Descendants of South Carolina’s first poet laureate, Dr. Archibald Hamilton Rutledge, this week granted a conservation easement on 1,215 acres of historic family land that supports longleaf pine habitats, maritime forest, pond cypress, and tidal freshwater marsh in eastern Charleston County. The property, featuring 3,900 feet fronting the South Santee River and 5,000 feet on Hampton Creek, adjoins Francis Marion National Forest and Hampton Plantation State Historic Site.
In announcing the easement, The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina commended Dr. Rutledge’s four grandchildren, the owners of the Hampton Plantation Tract ─ Donald T. Rutledge of Charleston, Henry Middleton Rutledge of Salisbury, MD, Eleanor R. Lesher of Chapel Hill, NC, and Elise Bradford of Windemere, FL ─ for their vision in preserving the ecologically and historically important parcel for future generations.
“The Nature Conservancy is honored to have worked with the Rutledge family to protect a property whose scale and conservation values are of extraordinary significance, regionally and nationally,” said Sarah Hartman, director of land protection with The Conservancy. “The property’s longleaf pine forest and diverse freshwater wetlands complement and buffer similar habitats on the Francis Marion National Forest.”
Given Dr. Rutledge’s interest in native wildlife, particularly birds, it is important to recognize the property’s significance to key migratory birds, including waterfowl, neotropical migrants such as the prothonotary warbler and swallowtail kite, as well as Archibald Rutledge’s favorite resident game bird, the wild turkey.
Dating back to the 1730s, adjacent Hampton Plantation, a 274-acre State Historic Site, is the ancestral home of Archibald Rutledge. After concluding a distinguished teaching career in Pennsylvania, Rutledge returned to the plantation in the mid-1930s to spend his retirement years writing and restoring the plantation. Before the 1971 sale of the State Historic Site to the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, the Hampton Plantation Tract had been continuously owned by prominent families shaping South Carolina ’s history, including Col. Daniel Huger Horry Jr., who served under Gen. Francis Marion, and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who successfully introduced indigo. Through a 1797 marriage between the Horry and Rutledge families, ownership eventually passed to Archibald Hamilton Rutledge.
“Our family wanted to maintain the land in its natural state and ensure that it did not fall prey to future land developers,” said Middleton Rutledge, a Charleston resident. “It isn’t often that one has an opportunity such as this, and our family was unanimous in its desire to contribute to land conservation. We felt it was imperative to protect our property as a private-sector contribution to the remarkable landscape surrounding the State Historic Site and Francis Marion National Forest. It is with great pleasure and devotion to the Lowcountry that we do so.”
The easement terms include 100-foot buffers along major wetlands and public roads including more than a mile of frontage along the original King’s Highway, protective maintenance of the native forest and wetlands, and the continuation of traditional uses, including: forest management, hunting, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. The easement prohibits all commercial development and subdivision except as defined by public roads and waterways. The Nature Conservancy secured the easement through funding provided by the Charleston County Greenbelt Program.
"Having a neighbor that is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of natural and cultural resources allows us to manage and maintain Hampton Plantation State Historic Site more effectively as a critical public resource,” said Morgan Baird, manager of the Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. “The establishment of a conservation easement on the Rutledge family property guarantees that the land will not be developed and the historic viewshed will not be disturbed in perpetuity. Protection of this property will ensure that the area's rich wildlife will be able to move unencumbered through the Santee Delta, thereby benefiting the species and people that inhabit and recreate in this unique area so cherished by Dr. Rutledge and his family."
Rutledge’s poems and essays expressed his love for the region’s forests, coastal wetlands, wildlife, and rich history. Rutledge authored 90 books of poetry and prose during his lifetime and received 30 gold medals for his nature-based writings on the Lowcountry.
Recognizing the brevity of life, Rutledge once said in reference to his beloved Hampton: “I, too, am but a visitor here. I am trying to be a considerate guest.” He would be pleased to know that his descendants are trying to be likewise.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.