Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The History of the Myrtles Plantation

 This History was compiled by N.A.P.S. Paranormal Investigator Cheryl Freeman

The Bradford’s:
The Myrtles Plantation (Laurel Grove) was built in 1796 by General David Bradford.   

David Bradford was born in America to Irish immigrants and was one of five children. In 1777, he purchased a tract of land and a small stone house near Washington County, Pennsylvania. He became a successful attorney, businessman and Deputy Attorney General. His first attempt to marry ended only days before his wedding.  In the early 1780’s, he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Porter and in 1785 they married. 

As his family and business grew, Bradford needed a larger home and built an enormous mansion in the town of Washington, PA. The house became well known for its size and craftsmanship.  Bradford used the parlor of the house as an office where he met with his clients.

In October 1794, Bradford was forced to flee his home leaving his family behind because of his involvement in the infamous Whiskey Rebellion.  Legend has it that President George Washington placed a price on his head for his role in the Rebellion. 

Bradford left Washington County, took his family to Pittsburgh for safety and he traveled down the Ohio River to Mississippi.  He finally settled in Bayou Sara, which is now St. Francisville, LA.  (Bradford had previously traveled to the area years earlier to try to obtain a land grant from Spain).  He purchased 600 acres of land and built a large home and named it Laurel Grove.  He lived in the home alone until 1799 when President John Adams granted Bradford a pardon for his role in the Rebellion.

Bradford then returned to Pennsylvania to get his wife, Elizabeth, and their 5 children and they returned to Laurel Grove.  In 1801, he returned to Pennsylvania to try to sell his home there.  For 2 years he tried to sell but had no buyers.  He then agreed to trade his home for 230 barrels of flour that were to be delivered to Laurel Grove.  Because New Orleans was suffering from a flour shortage, Bradford thought he could sell the flour and make back lost revenue from trading his home.  Unfortunately, the day Bradford died in 1808 he still had not received the barrels of flour that were promised to him in the trade.

While living in Laurel Grove, Bradford occasionally took in students who wanted to study the law. One of his law students was Clark Woodruff.

The Woodruff’s:
Clark Woodruff was born in Litchfield County, Connecticut in August 1791. Having no desire to follow his father's footsteps as a farmer, he left Connecticut at the age of 19 and sought his fortune on the Mississippi River, ending up in Bayou Sara. 

Still seeking to make his fortune, Woodruff placed an advertisement in the new St. Francisville newspaper in the summer of 1811. He informed the public that "an academy would be opening on the first Monday in September for the reception of students." He planned to offer English, grammar, astronomy, geography, elocution, composition, penmanship and Greek and Latin languages. The academy was short-lived and in 1814 he joined Colonel Hide's cavalry regiment from the Feliciana parish to fight alongside Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. When the War of 1812 had ended, Woodruff returned to Bayou Sara with the intention of studying law.

He began his studies with Judge David Bradford and soon earned his degree. He also fell in love with and married Bradford’s daughter, Sarah Matilda, on 11/17/1817.  They had 3 children: Mary Octavia, James and Cornelia Gale

After Bradford died in 1808, the plantation was turned over to his wife, Elizabeth, who in turn allowed her daughter Sarah and her husband Clark to manage it.  Clark expanded the holdings of the plantation and planted 650 acres of indigo and cotton.

Sarah died in July, 1823 from yellow fever.  The disease swept over the entire region.  Although heartbroken, Woodruff continued to manage the plantation and care for his children with the help of Elizabeth.   On July 15,1824 his only son, James, died of yellow fever.  Two short months later, in September 1824, Cornelia Gale also died of yellow fever.

Woodruff decided to buy the plantation outright from Elizabeth.  Woodruff and Octavia continued to live at Laurel Grove caring for Elizabeth until her death in 1830.  On January 1, 1834 he sold Laurel Grove and its slaves to Ruffin Grey Stirling and his wife Mary Catherine Cobb. 

Woodruff’s attention changed from farming to law.  He and Octavia moved out of Laurel Grove and left a caretaker to manage the plantation.  They moved to Covington, LA where he was appointed a Judge’s position over District D.  He served this position until April 1835. 

He also was elected as President of Public Works for the city. During this time, Octavia was sent to a finishing school in New Haven, Connecticut but she returned home to live with her father in 1836. Two years later, she married Colonel Lorenzo Augustus Besancon and moved to his plantation, Oaklawn, five miles north of New Orleans.

In 1840, Louisiana governor, Isaac Johnson, appointed Woodruff to the newly created office of Auditor of Public Works.  He served one term.  At 60 years of age, he retired and moved to Oaklawn to live with Octavia and her husband. He devoted the remainder of his life to the study of chemistry and physics and died on November 25, 1851. He was buried in a cemetery in New Orleans.

