A Brief History of Middleburg Plantation
East Branch of the Cooper River
Parish of St. Thomas and St. Denis, Huger, SC

In 1693, a 100 acre tract of land and swamp known to the local native American tribes as
Pimlica Maptica was marked for warrant to a young orphaned French Huguenot emigre
from the Bay of Biscay named Benjamin Simons. He about clearing the land for the three
primary plantation enterprises of 17th C. Carolina: cutting timber for export, making pine
tar and turpentine for naval stores, and raising beef cattle for export to the sugar
planters of the Caribbean.

A letter still in the possession of his descendants announces the date of completion of the
main house in time for the birth of his fourth child, Francis, on December 7, 1697, shortly
after he had finally received his written warrant for the land having faithfully improved
the lands and paid his quitrents.

Although his first land grant was not issued until 1704, his ownership was sufficiently
secure by 1702 for his donation of 2 acres for the construction of Pompion (pronounced
"Punkin") Hill Chapel, the first Church of England edifice to be built in the colony
outside of St. Phillips in Charles Towne. The creation of this congregation, along with
that of St.James in Goose Creek started a political revolution in the Proprietary Colony
which resulted in the victory of the "Church Party" over the "Dissenters", and this power
shift resulted in the creation of the Parish system and the eventual overthrow of the
ownership of the Lords Proprieters and the conversion of the colony to Royal rule.

The original two story, gable-roofed wooden house consisted of two rooms per floor,
heated by exterior brick chimneys on the gable ends, with one story porches running the
length of the house. Probably by the time of Benjamin's death in 1717, and no doubt due
to the presence of his 14 children, two more rooms were added to the southwestern end,
and the roof changed to a hipped roof.

His youngest son inherited the plantation at age 4, and while his oldest brothers Peter and
Samuel were settled on their own lands by then, they managed the property while young
Benjamin and his mother moved to Charles Town where he was to be apprenticed to a
master builder. At that point, Middleburg ceased to be a primary year-round residence,
and has remained so ever since.

Benjamin Simons II owned Middleburg until his death in 1772, and during that time,
increased his family to 11 children, and increased Middleburg's size from 350 acres to
over 3,000, with the bulk of the land devoted to the production of rice, grown inland in
rice fields formed from dammed streams. When England was at war with France, indigo
was produced as well, and when French indigo was available, planters were subsidized
to produce it in order to retain the skills of the workers. Upon his death, Middleburg
passed to his eldest son, Benjamin Simons, III.

Benjamin III's tenure witnessed the devastation of the economy and the neighborhood
due to the lull caused by the Revolution between 1775 and 1783, and the loss of their
primary English market. Although the war passed the area by during the early years, from
1780 - 1782 the land around Middleburg was the center of dozens of pitched battles, and
the house itself was set to be torched by Col. Banastre Tarleton following the Battle of
Quinby Bridge. Why the British left without firing the house is not known, but their
presence is still witnessed by the mark of Col. Tarleton's saber in a column by the front
door. Benjamin III spent much of his effort rebuilding and redeveloping Middleburg's
rice fields from the ancient and flood-prone inland system to the newly-developed tidally-
flooded and drained system. Plats dating from 1772 to 1789 show that the construction of
the 100 acres of river front fields took years, and that they were not quite finished by the
time of his death in December of 1789. His other improvements include the kitchen
building (c. 1786) and probably the Commissary (3rd quarter 18th c.). While Benjamin
Simons III had 10 children, only three young daughters survived him, and upon his death
in 1789, Middleburg passed to his youngest, 7 year old Sarah Lydia Simons.

Her marriage to a young Englishman, Jonathan Lucas, Jr. in 1799 at the family
summerhouse on SeeWee Bay marked the beginning of a complete restructuring
of Middleburg, and changed the focus from growing rice to milling rice. Although
Jonathan and his father were known for building private rice mills on individual
plantations, he completed the first large public toll mill at Middleburg in 1799. He
also redesigned Middleburg, moving the field hand quarters from the area now
occupied by the stable ruins, moved the barns away from the house, and
abandoned the 17th c gardens on the land side of the house, moving them to the
river side. He also built new servant's quarters next to the house, a Flemish style
stable inspired by a visit to the Town of Middelburg in Zeeland, and the toll office
and rice mill. With overwhelming success of the mill, in 1806, he proceeded to
buy and build large rice mills in Charleston, then around the world, enabling him
to ship rough unmilled rice to foreign markets. He invented and patented a new
method for milling grain with rollers in 1808, and had to become an American
citizen at that time. After one of his slaves was charged and hanged as one of the
primary leaders of the Denmark Vesey slave revolt in 1822, he moved his wife
and ten youngest children to his estate in London, and for ten years ran his
worldwide empire from there, including plantations growing rice in the
Lowcountry (Middleburg, Old Town, Rice Hope-Santee), cotton in Egypt, indigo
in Hindustan, dozens of rice mills in Charleston, England, Germany, Belgium,
and Egypt, and real estate housing developments in London.

Upon his death in 1832, his son Jonathan Lucas, III ran his enterprises, eventually
purchasing Middleburg at auction from his brothers and sisters in 1840. His most
noticeable improvement to Middleburg was the avenue of oaks (c. 1832). At his death,
Middleburg passed to his children, and was run first by his son Thomas Bennett Lucas,
and then upon his untimely death in 1858, his brother, Simons Lucas stepped in as
executor. Middleburg was leased out to Dr. Benjamin Huger, and mortgaged to the estate
of a child, John Coming Ball.

War came late to Middleburg, when on Feb. 14, 1865, a band of Union Army looters
called Potter's Raiders burned the neighborhood, but were stopped at Middleburg by the
arrival of the Union Army. All of the slaves were assembled, a roster made, they were
told that they were "free as birds", and with that, they went back to work. Over time, as
more and more of the skilled laborers moved away, the quality of the crop diminished,
but in 1872, John Coming Ball came into his inheritance, foreclosed on the unpaid
mortgages his fathers estate had lent, and became one of the few successful post-war rice
planters. Although not a descendant of Benjamin Simons, he soon married one, and
Middlebug continued in the possession of the Simons descendants. Middleburg continued
to grow, mill, and export Carolina Gold rice until 1926, but with his death in 1927, the
rice era drew to a close in Charleston.

His daughter, Marie Guerin Ball (Dingle) and her husband, the noted ornithologist and
painter Edward VonS. Dingle lived at Middleburg periodically, growing timber, raising
sheep, and leasing the rice fields to hunt clubs until her death in 1963. Although title
passed to her four nephews, John, Coming, Charles, and James Gibbs, Mr. Dingle
continued to live at Middleburg until his death in 1975. During their tenure, the Great
Depression brought ruin to the economy, perpetual flood waters to the East Branch due to
the outflow of the Santee-Cooper system, and the dismantling of the rice mill, overseer's
house, and several other structures due to need for maintenance and lack of funds.

The Gibbs family made the difficult decision to sell Middleburg, and in 1981, transferred
title to Jane and Max Hill. Since that time, a complete structural restoration of the house
has been accomplished, the kitchen has been restored, destroyed, and is being restored
again, and the lands are slowly being returned to their pre-1926 appearance. Short term
stabilization of the surviving buildings is underway, and long-term plans for restoration
of the Stable, Servant's Quarters, Toll Office, threshing yard, and reserve ponds are

Middleburg has entered its fourth century still recognizable to its builder, and thanks to a
conservation easement granted to the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, it will remain so for
generations to come.

MLH, III 2003