Many of Beaufort’s sea island planters in the 17 and 1800’s also owned town houses where they would live during the summer social season or visit while attending to business. In the first half of the 17thcentury, the family of Berners Barnwell “B.B.” Sams was very fond of their home on Datha Island, but much time was also spent in their New Street residence in downtown Beaufort.
B.B. Sams Houses: Numbers 1 &2
After celebrating Christmas each year, some of the family dispersed from Datha Island to live on other islands, but the boys went to
Beaufort. “It was indeed the saddest time for us,” recalled James Julius Sams, a son of B.B. Sams, in his memoirs, “because we were about to stop playing before we were tired of play and to go to work before we were ready to work.” The Sams house in Beaufort still stands today at 310 New Street. It was built in the symmetrical Federal style which was popular at the time (c. 1818) but was later altered by the addition of the front porch and the rear wing. The clapboard townhouse backed up to the town square, an area frequented by promenading couples and fancy carriages. Today, all that is left of the public space is a strip of land called Morrall Park, which is behind the Sams house at the corner of Craven and Carteret Streets. According to James Julius Sams, his father’s office was on the South side of the square, but this did not stop James and his brother Donald from hitching rides on the passing carriages. At the end of one such joyride, the boys deposited themselves right at the doorstep of their father’s office: “but judge of our dismay when we saw Father standing in the door looking at us. We knew what that look meant. The next carriage that drove by was not troubled with any outriders.”
The first wife of B.B. Sams, Elizabeth Hann Fripp died in the Sams townhouse on March 16, 1831, on the birthday of her 11th child,
Elizabeth Exima. James describes the last time he saw his mother: “My brothers and myself were called into the chamber and one after the other, kneeling in front of our father, who was sitting by the bed, we put our hands in one of his and he with the other uncovered her face. It was the last I saw of her, except in a dream some months after.” The family moved back to Datha that winter, and B.B. Sams was soon married to Martha Fripp Edwards (1799-1857), Elizabeth’s first cousin. Four more children followed: Adelaide Arianna (1832), Barnwell Bonum (1835), Charles Clement (1837) and Sarah Stanyarne (1840).
B.B. Sams built his second townhouse in about 1852 when his youngest child was 12 years old. You can view the house at 201 Laurens Street in the Old Point Neighborhood. Classic Revival style is evident in the four massive Doric columns that support the
double verandah. The onlooker will feel that they have borrowed a glimpse of the past when they notice a small backwards staircase a few paces from the front gate – it was a mounting block for stepping up into a carriage. The house faces a park called “The Green” which is bounded by Laurens, King, Pinckney and Short Streets. Elite garden parties were held here for summer entertainment under the moss-draped live oak trees. This property is unchanged since the cotton planters built their summer houses around it in the 1850’s. A tabby and brick wall surrounds the Sams property and connects to an L-shaped outbuilding in the back. Called a dependency, it functioned as the slaves’ quarters for the house servants, blacksmith shop, kitchen and laundry. The windows were very tiny because it was believed that evil spirits would not be able to fit through them. Thankfully the building was made of tabby, a very good insulator, so it was tolerable inside even during the summer. On the back fence, plaster is crumbling away to reveal the oyster shells of the tabby concrete.
Six houses in Beaufort’s historic district are credited to the Sams Family. Each is privately owned, but many are included in the walking tours and carriage tours that begin on Bay Street in downtown Beaufort, SC. Lewis Reeve Sams built a magnificent house at 601 Bay Street in the same year that his younger brother built the B.B. Sams House #2. Known as the Lewis Reeve Sams House (1852), the property is famous for being used in the movie The Prince of Tides. Also included is “Riverview” at 207 Hancock Street, one of the oldest homes in Beaufort that once belonged to the mother of B.B. Sams, Elizabeth Hext. Elizabeth is buried in the family cemetery on Dataw Island. Many Sams descendants are still residing in Beaufort. The property at 313 Hancock Street, known as the Talbird-Sams House (1786), is the only historic house still lived in by a descendant of an original owner: T. Reeve Sams and his wife Betty J. Johnson Sams.