The Old Warren-Key House | Colleton County, South Carolina | c. 1836
The years have not been kind to this old farmhouse in South Carolina but the story here won’t be erased by time as I intend to share it with you here today.
Harriet Ann Williams Warren
This story begins with Harriet Ann Williams, who was born in 1816- the daughter of one of the earliest families of settlers to this area. In 1832, she married Francis ‘Frank’ Fontaine Risher (her cousin) and the couple had two children, Joseph (b. 1832) and Adaline (b. 1833). But her life was due for a drastic change when her husband Frank passed away on July 16, 1833. Harriet was already pregnant and her second child, Adaline, was born on Christmas Eve, December 1833, 5 months after her father died.
In the years that followed, Harriet looked to remarry, and in 1836 or 1839, she married Col. George Warren.
Col. George Warren
Col. George Warren was born November 15, 1803, but I wasn’t able to find much about his early history or how he earned the title ‘Colonel.’ He may have participated in the War of 1812, although he would’ve been too young to earn the title of Colonel. However, a more likely theory is that he was given this as a title of respect amongst locals as it was common during this time to show respect to important local politicians- which Geoge Warren was. Records show that he served as the High Sheriff of Colleton County and family members recall that he also owned and operated a sawmill nearby at Smoaks.
The Warren Farmhouse is Built
It is thought that Col. George Warren had this house built about 1836, which would make sense because he married Harriet in 1836- having a new bride to impress and a family to plan for. We know the house was completed by 1839 as it is featured in a deed of the property from that year, with the neighboring property is listed as Richard Hier’s. Family members said that Warren processed the lumber for this house at his sawmill in Smoaks and according to their story, a “branch” was used to move the lumber by water to this site. Later he built another sawmill near the house and a small village developed there. That mill was later moved to Williams and is still owned by descendants of George Warren.
Raising the Warrens Here
Harriet and George Warren raised 8 children here: Amelia Ann Warren Key (who is the next owner of this house), Jane Luvenia Warren Sease, George Laurence Warren, Georgietta H. Warren, Dr. James Madison Warren, and Jeff Warren. Additionally, in the 1850 Census, Joseph and Adaline Risher- children from Harriet’s first marriage were listed as members of this household being raised with their half-siblings.
The Farm Before the War
Besides his business in sawmills, Col. Warren was involved in local government throughout his life, even serving as the High Sheriff of the Colleton District. But he was also a farmer who used enslaved labor to manage his acreage of crops. In the 1850 Census, Col. George Warren reported that he enslaved 18 people, ages 1-40, on his farm an in the 1860 Census, he reported that the number of enslaved people on his farm was 40, ages 1-52.
The first name for this area was St. Bartholomew’s Parish but as a community grew up around this farm and others, the area became known as Buck Head. Yet by the end of the nineteenth century, it became known as Williams in 1895, when Harriet’s younger brother, Tom Williams, became the town’s first postmaster and renamed the community. Colonel Warren’s brother-in-law, Tom, had donated land for a church and wanted to use the name Williamsburg or Williamston for the post office but they were already in use so the community became known simply as Williams, SC.
The Old Key Place
In 1891, Col. George Warren died and his daughter, Amelia Warren Key, who was raised here, took ownership and the home became known as ‘The Old Key Place’. She married Sidney Milton Key and they lived many years in Beaufort- spending periods at this farmhouse. When Sidney Milton Key died in 1919 and Amelia in 1920, they were both buried in the cemetery across the road.
They had a son, Warren Eve Key, who brought his wife “Nellie” (Ellen Nora Adams Key) back to this house in Williams where they farmed and raised eight children.
The Warren-Key House in Recent Years
Around 1945, Warren and Nellie Keys retired and moved into the town of Walterboro nearby. The house was leased to tenants, Herbert & Eva Pringle, until the 1970s, and reportedly, the Keys let them stay rent-free. A Pringle descendant said:
“The owner told my great-grandfather that the place had ghosts, and I have heard a lot of stories of strange things happening – apparitions, dragging, talking, walking, slamming, piano playing, etc. My grand aunts and uncles, my mother and her cousins had stories for days of being terrified by the things that occupied that house.”
In the 1990s, the house was regrettably sold out of the family. A Williams Family member said:
“Several in my generation had great hopes of restoring the house for family gatherings. Unfortunately, that did not happen! But we did donate a square grand piano that was used in this house to the Colleton Museum.”
The Warren-Key Family Cemetery
Across from the old homeplace, is the Warren-Key Family cemetery, the resting place for members of the Warren and related families. When Harriet passed away in 1851, she was buried here and eventually, her husband, children, and grandchildren would join her in this resting place. There are 16 known burials here, although there may be unmarked graves here inside and outside the fence.
One descendant said:
“I still love that house and our old family cemetery which is across the road. When turning onto George Warren Road to drive to Williams, I have such a wonderful feeling! I know who I am and where I came from. Having “roots” is fantastic! Most importantly, I have seven first cousins [as well as] second, third, fourth, and fifth cousins and their families who proudly share this heritage with me!”