Hilton Head’s untold history: Captain Jack Stoney
Story by Richard Thomas
Captain Jack Stoney
One of the earliest year-round residents is also one of the most colorful characters our history holds. Captain John Stoney arrived in Charleston in 1774 aboard his merchant ship, the “Saucy Jack.” Intending to resume his merchant marine business out of the port city, he began recruiting crew and encountered a friend from Ireland on the docks. Describing his intention to be a Charleston-based merchant, Stoney was told by his friend that he would become much richer, much faster by becoming a privateer than a merchant. Following his application to Governor John Rutledge for a privateering license, Captain Jack, as he was widely known, began attacking French and Spanish ships, and then English vessels, off the coast. He was required to give one-fifth of his take from the raids to the government, but he became so wealthy that two years later he purchased over 800 acres along Broad Creek’s deepwater shore, which he called Otterburn Plantation. He moved his wife and son to Hilton Head and began to ply his trade out of the Savannah River and Port Royal Sound before the Revolution came to this area.
As a wealthy landowner on Hilton Head, Stoney was a Patriot and joined the Beaufort District militia. He fitted the Saucy Jack with deck guns and became a South Carolina Navy ship for duty at sea. While ashore, he served as a member of a dragoon unit that rode with the Beaufort District Regiment of Horse. He continued accumulating wealth as a privateer during the war as well, and following the declaration of peace, he purchased nearly 1,400 acres on the south end of Hilton Head from John Verdier. In 1793, Stoney’s oldest son, James, returned from Savannah with a new bride and announced his intention to live at Otterburn and help work the land while his father sailed. Stoney’s wife and new daughter-in-law didn’t get along, so Captain Jack informed James that he would have the Otterburn land and that he (Stoney) would take his wife and build her “a proper home” on the land near Braddocks Point. The tabby mansion built on one of the highest points on Hilton Head was probably not completed until 1805. It was the only fully-tabby home ever built on the Island and was one of only two masonry structures on the Island until the 1990s, the second being the Baynard Mausoluem built in 1846. The ruins of the Stoney-Baynard Mansion, or Stoney-Baynard Hall, as is it called today, stands in a preserved historic site in Sea Pines Plantation.
Captain Jack and his sons, James and John, went on to grow sea island cotton on their Hilton Head holdings, which included Otterburn, Braddocks Point and land along Skull Creek, nearly 4,000 acres in all. During the War of 1812, Captain Jack purchased another ship to use as a privateer, accumulating even more wealth in the process. He was known as a gregarious and benevolent man. He later went by “Old Jack” to distinguish himself from his son, who then went by Jack Stoney. Living well at Braddocks Point, Stoney spent most of his time fishing and hunting with his best friend, William Pope. Pope owned nearly 8,000 acres on Hilton Head and kept ample stands of forest for hunting. In 1821, Pope invited Stoney and son James to join him and his son William Jr., better known as Squire Pope, to a hunting trip at his Fish Haul Plantation. Carrying their loaded muskets on horseback, they rode through the trees, flushing game toward the marsh for a clear shot. When 72-year-old Stoney stopped to adjust a stirrup on one side, the musket under his opposite arm slipped. When he lurched back to grab the barrel, the stock hit the ground and it discharged, shattering his skull and killing him on the spot.
Not wanting his mother and the rest of the family to see the horror of the sight before him, James asked Pope if they could bury his father where he fell on the Pope land. Pope of course assented, and during the impromptu graveside ceremony, James asked Pope if, when he died, he could be buried next to his father. Pope agreed, and six years later James joined his father on the Fish Haul land. A Civil War battle would soon rage close to their resting place, and the land became overgrown. A hundred years later, a work crew clearing the Fish Haul land for development came across James Stoney’s stone sarcophagus in the forest. His father’s marker had long since disappeared, but the remains and the stones were relocated to the Zion Chapel of Ease Cemetery, where they remain today.