The Stirling’s:
The Stirling's were a wealthy family having 9 children.  They owned several plantations on both sides of the Mississippi River. On January 1, Ruffin Grey Stirling and his wife, Mary Catherine Cobb, took over the house, land, buildings and all of the slaves that had been bought from Elizabeth Bradford.  
The Stirling's were of high status in the community and they needed a house that would fit their social status. So, after purchasing Laurel Grove, they restored and added onto the home doubling its size.   The new renovation included a broad central hallway, an entire addition to the southern section of the home, formal dining room, a game room and repositioned the original walls of the home to create 4 large rooms.  These rooms were used as ladies and gentlemen’s parlors. The remodeling also included raising the ceilings in the home by one foot. On the outside of the house, Stirling added a 107-foot long front gallery that was supported by cast-iron support posts and railings. The original roof of the house was extended to include the new addition.  After all the renovations were complete, furnishings from Europe were imported.  The name was then changed from Laurel Grove to The Myrtles Plantation. 

Four years later, on July 17, 1854, Mr. Stirling died of consumption.  The Myrtles Plantation and all his other plantations were left to his wife Mary Cobb.  Most of the plantations were sugar plantations.
The family faced many tragedies.  Of the nine children, only four of them lived to be old enough to marry.  The Starlings’ oldest son, Lewis, died the same year as Mr. Stirling.  The Civil War caused many hardships for the family as well.  The family’s belongings were looted and destroyed by Federal soldiers.  The wealth they had accumulated was worthless in Confederate currency.  Mary had invested heavily in sugar plantations only to have them ravaged by the war. 

On December 5, 1865, Mary Cobb hired William Drew Winter to help manage the plantation as her lawyer and agent.

The Winter’s:
William Winter had been born to Captain Samuel Winter and Sarah Bowman on October 28, 1820 in Bath, Maine. Little is known about his life or how he managed to meet Sarah Stirling, daughter of Mary Cobb. They were married on June 3, 1852 at the Myrtles and together, they had six children:  Mary, Sarah, Kate, Ruffin, William and Francis. Kate died from typhoid at the age of three. The Winter's first lived at Gantmore Plantation, near Clinton, Louisiana and then bought a plantation on the west side of the Mississippi known as Arbroath.
When Mary Cobb hired Winter to help manage the Myrtles, along with the responsibility of the Myrtles were also Ingleside, Crescent Park and Botany Bay.  Later, Mary gave the Myrtles to Sarah and William. 

But times got tough and Winter was unable to hold onto the Myrtles.  By December 1867, he was completely bankrupt and the Myrtles was sold by the U.S. Marshal to the New York Warehouse & Security Company on April 15, 1868. Two years later, on April 23, the property was sold back to Sarah as the heir of her father, Ruffin G. Stirling. It is unknown just what occurred to cause this reversal of fortune but it seemed as though things were improving for the family once again.

But a short time later, tragedy struck.  According to the January 1871 issue of the Point Coupee Democrat newspaper, Winter was teaching a Sunday School lesson in the gentlemen's parlor when he heard someone approach the house on horseback. The stranger (a suspected E. S. Webber) called out to him relaying he had business to discuss.  When Winter went onto the side gallery of the house he was shot. He collapsed on the porch and within minutes died. Those inside hurried outside to find Winter. Winter died on January 26, 1871 and was buried the following day at Grace Church. The newspaper reported that Webber was to stand trial for Winter's murder but no outcome of the case was ever recorded. 

Sarah was so devastated that she never married again.  She continued living in the home with her mother and siblings until her death in April 1878 at the age of 44. 

Mary kept the Myrtles Plantation until her death in August 1880.  She is buried next to her husband in a family plot at Grace Church in St. Francisville.
The Plantation was then passed to Mary’s son, Stephen.  Stephen owned the home until March 1886 when he sold it to Oran D. Brooks because the plantation was very much in debt. 

Oran Brooks:
Oran owned the home until 1889.  The home changed hands a few more times and in 1891 Harrison Milton Williams, his wife, Fannie Haralson, and his son bought the home. 

Harrison Milton Williams:
Williams planted cotton and gained a reputation as a hard-working and industrious man. He and his family, which grew to include his wife and seven children, kept the Myrtles going during the hard times of the post-war South. But tragedy was soon to strike the Myrtles again.

During a storm, the Williams' oldest son, Harry, was trying to gather stray cattle and fell into the Mississippi River and drowned. Shattered with grief, Harrison and Fannie turned over management of the property to their son Surgent Minor Williams.  Surgent married a local girl,  Jessie Folkes, and provided a home at the Myrtles for his sister and Aunt Katie.  Katie was a true Southern character – eccentric, gruff yet kind - she kept life interesting at the house for years.

Marjorie Munson:
By the 1950's, the property surrounding the house had been divided among the Williams heirs and the house itself was sold to Marjorie Munson, an Oklahoma widow, wealthy by chicken farming. It was then that strange occurrences started being noticed. 

The property was transferred a few more times and in the 1970’s, Arlin Dease and Mr. & Mrs. Robert Ward purchased the property.  They did not own the home for very long.

The Myers:
James and Frances Myers were the next owners.  Believing the home was haunted, it began to be featured in books and magazines about haunted houses. Frances, publishing as Francis Kermeen, wrote a book about the Myrtles and it’s supposed haunting.

The Moss’:
The home currently is owned by John & Teeta Moss and is now a bed & breakfast. Historical and mystery tours are also offered. The plantation house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

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