South Ormsby, Lincolnshire

Hyrne Family letters 
sent from South Carolina
to  England between 1699 and 1757


The First Hyrne Plantation in South Carolina

It is clear from the letters that Elizabeth expected to continue the same aristocratic lifestyle as she was accustomed to on the family estate in England, but the demands of such a large plantation and the inexperience of both her and her husband meant constant financial difficulties. These problems were compounded by a series of calamities which beset the family in 1703. Elizabeth wrote:

‘on the 20 of … [June] we lost a negro man by the bite of a rattlesnake which was a great lose to us being at the height of weeding … rice. On the 25th of August I lost our dear little son which went very near to me [Elizabeth’s second son, Henry, had been born the previous June]. In September we lost our cattle hunter. But the greatest of all our losses (except my dear Harry) was on the 12 day of January last on which we was burn [letter damaged] out of all our house taking fire I know not how in the night and burning so fiercly that we had much to do to save the life of poor Burry and two beds just to lye on which was chief of what we saved we also had all our rice and corn and all sorts of provehans burnt. Cloes and everything nothing escaped the fire so that had it not bin for some good people we must have perished. My dear child was forced to be taken naked out of bed being left without close enough to keep him from cold. And now I am big with child expecting to lye inn the beginning of next June so that you may casely imagine our miserable condission. But blessed be God we have mett with some kind friends in this place or elce we had not bin for you ever to have heard more of us.
Source for this letter: South Carolina Historical Magazine, July 1962, p150.

This disaster also meant that Elizabeth and Edward were unable to meet their commitments in England and in desperation the guardian of the two girls, Berthiah Singleton, had the girls, Mary and Margaret, then only about eight and eleven, shipped off to America on their own in 1704. (Little is known of the fate of Margaret (Peggy) but Mary (Molly) would ultimately marry Landgrave Thomas Smith and bear him 10 children).

I have recently discovered another of Elizabeth’s letters (thanks to K.M. Wald 16/06/2006), dated 21st Feb 2004:

 Dear Brother:

In my last by Capt. Cole I gave you an account of our losses by death & fire which as you will find by that letter has been very great yet such has been the goodness of our God towards us that he hath not suffered us to want meat, drink, and clothes sufficient to keep us from harm and cold which was more than we deserved or could expect. Having given you a particular account in my last of our losses shall not give you trouble of them here.  I know not what is the reason Dear Brother that you so seldom write to me unless I being poor and at a great distance you intend by little and little to leave off letting me hear from you it being now a year and a half since your last letter was written. Had it not been for the war I would have expected to have seen you here, according to your promise that you made me when I left England, before now. But now time and distance has so altered you that in instead of my being so happy as to see you I must be content with a letter once in a year or two I send God willing to you for England in the next vessel bound for London that goeth with convoy... On the 29th of June last I was brought to bed with another son whom I have baptized Henry who is blessed be God a very lusty healthful child which has been a great comfort to me in the midst of my trouble, my Burry also grows a brave boy blessed be God I have great hopes he will make a sensible man tho but small of shank.  I think I have no more to add only that we have lost a great deal of time wherin we might have got several hundred pounds for want of hands & pans to boil within which is a very profitable commodity in this country. I know not one that hath so good a piece of land with so much lightwood whereof char is made ... this becoming such a profitable trade made our plantation to be at least £5.00 better worth than the money we due to give for it notwithstanding the loss of our house. 

Some time around 1704-1705 the Hyrnes built a smaller version of the original  brick house at Medway.

Medway plan

Above: This is considered to be the original layout of Medway. The house, much developed, still stands today.

The next letter from Elizabeth is dated May 2nd 1705

Dear Brother

My last to you was by captain Flavell by way of Lisbon who sailed a considerable while since but I have received none by you nor any of my friends in England since August 1703 tho here hath been lately severall vessells arrived from London by some of which I thought I might have heard from you however hope you may have written by Jennings who has not yet arrived and is feared may be lost or taken … I advised you in my last of having another son who is now above ten months old and as brisk as any having had very little sickness ever since he was born my Burry also praised be God grows a healthful boy and tall enough for breeches but he has not yet for want of money to purchase them. We are all of us likewise very much in want of severall things since our great losses which have been very heavy upon us …so the only way we have to gitt any money is by selling now and then a little frish butter or a little sape which I made myself or such an od thing which is very inconsiderable so you may believe our living is very hard at present all sorts of things being very dear here for I gave almost four shillings the other day for a pair of shoes for Burry and half a crown for a pair for Harry who is not eleven months old till the 29th of this month there is no sort of clothing to be brought but what is very slite and very dere so that you may believe it is hard with us at present indeed things have not been so hard with us as long as they be now …

Since the above written I have received yours by Capt Jennings of the 26th September having not received mine by Capt Cole for which I am very sorry [Burrell’s letter having taken just over six months to arrive], I take notice of Aunt Hall’s great kindness for which pray give our hearty thanks’ (LAO 2MM B/7/20)

In spite of some help from family in England their struggle continued. When Elizabeth came of age in 1705 the money she was due to inherit was held by the Chancery Courts who required proof that the plantation should be placed in the ownership of Elizabeth and her children. This delay dragged them deeper into debt. In some desperation Landgrave Thomas Smith entered into correspondence with Elizabeth’s brother.

November 21st 1705

‘Since you have had such an ill character of the plantation and stock…if you will allow me four hundred pounds in England to be paid in six months time I will take my plantation and what off the stock is left on itt, which I doubt will be but little remaining, Mr Hyrne wanting hands to keep them in good order which is the occasion many are run wild, when I sould him my plantation as I gave you account in my other letter there was a larger and better house on itt than any county house in Carolina, he had besides the house and land about 200 head of cattle and severall horses and mares one Indian cowkeeper worth thirty pounds which is since dead one large boat for his use which has since gone to decay. By which you may calculate that my damage will rise to much more than I ask you, butt beacause you should nott think that I put a hardship upon you Bro and sister I make you this offer’ (LAO 2MM B/7/21)

By 1706 Edward had returned to England to fight the case in person. A further letter to Burrell Massingberd from Thomas Smith indicates that Edward had not been entirely straight with him:

‘Nov 16th 1706

Yours by the packet under cover from Mr Lea I received by which I find you received both mine I find you tell me that I am misinformed about your sisters fortune and that itt does nott lye in your hands but in Chancery since 1700…If I had [known] I should nott have staid till this time; when the mortgage was expired long ago … and their living and making use of the cattle all the while for their use which is within six weeks off five years all ready expired, nay not only for their eating, but they sould severall of their breeding cattle, some of which I bought my self … and they also salted severall barralls of beef and sould …doubt nott butt that Mr Hyrne will confirm the truth himself, and he knows had I not stood his friend he could not have left Carolina…’.

(LAO 2MM B/7/22)

Landgrave Thomas Smith seems to have been, at all times, an understanding and tolerant landlord and a good friend to the Hyrnes.

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© Pauline M Loven, B.A., 2006

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