The tragic past of Beaumont
By Missy Izard Schenck
One of the more dramatic and violent moments in the history of Flat Rock occurred during the War Between the States. Beaumont, owned by Andrew Johnstone of Georgetown, South Carolina, was one of the earliest grand homes in Flat Rock, and during the final chaotic year of the war, a band of “bushwhackers” descended upon the estate on a warm summer day with tragic consequence.
On June 10, 1864, six soldiers claiming to be a detachment of a nearby company of Confederate soldiers showed up at Beaumont demanding to be fed and their horses watered. Among the occupants of the home was Elliott Johnstone, age 15. Decades later, Elliott wrote a letter to Capt. Thomas Pinckney describing in detail the events of that evening. Pinckney was the cousin of Elliott’s mother, Mary Barnwell Elliott Johnstone, and he had requested a recounting of the day’s events from Elliott to include in his Reminiscences of the time he served as an officer in the Confederate Army.
Elliott’s letter in response was written in 1906 and eventually included in Pinckney’s Reminiscences. Pinckney prefaces his retelling of Elliott’s account with this introduction:
The following extract, giving an account of the murder of Mr. Andrew Johnstown, is from a letter written to me by his son [Elliott Johnstone], then a manly fellow of 15, a participant in this encounter, who has thereby left the soul defender of his mother and five younger sisters. (1)
Elliott Johnstone’s letter began:
In a few days, on 10 June, it will be 42 years since the death of my father at Beaumont (1864). On that day we were seated at the table after dinner when one of the waiting men returned to the dining room to say that a party of soldiers was at the back door making inquiries, but that he was unable to understand exactly what they wanted.
There were six men, whose spokesman told me they were members of Captain Hines Company and had stopped in to ask for food for themselves and horses. My father bid me invite them in, explaining that our meal was just over, but that dinner would be prepared for them at once, whereupon I conducted them in and he met and led them into the drawing-room. —Wm. Elliott Johnstone (1)
Built in 1839, Beaumont, also known as the Johnstone-Hayne House, sits high on a hill between Little River and Kanuga Roads with mountain views in all directions. Known throughout the South for its beautifully landscaped gardens, Beaumont originally was a small two-story house with a Gothic appearance. Built from cut, mica-flecked granite quarried on nearby Glassy Mountain, the house was constructed with locally harvested lumber, and the walls were 18 inches thick. Although the details are not fully documented, it is possible that Charles Edmondstone, who is attributed with designing the nearby Brookland house in Flat Rock in 1836, may have designed the original Beaumont as well. It is likely that Johnstone and Edmondston knew each other, and they may have consulted over the design of Beaumont. (3) Today, Beaumont now anchors the entrance to a subdivision of the same name accessible from Kanuga Road.
I observed that one man and confederate uniform remained all the while on the front porch seemingly very restless or nervous, and apparently on guard. These various circumstances created a suspicion that the men might not be as represented, and I at length made an excuse to call my father out and tell him. He said he also had a premonition that there was something wrong and handed me the key to his wardrobe wherein he kept his gun loaded and ready for any emergency, telling me to unlock the door and be ready to bring him the gun if anything should happen. —WEJ (1)
Like Edmondston, Mitchell King and other peers, Andrew Johnstone built the house as a summer retreat. Born in 1805, Johnstone, a wealthy rice planter, bought the original 800 acres in separate parcels from Samuel Allison, Benjamin King and James Kuykendall for $1 an acre on Sept. 27, 1839. (2)
Soon thereafter, dinner was ready and he invited them into the dining room adjoining the drawing-room, but the one in Gray still remained on the porch and declined to have dinner. Having placed these five men comfortably, my father seated himself at his accustomed place at the large circular table … and saw that they were bountifully helped … the meal ending with coffee made of rye — but he gave them the best he had to offer.
I passed in and out of the dining room several times when coffee was served, realizing that if anything was to happen, the time had come. I took the gun from the wardrobe, examined it and leaned it up just inside the room door when one of the men from the dining room called: “Come here, sonny!”
At that moment, I heard a shot in the dining room. I seized the gun. The man fired at me and grazed the shoulder of my jacket, and as I raised the gun, he sprang behind the large wine case that stood in the passage. The other four men dashed into the passage and I fired both barrels of buckshot into them as they all rush towards the front door. —WEJ (1)
Johnstone was a member of St. John in the Wilderness and active in civic affairs and finance. He was involved in the survey and construction of Little River Road and was an investor in the Woodfield Inn (now Mansouri Mansion.) (2) Historic Flat Rock by Marsh and Marsh credits Mr. Johnstone along with C. G. Memminger with opening the Little River Road in 1850.
At the time of the raid in 1864, Andrew Johnstone was encamped in Beaumont as his permanent residence, having moved away from Charleston at the beginning of the War Between the States. He was living there with his second, and much younger, wife, Mary — she being approximately 21 years his junior. Johnstone and his children by this marriage — son Elliott and daughters Anne (age 14), Mary (13), Emma (12), Frances (10) and Edith (6) — would have been at the home on the day of the shootings.
