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At home with history

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Sitting tall behind the wheel of his car, eyes straight ahead, hands at 10 and 2, and a bucket hat atop his head, Anthony Devereux navigates the winding maze of dirt roads in Hagley with absolute confidence.

He knows those roads and the history of the land around them perhaps better than anyone else in the area, something he admits without a hint of bragging. To him, it’s just a fact — the result of much time spent driving those roads during years of research and study.

“St. Mary’s Chapel was up there behind that house,” Devereux said, turning off Old Waccamaw Drive and pointing at a home on the right. Built for the slaves that worked the plantation, it would have been a “very elegant chapel,” with stained glass lancet windows, carved oak stalls and an English granite font, Devereux said.

“My theory is that the slave street ran in front of the chapel and slave cabins were on the other side, enclosed by a wall to keep them in and the cattle and pigs and everything out,” he added. “It held 300-some odd slaves. Now it’s somebody’s back yard.”

Devereux, 81, has lived on Hagley’s waterfront for more than 30 years and he has been learning all he can about local history for even longer. He authored two regional history books, “The Rice Princes” and “The Life and Times of Robert F.W. Allston” the former master of Georgetown’s Chicora Wood Plantation.

One of his most recent works is an essay on important sites and buildings that existed at Hagley in antebellum times, when the residential community was a thriving rice plantation. Having gathered the information through research and interviews, he wanted to ensure it was around for future generations, particularly since some of those he interviewed have since passed away.

Mrs. H.D. Bull of Georgetown and Katherine Overton, who had a house on the South Causeway and whose husband worked for the Atlantic Coast Lumber Co., were among those he interviewed in the early days of his research. Bull was in her 70s then.

“I wanted to preserve it before I got too old,” he said. “That was quite a golden age in American history and the owners of Hagley Plantation were very prominent.”

Among the ranks of the owners are the Pawley family, Joseph and Theodosia Burr Alston and Plowden C.J. Weston, who married Emily Frances Esdaile. The Westons owned several plantations, but chose to live at Hagley.

“It was something of a showcase for plantation buildings,” Devereux said.

The chapel would have been one of the most notable, he said, but there was also a beautiful plantation house over looking the Waccamaw River, slave quarters that would have been considered “well above average with glass windows that were very hard to obtain at the time, and a house where Joseph and Theodosia Burr Alston lived while staying on the plantation from 1801 to 1804.”

In Devereux’s early wanderings of Hagley, there were still remnants of some of these buildings, giving evidence of where they once stood, but those have become increasingly rare in more recent years.

“The plantation house itself was pretty large for its time and ran along the river. When I first came here in 1970, there were foundation mounds that outlined the house, but I think it’s been built over. It would have been around where those trees are,” Devereux said pointing into the distance from a spot overlooking the river between Rice Hope Lane and Morvan Lane.

There used to be wells in the vicinity, too — a large one and a smaller one for the plantation house, he said, gesturing at another spot. People took bricks from the well in the 1930s to use in house building, according to Devereux.

Facing the river at Hagley Landing, he points to an area where Weston once had a threshing mill on the river’s edge.

“Apparently, if you go across the river you can find little pilings where they had tried to keep the alligators from climbing on the banks,” he said.

One thing he hasn’t found evidence of is railroad tracks the Atlantic Coast Lumber Co. laid to move lumber to the landing, where it was shipped to a mill in Pawleys Island. The company purchased the plantation after the rice fields went fallow and a fire claimed most of plantation buildings.

There are supposed to be traces of the tracks in Hagley and at Pawleys Plantation.

“I haven’t found them, but others say they have,” Devereux said.

A native of Utica, N.Y., Devereux claims a longtime fascination with history. He studied history at Princeton University and graduated with honors in 1951 before moving on to Harvard Law School.

After a stint in the Army, he spent five years working as a lawyer on Wall Street, then moved to South Carolina after he accepted an offer to work for Oneita Knitting Mills Co. in Andrews. His brother was president of the company for 23 years before it was sold.

He lived in Georgetown, where he said he became fascinated with the lives of leading men and women in antebellum South Carolina.

Devereux moved to Pawleys Island after leaving Oneita and practiced law for 14 years before retirement.

Devereux had been a resident of the county for nearly a decade when he wrote his first regional history book, “The Rice Princes,” in 1970.

“That sparked my interest in research,” Devereux said. “I did some on Eliza Lucas Pinckney [known for her work with indigo in South Carolina] and went from there to the Allston book.”

He wrote that two years later and, like his first book, it did well. Both were self-published and are now out of print.

Research for those initial books was fairly easy, but it got more difficult when Devereux’s interest was caught by Spanish explorers, Juan Ponce de León and Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón. That required several trips to Spain and a talent for the native language. Still, he had to have local experts transcribe some documents for him.

In 1993, he self-published his book on de León and his search for the Fountain of Youth in 1993, but a manuscript on de Ayllón is still waiting.

“USC [Press] likes it, but they don’t think there’s a big enough market to send it out alone,” Devereux said.

That could change if a team with the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology’s maritime research division ever recovers- the remains of a 16th-century Spanish vessel they believe was lost during its approach to Winyah Bay in 1526. They have been looking since 2005.

The ship was part of the first attempted European settlement in North America, an enterprise led by de Ayllón.

A discovery would increase interest in de Ayllón and books on his life, so Devereux is keeping an eye on the search efforts, though not only for his publishing interests.

“It would be a great find,” he said.

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