large interior fireplace with a transitional mantle. Some of the wood elements on the first floor, like wall panels, flooring, and interior doors, were given a faux grain finish to replicate oak paneling, a symbol of wealth.

A downstairs parlor room.

According to records from that time, David also built several outbuildings, a massive barn, and 3 houses for the people he enslaved on his plantation, although I haven’t been able to confirm how many people were enslaved here during this period. When the home was completed in 1792, David married Ann Loughton Motte.

A House Changes Hands

David and Ann’s time at their new home would be short-lived when David passed away in 1793, just one year after it was complete. That year, John Millhous, who was a successful millwright and owner of 3 area mills, purchased the house and 1,203 acres for 400 pounds sterling. Millhous and his wife, Abigail Sleigh Millhous, would have 3 children in this home, but a series of tragedies befell their family when in 1797, John passed away, and over the following 5 years, all 3 of their children followed him.

The Koger Family

It’s difficult to imagine what life was like for Abigail after losing her entire family, but we do know that her husband left this home in his will to her. So when she remarried in 1802, her new husband, Joseph Koger Jr., moved in and they set out to start a family together, eventually raising 4 children here. They also operated their home as a boarding house for travelers along the Stagecoach Road.

Major Joseph Koger, Jr. plantation owner, enslaver, State Representative, Sheriff, and State Senator. The original daguerreotype photo is available here.

Jospeh Koger, Jr.

Abigail’s second husband, Joseph Koger, Jr., was a plantation owner who practiced law, and from 1806-1812, served as a state representative. According to the 1810 Census, he enslaved 18 people. His wife Abigail died in 1812, and according to her wishes, the entire plantation (and another Millhous property) were given to her husband, Joseph Koger, upon her death. The same year, he married Mary Murray. From 1813-1818, Joseph served as sheriff of the Colleton District, and from 1818-1838, served as a state senator. In 1828, Joseph Koger was a trustee of the Walterboro Female Academy. According to the 1820 Census, he enslaved 20 people, and by 1830, that number had grown to 61 people held in bondage. It appears that the house may have been expanded or updated in 1829, as a masons mark on the chimney denotes this year.

By 1837, Joseph had grown disenfranchised with South Carolina politics and in 1838, he relocated to Mississippi, selling this house to his brother-in-law, John Soule Murray, a plantation owner and state senator from 1840-1843. According to family legend, Joseph Koger offered the people he enslaved the choice of going with him to Mississippi or receiving their freedom. One version of the story indicates that some of them stayed behind on land that belonged to Koger near St. George, SC. However, after he settled in Mississippi, Joseph enslaved 9 people in the 1840 Census, and 11 people in the 1850 Census, and by 1860, that numbered had grown to 80 enslaved people (41 men and 39 women). When Joseph Koger died in Mississippi in 1866, he was regarded as “The Father of Senate of the State of Mississippi.”

Declaration by the Senate of The State of Mississippi, declaring Joseph Koger as: “The Father of the Senate of the State of Mississippi.”

The Carroll Family

Back in South Carolina, the Koger-Murray home changed hands again a few times and in 1865, was purchased by James Parsons Carroll, who lived in Aiken, SC, and used it as a Winter home. Carroll was Chancellor of the State Court of Equity, had served as a State Representative (1838-39), State Senator (1858-1859), and as a delegate to the Secession Convention in 1860, his signature can be found on South Carolina’s Articles of Secession.

James Parsons Carroll’s signature on the 1860 South Carolina Articles of Secession.

Carroll was present when the first Palmetto and Confederate flags were raised on Fort Sumter by Colonel Moses, Colonel Dearing, Governor Pickens, and staff. Over time, the Koger-Murray house came to be known as “The Old Carroll Place.”

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Famous Guests From the Stagecoach Era

It would be difficult to find a 200-year-old building that didn’t come with some legendary ghost tales, and the Koger-Murray-Carroll house is no exception. From the time when Natives moved along this route through the Colonial and Antebellum periods, the road that ran in front of this home was an important route for travelers, settlers, tradesmen, and politicians who were making their way from Charleston to the South Carolina state capital in Columbia.

There were likely hundreds of travelers who stayed here over the years but it would be difficult to confirm who they might’ve been. Except for two infamous boarders who are confirmed to have stayed at this important stagecoach stop: Bishop Asbury stayed here in 1803 and 1808, and the Marquis de Lafayette in the 1820s during his tour as a hero of the American Revolutionary War.

In an upstairs bedroom, writing can be found on the window trimming from the 1850s- perhaps the mark of a boarder who stayed overnight in the second-floor guest room.

Ghosts From the Stagecoach Era

But the most persistent legend here tells the tale of a traveler who paid to board overnight as he traveled the stagecoach route. According to the story, he got into an altercation with another guest and was murdered upstairs. This story is one possible explanation of the oddly shaped stain on the floorboard that looks eerily like a blood stain. Caretakers over the years have reported that efforts to clean the wood are fruitless as the stains just reappear. To add more intrigue to the story, more than one visitor to the home over the years has reported ghostly sightings of the murdered boarding house guest standing atop the stairs.

View of the supposed bloodstain on the second floor of the Koger-Murray-Carroll house. According to local legend, the stain, which came from a murder victim who boarded here while traveling this stagecoach road, reappears even when the floors are cleaned. Photo courtesy Andrew Whitaker, Post and Courier Newspaper.

1970s- Today

The home was lived in until 1970 when the family who owned it built a smaller home next door. In 1974, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places but soon fell into disrepair. The “Old Carroll Place” became the state’s most elegant barn when it was relegated to farm storage. Over the following decades, it fell into disrepair from neglect and weather damage, and in 2002 it was added to the South Carolina List of Places in Peril.

In 2004, the Sweatman Family donated the home to the Dorchester Historical Society, and the lengthy and expensive process of restoring it began. Through their own labor, grants, and fundraisers like tea parties, car shows, and sponsored memorial plaques, the Dorchester Historical Society completed $250,000 worth of work on the home in 2009. The staircase is as sturdy today as it was when it was constructed and the original 9/9 sash windows are still there.

Today, the former 1,200-acre plantation is only one acre, and the oak-lined drive that once welcomed visitors for a 1/4 mile is gone. As are all of the outbuildings and formerly enslaved housing that once helped to support a massive plantation. So the home that still stands there is important, as it is the only element that remains to tell the story of the people who lived here.

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The grounds are open for exterior visits year-round, and twice a year, the building is open to the public to help raise funds to maintain it. You can find more information about tours and the Dorchester Historical Society Here.

References & Citations

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