Big Pond Branch, Jeffcoat House aim for historical recognition

jholleman@thestate.comMarch 28, 2013 

— Maps of interior South Carolina from the period just before the Revolutionary War typically spotlight the townships of Saxe Gotha, New Windsor, Orangeburgh and Amelia.

The settlement of Big Pond Branch didn’t make the cartographers’ cut. Descendants of the family that formed the Colonial-era community in western Lexington County believe it deserves equal recognition.

Jeffcoat family members gathered with history buffs Thursday on the edge of one of the area’s many spring-fed ponds to begin the recognition effort. The Colonial Dames of America unveiled a plaque celebrating the Samuel Jeffcoat house as one of the oldest still standing in Lexington County.

“These were unimportant yet significant people, and this was an unimportant yet significant place,” said Michael Jeffcoat, whose roots are in the area though he now lives in North Carolina.

There can be some debate on the 1772 date listed on the plaque for the origin of the house. Historical land records, however, leave no doubt a thriving community grew up along the three miles Big Pond Branch flowed from near current Swansea to the North Edisto River starting in the 1770s.

Michael Jeffcoat began to dig into the community’s historical background a few years ago. Various documents indicate Englishman Samuel Jeffcoat settled here as part of the Methodist Church’s efforts to establish churches on the edge of Native American Indian territory.

Others followed, creating a thriving timber operation, a settlement governing structure and an education system for their children. Michael Jeffcoat surmises the community got little attention from outsiders, and mapmakers, because its residents valued their independence from the other communities.

Unlike Saxe Gotha, which failed as a community only to be resurrected a few years later as the town of Granby, the Big Pond Branch community remained intact for generations. Its structure, like its origin, revolved more around religion than municipal government. The church meetings at some point in the 1780s outgrew Samuel Jeffcoat’s home, prompting the building of the Jeffcoats Meeting House near where Big Pond Branch merges with the Edisto.

Ebenezer United Methodist Church now stands at that location at the intersection of S.C. 3 and U.S. 178.

Michael Jeffcoat hopes the attention given the old Jeffcoat house will prompt more research and archaeology to flesh out the full history of Big Pond Branch.

The extended Jeffcoat family still occupies large swaths of the area, and they have passed down the history through the generations. Several other homes date back before 1850.

When the current owners obtained the old homestead about 30 years ago, wisteria wound under, around and over the oldest structure on the property. The plumbing had rusted. From the outside, it looked like the only smart option was to tear it down. But when Frances Jeffcoat went inside, she felt a deep connection to the heart pine floors, the thick wooden doors and the small rooms.

The family spent decades and plenty of money bringing the home back to life. In the process, they uncovered ancient interior beams that indicate a portion of the house likely was lived in by Samuel Jeffcoat.

Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist with the N.C. State Historic Preservation Office, was taken aback by what he calls “a unique framing system.” The post-and-plank construction — with 2-inch-wide boards slid down into posts — is unlike any he has seen in the region. That unusual construction style plus the absence of nails makes it difficult to pinpoint the date of construction.

“There is evidence that suggests it goes back to the 1770s, but there’s not proof positive,” Thomas said.

A sampler sewn by 10-year-old Martha Jeffcoat, who lived in the home in 1805, is displayed in the Lexington County Museum. The panels in the sampler illustrate a religious-themed poem entitled “Vice and Virtue.”

Using birth records for Martha Jeffcoat and her siblings and journal entries that indicated the children were born in the original house, Michael Jeffcoat is convinced the house dates back before 1770.

That would make it the oldest standing structure in the county, older than the 1772 Corley cabin now on the grounds of the Lexington County Museum. (In Richland County, the Lindler House in the Dutch Fork area and the log cabin now at Sesquicentennial State Park date to the 1750s.)

The home’s original two rooms, with a chimney in the center, have been expanded several times through the generations. The current setup features a modern bathroom, a kitchen connected by a covered porch and a separate bedroom/playroom.

The outbuildings range from aged pine farm sheds to a modern metal structure suitable for large family get-togethers.

All overlook a large pond in a setting as picturesque as it is historic. Even if it’s not the oldest house in the county, it feels special to Frances Jeffcoat. “It’s a wonderful example of a house where a family lived, loved and enjoyed life,” she said. “And now we have it preserved for our family.”

Pre-Revolutionary towns

Most 1770s maps included the following Midlands communities.

Amelia, in current Calhoun County

Camden, in current Kershaw County

New Windsor, in current Aiken County

Ninety Six, in current Greenwood County

Orangeburgh, in current Orangeburg County

Saxe Gotha, in current Lexington County

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