Oakley Park Plantation. Preservation Of The South Carolina
Owned and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy since 1948, Oakley Park Plantation currently serves as a Confederate museum in Edgefield, South Carolina. A little more than an hour away from the state capital, this nineteenth-century mansion and grounds remind visitors of a once-thriving agricultural livelihood from a bygone era. Virginia native Daniel Bird moved to South Carolina after the Revolutionary War, acquiring land throughout Edgefield County. In 1784, he purchased 250 acres along Logg Creek and another 270 acres by 1785. Bird owned around forty slaves in 1808, valued at about $10,000.
Bird and wife Susannah had four children, and Daniel Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a wealthy cotton planter. At the age of twenty-two, he married Sarah Wells Oliver in 1806, the same year his father died. When Sarah died a mere six years later, Daniel Jr. waited two years while serving as a captain in the War of 1812 before he married Lucinda Brooks in 1814. Together they had five children: Louisa Ann, Thomas Butler, Caroline, Mary S., and Cornelia Lucia. Fourteen years later, Lucinda died as well, leaving Captain Bird once again a widow. Less than a year later, in 1827, Captain Bird married again, this time he chose Lucinda’s sister, Behetheland Brooks who had previously been married to Jesse Simkins.
A year into their union, Captain Bird purchased 174 acres along Shaws Creek in 1828. Between 1828 and 1835, Behetheland bore four children to continue the Bird lineage. Sarah Oliver in 1831, Richard as well as Pickens Brooks in 1833, and William Capers in 1835. With at least nine children at home, Captain Bird decided to build a stately mansion to showcase his wealth, as well as to accommodate his growing brood. Tragically, Daniel’s twenty-two-year-old son Thomas was accidentally shot and killed in a duel between the captain and another man by the name of Colonel Louis T. Wigfall at the Edgefield County Courthouse.
Local folklore says Captain Bird was heartbroken over the loss and sold his home to Colonel Marshall Frazier in 1840 before gathering his wife and the rest of his children and settling in Monticello, Florida. He died in 1867. Agriculturally invested in Edgefield County, Colonel Frazier planted cotton but also sold goods such as bacon, flour, potatoes, and cheese. He served as a delegate for the annual Southern Commercial Convention (SCC), which conferred about how to economically further develop the South. When Frazier died in 1870, the mansion was once again on the market. One of the most notable owners of Oakley Park was Confederate Brigadier General Martin Witherspoon Gary.
Born in Cokesbury, South Carolina, in 1831, Gary attended Harvard University, graduating in 1854. After passing the bar, he moved to Edgefield and began practicing law. Elected to South Carolina’s House of Representatives in 1860, Gary supported the idea of secession. His fiery oratory skills, as well as appearance, led to his nickname the Bald Eagle of Edgefield. Gary joined the Confederate cavalry under the command of Lieutenant General Wade Hampton III as an infantry captain. Composed of soon-to-be generals Stephen Dill Lee, J. Johnston Pettigrew, and Matthew C. Butler, Hampton’s Legion fought in the First Battle of Manassas.
General Gary never surrendered when the war ended in 1865. He escorted President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis as far as South Carolina, where Gary retired from the Confederate Army at his mother’s home in Cokesbury. General Gary resumed his law practice and later became the leader of South Carolina’s division of the Red Shirts, a militia organization that supported the reinstitution of Southern Democrats into political power during the Reconstruction era. Gary served as a representative from Edgefield in the state senate for two terms and was instrumental in Wade Hampton III winning the gubernatorial election of 1876.
General Gary died on April 9, 1881, but Oakley Park remained in the his family, as his nephew John Gary Evans came to live with his uncle after the death of his father Nathan George Evans in 1868. At the time of General Gary’s death, Evans was seventeen years old. He would go on to live a life of public service, as South Carolina governor from 1894 until 1897, serving in the Spanish-American War, as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in various years, and in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1922. Although Evans lived in Spartanburg for most of his adult life, in 1941 he bestowed Oakley Park to the town of Edgefield and died a year later in 1942.
His final resting place is Willowbrook Cemetery, also known as the Edgefield Village Cemetery, alongside his wife Emily Mansfield Plume Evans of Waterbury, Connecticut. Ownership of Oakley Park has since been conveyed to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and many pieces of memorabilia have been donated to the museum, including Confederate currency, flags, and medals. Additionally, there are several pieces of furniture that are original to the house, including a nineteenth-century couch located in the front parlor and General Martin W.
Gary’s desk. Other heirlooms to look for are the Victorian hair art from members of the Gary family, a quilt crafted by Governor Evans’s mother Victoria, and a hat tub. As with most historic homes, restoration projects take place in waves. Repairs and improvements continue to be made. Well into the twenty-first century, Oakley Park remains a significant memorial to South Carolina’s Confederate history.
Plantations and Historic Homes of South Carolina