The waiting man, who was a witness to what happened in the dining room, says that when the meal was all over, the leader of the band … arose, with drawn pistol, and aiming it at him said, “Mr. Johnstone, you are my prisoner.” “Never!” exclaimed my father, rising. Then the villain fired upon him and shot him down. But, drawing the little 22 caliber pistol he habitually carried, he arose, and immediately all five of the cowards made for the front door, and my father followed as closely as he could fire, and finally throwing his empty little weapon at them. I have no doubt he shot one or more of them but the bullets of his pistol are too small to have serious effects and his aim was necessarily low, as he was bent over from the wound in his abdomen. —WEJ (1)
“Cotton man” Franklin Brevard Hayne and the Knoxville Browns
Subsequent to the war and Johnstone’s murder, the property changed hands four times before Mrs. L. J. Woolley of Kentucky sold the 204-acre estate on Aug. 23, 1909, to Franklin Brevard Hayne. (2)
Hayne was a wealthy cotton broker from New Orleans. His 1935 obituary described him as having “started out on borrowed capital in the cotton business as a young man and developed into one of the South’s greatest cotton men. In 1924 he was chosen president of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange.” The obituary goes on to note that Hayne was also King of the Carnival during the Mardi Gras celebration of 1904.
Hayne earned his place as the second (renowned) owner of Beaumont chiefly for the big renovation he ordered and the men he hired to design it. Hayne hired an architect of the Biltmore estate, Richard Sharp Smith, to redo the house, and hired the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the “father of landscape architecture” and another Biltmore contractor, to design the grounds. (2)
Born in Yorkshire, England, in 1852, Richard Sharp Smith had served as supervising architect of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville under the New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, whose firm he had joined. Smith worked all over the region, and his projects are still known today. Among his remodeling or design projects were Teneriffe (1903 remodel), Embrook (1902-03), Chanteloup (1900 remodel) and the Henderson County Courthouse, which opened in 1905. Smith’s redesign significantly enlarged the Beaumont house and altered its appearance. Hayne also added sunken gardens. (2)
Shouting for my mother, who came instantly to him, I turned to the front steps, where one man was lying on his back, apparently dead, but he raised his pistol and fired at me. I got it from him and shot him with it where he lay. —WEJ (1)
Among the six owners between Frank Hayne and the current owners were John S. Brown and his wife, Carolyn P. Brown, of Knoxville, Tennessee, who bought it in 1930. The Browns restored the formal garden that the Olmsted firm had designed and added fountains, polls and statuary, including the majestic lions that guard the entrance today. Carolyn P. Brown, the founder of the American Garden Society, planted bulbs from Italy, France and Holland, according to Sybil Argintar’s report for the Flat Rock Historic Landmarks Commission. (2) (3)
Often I had heard him say that in such circumstances would he “sell his life as dearly as he could” and thus did he fulfill his declaration. His first words to me were: “Have they hurt you, my son? — they have killed me,” he added. He pressed his hand to his wound and I assisted him to the drawing-room where he fell upon the sofa.
My father was lifted from the drawing-room to his bed by some of the servants and Jackson was sent on the fastest horse for Dr. King but in about 30 minutes after he received his wound my dear father breathed his last, conscious and brave in his dying agony until his very last breath. —WEJ (1)
Today, Beaumont’s revived grandeur and tranquil setting belie the troubled times experienced within its historic walls by the Johnstone family in 1864. Still the story of that night continues to echo through the arc of Flat Rock history as a vivid reminder of the fragility of life and a testament to the courage of a father and young son determined to protect their family — at all costs.
Creation of Beaumont Estates
When Beaumont changed hands again in 1957, the estate contained 204 acres and “included the house, a dairy, three guest houses, caretaker cottages and a five-acre mountain lake,” the Flat Rock report said. It was bought then by Oakley Murphy, a land investor from Florida and owner of Carolina Farms. After buying the estate in 1962, J. B. Lovingood sold much of the land associated with the house, creating Beaumont Estates. (2)
With one transaction the current owners John D. and Elizabeth McCoy bought Beaumont, then falling into disrepair, in November 1985. “The McCoys completed the major work on the restoration of the house, bringing it back to its former glory,” Argintar said. In 2013, Beaumont became the second historic landmark that Flat Rock’s historic commission has designated as a landmark. The commission and village council approved the 1862 Dunroy home earlier in that year. (2)
Information for this article was collected from a variety of sources including:
1. Flat Rock of the Old Time, edited by Robert B. Cuthbert, University of South Carolina Press. (link)
2. “Beaumont Known for Architecture, Bushwhacker Shooting” by Bill Moss, Hendersonville Lightning, Nov. 29, 2013. (link)
3. Beaumont Landmark Designation Report, prepared by Sybil Argintar, Nov. 5, 2013. (link)
4. Historic Flat Rock: Where the Old South Lingers, by Kenneth and Blanche Marsh, R. L. Bryan Company 1972. (link)
5. “Museum Around the Corner: A Rice Planter from Georgetown” by Georgetown County Historical Museum, Georgetown Times, May 6, 2020, updated Jun. 10, 2021. (Link)
6. “History of the Bushwhacking at Beaumont” by Dan Gibbes, HendersonvilleBest.com (link)
7. “Civil War” by Jennie Giles, HendersonHeritage.com. (link)
8. Flat Rock by Galen Reuther, Arcadia Publishing 2004. (link)
9. The Story of Henderson County by Sadie Smathers Patton
10. Flat Rock Together website, Bruce Holiday.
Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a summer camp.