Pest House, Sullivan's Island.

Other names: Quarantine House, Sullivan's Island

Skirmish, *Lt. John Withers vs. Capt. Thornbrough, 19 Dec 1776

Where: 32.762549 -79.860800 Pest House, Sullivan's Island

Maps: [map notes]


  • Terry W. Lipscomb, The Carolina lowcountry April 1775-June 1776 and the Battle of Fort Moultrie, South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History, 1994, p.19-20
    Raids and retaliation The patriots were in high dudgeon with Campbell at this time because they believed he was using Sullivans Island as a sanctuary for runaway slaves. The island had been public property for many years, and the British warships had been using the single structure then standing on it - the old colonial quarantine station or pest house - as a watering station.32 For some weeks, the Council of Safety had been receiving reports that the British were harboring a considerable number of fugitive slaves on the island and on board their vessels and that armed parties of blacks and sailors were descending nightly on the mainland to raid provisions from nearby plantations. These raids were probably being made even before the Scorpion arrived in the harbor, for on 27 November, the Provincial Congress had assigned Captain John Allston's company of foot rangers to patrol the seacoast from Seewee Bay to Haddrells Point. Allston's company - an elite volunteer unit of the Craven County militia - was sometimes referred to as the "Raccoon Company," perhaps in allusion to the Raccoon Keys, which marked the coastal political boundary between Berkeley and Craven counties; it was also known as the "Indian Company." Although the company's rank and file certainly were not all Indians, contemporary records say the soldiers scouted "in the Indian manner" and sometimes disguised themselves as Indians. It has also been suggested that Allston may have recruited a few genuine Indian scouts from Catawba-affiliated tribes such as the Pedees, Waccamaws, and Cheraws.

    When the Scorpion sailed for North Carolina, it carried off about thirty or forty fugitive slaves, whom the British had refused to restore to their owners. The patriots responded with a rapid succession of hostile moves against the Tamar and Cherokee. The Council of Safety cut off supplies for the vessels under Captain Thornbrough's command; it then issued orders to remove all livestock from the islands that lay exposed to enemy foraging parties; and it placed lieutenants John Withers and James Coachman of Allston's company in charge of a retaliatory raid on Sullivan's Island. Before daylight on 19 December, fifty-four rangers under the command of Lieutenant Withers landed on the island, burned the pest house, shot and killed three or four fugitive slaves who resisted, and exchanged fire with a party of sailors from the Cherokee, who were retreating in boats with about twenty slaves. No casualties resulted from this last exchange, but a patriot source reported that the British sailors were "much frighted by the whooping & appearance of a party from our Indian Company." Withers's troops captured sixteen prisoners - both fugitive slaves and loyalists - destroyed a number of water casks belonging to the ships, and left the island unsafe for future landing parties. If the British had lingering doubts about the seriousness of their predicament, these must have been dispelled when Major Charles Cotesworth Pinckney marched two hundred soldiers of the First Regiment to Haddrells Point (now Mount Pleasant) and threw up a battery of eighteen-pounders under the cover of darkness. On the morning of 24 December, several shots fired by the patriot gunners to test their range told the warships that the rebel artillery now controlled access to Sullivans Island by way of the Cove.33

    32. One contemporary British map of Sullivans Island shows the location of the colonial pest house in relation to the 1776 site of the first Fort Moultrie. See entry number 66 in Nebenzahl, Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans, 45. (A portion of this map is reproduced as Figure 15 above.) An immigrant who was quarantined on the island in 1772 described the structure as a large house that was used as a hospital. See Alexander Chesney, The Journal of Alexander Chesney, a South Carolina Loyalist in the Revolution and After, ed. E. Alfred Jones, Ohio State University Bulletin, vol. 26, no. 4 (Columbus, 1921),3. Not long after the Revolution, the state government began to rebuild the pest house. A set of instructions issued by the governor in October of 1783 specified that the dimensions of the two-story structure should be forty-four by fifty-two feet, and that it should be built "of Brick and tiled or slated Roofs (Bricks for the purpose belonging to the Public from former buildings being on the Spot)." See Miscellaneous Records, 2U (1783-85) : 52, Records of the Secretary of State, SC Archives.

