The story of Jacob Motte is highly illustrative of gentlemen in the Atlantic world of Charleston’s first century. He was born in Dublin, though his heritage was not Irish, but rather French. His grandfather, the wealthy Marquis de la Motte, left his homeland to reside with the Dutch after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His father, the Sieur Jean de la Motte, was appointed Dutch consul to Dublin; he must have found a fine fit there, as he was soon going by the Anglicized “John Motte.”
John Motte soon came to the New World, first to Antigua then subsequently to the young Carolina colony, where he helped establish and manage a plantation for an investor back in Ireland. Well respected, he was soon elected to the colonial assembly, a role he would serve in multiple times. He also sent back across the Atlantic for his family, and at the age of nine young Jacob arrived in Charles Town.
After apprenticing under Francis LeBrasseur, he entered trade with an uncle; it was a short-lived arrangement and by his mid-20s he was in business for himself, with a wharf at the end of Tradd St.; he eventually became one of the most prosperous merchants and bankers in the city. He was a member of the Library Society, the South Carolina Society and served on the vestry at St. Philip’s, St. Michael’s and Christ Church at various points in his life.
He seems to have been unsuited for his highest public role, that of public treasurer. He had an unorthodox manner of keeping books and a lax attitude towards submitting reports; at one point his own home had to be put in a trust while he repaid misspent funds — notably, he was allowed to keep his position through all this.
But Jacob Motte’s greatest legacy would not be about who his ancestors were, what he built or in what positions he served: It would be in his much-lauded progeny and their spouses. Sources conflict, but by the best accounts he had 22 children. Through them he was father-in-law to William Drayton, Thomas Lynch, William Moultrie, John Sandford Dart, Thomas Schubrick and, perhaps most illustriously, Rebecca Brewton Motte, the grande dame of the Revolution and namesake of Fort Motte.
A delightful little piece of this grand story is now on offer by Joni Hazelton of Maison Real Estate — the kitchen house of Jacob Motte’s 18th-century mansion, 61.5 Tradd Street. In the heart of South of Broad, the 2,016 square-foot space has been transformed to a lovely three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home in its own right.
The history of the structure still echoes through elements like the grand kitchen fireplace, now the centerpiece of the living room and heated with gas logs. The modern kitchen is well appointed. Bathrooms are bright and airy. Postcard-perfect views of First Scots Presbyterian Church are enjoyed in multiple rooms, and the courtyard garden is the model of charm. It’s the perfect reasonably-sized South of Broad dwelling, with a fantastic colonial story to tell.