    33. SCHS, Collections, 3: 40, 47, 62-63, 63, 66, 84, 89, 90, 94-95, 103, 105, 106, 128; Hemphill and Wates, Journals oj the Provincial Congresses, 158, 159-60; "Miscellaneous Papers of the General Committee, Secret Committee and Provincial Congress, 1775," SCHM, 9 July 1908): 116-17; Douglas Summers Brown, The Catawba indians: The People oj the River (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1966),262; Papers of Henry Laurens, 10: 576, 609; Davies, Documents, 12: 29; Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents, 3: 202, 725, 1164; South Carolina and American General Gazette, 22 December 1775; Audited Account of Thomas Durant (AA-21 06), SC Archives; Claim of George Walker, Loyalist Transcripts, 52: 92, 101; Drayton, Memoirs, 2: 163-64; Moultrie, Memoirs, 1: 112-16; Jack L. Cross, ed., "Letters of Thomas Pinckney, 1775-1780," SCHM, 58 January 1957): 24-26. Both Pinckney's letter and Thornbrough's log indicate that construction of the Haddrells Point battery was not quite the speedy affair alleged by Drayton and Moultrie. On the origin and purpose of volunteer units like the Raccoon Company, see Fitzhugh McMaster, "Volunteer Companies, SC Militia, 1775," Military Collector and Historian, 33 (Spring 1981): 36-37.

  • Elaine Nichols, South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, S.C., "Sullivan's Island Pest Houses: Beginning an Archaeological Investigation", Presented at: Digging the Afro American Past: Archaeology and the Black Experience, A Conference held at the Univ. of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, May 17-20 1989, unpublished:

    Parker's excepts below:

    By 1680, Charleston had developed as a maritime center of commerce and activity. Ships literally became disease-carriers bringing into the port city, sick sailors and slaves. In the case of the slaves, they brought diseases from their homelands, as well as contracted diseases as a result of their circumstances (Waring 1969-1971:1:18;19). Reference: Waring, Joseph I., 1932, "St. Phillip's Hospital in Charleston in Carolina: Medical Care of the Poor in Colonial Times." Annals of Medical History 4 (3):283-289.
    In the thriving seaports of Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, isolation hospitals, pest houses, or quarantine stations were built. These institutions were primarily for the protection of the able-bodied and only secondarily for the care of the sick (Ranson 1943:521).
    Between 1707 and 1799, there were at least four pest houses on the [Sullivan's] island. [Parker's paraphrase] The third pest house would have been the one where the raid was carried out, since the fourth was 1783-on.
    It has been suggested that Sullivan's Island was a significant port of entry for a large percentage of Afro-American slaves. This was based on a estimation that between 1700 and 1775, 40% of all slaves coming to America came to South Carolina and were quarantined on Sullivan's Island (Woods 1975 xiv; Rosengarten 1987, personal communication).
    The dates on the [Bearss'] map were 1776 and 1780 respectively. Using the scale on the maps the pest house would have been about 1,000' northwest of the Fort and an equal distance west of the canal. This would have placed the pest house at station 10 (Bearss 1968). Reference: Bearss, Edwin C., 1968a The First Two Fort Moultries, A Structural History. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.; 1968b Fort Moultrie, No. 3 National Park Service, Washington, D.C.; 1968c The Battle of Sullivan's Island and the Capture of Fort Moultrie. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

  • Snippet of p.95, Bearrs, The Battle of Sullivan's Island and the Capture of Fort Moultrie:

    Pest House

  • NBBAS:One p.68-70, naval landing, 19-20 Dec 1775

  • RevWar75 RevWar75
  • Dec 1775 listing 12/19 - 20/1775 Haddrell's Point (Pest House). Per O'Kelley.

    Related locations: Breach,   Long Island,   Fort Sullivan/Moultrie,  

    Confidence level: 4