Ballsdam Plantation - Jamestown Berkeley County South Carolina SC

Ballsdam Plantation – Jamestown – Berkeley County

Ballsdam Plantation - Berkeley County, South Carolina
— Ballsdam Plantation © The Charleston Museum Archives —

Basic Information

  • Location – Santee River, Jamestown, St. Stephen's Parish, Berkeley County

    Near Jamestown and Hell Hole Swamp off Highway 17 Alt. and SC Highway 41

  • Origin of name – Named for early owner Elias Ball (8, p. 2)

  • Other names – Balls Dam

  • Current status – ?


  • ? – Earliest known date of existence

    Elias Ball owned the plantation (8, p. 2)

  • Circa 1835 – Dr. John Saunders Palmer had acquired Ballsdam Plantation (1, p. 231) (6, pp. 27-28) (8, p. 2).

  • 1835 – House built (6, pp. 27-28)

    Dr. John Saunders Palmer either built a five-room cottage at the plantation or reconditioned it. The Palmer family resided at the cottage, that became known as the Pineland house, from May to November in an effort to escape the threat of fevers that were rampant during Lowcountry summers (6, pp. 27-28) (8, p. 2).

  • 1842 – Dr. John Saunders Palmer built a larger, three-story house on the banks of the Santee River. It would be known as the Balls Dam house (6, p. 28).

  • 1868-1873 – After the Civil War, Palmer struggled to profitably plant Ballsdam Plantation. Bit by bit, he sold off pieces of the plantation's property in order to keep from losing the whole plantation (8, p. 424).

  • 1881 – Dr. John Saunders Palmer passed away. His wife and three adult children remained at Ballsdam Plantation (8, p. 872).

  • 1888 – Dr. Palmer's son, Philip Gendron Palmer, remained at and become owner Ballsdam after the rest of his family moved on. By this time, the Balls Dam house needed extensive repairs, many due to the 1886 earthquake. Philip took a mortgage out on the plantation in hopes of restoring the plantation to a profitable farming operation (8, pp. 9, 872).

  • 1911 – Philip Palmer struggled for over 20 years to payoff the mortgage on Ballsdam. Reluctantly, he forfeited the plantation in defeat. Some of the Ballsdam land would become part of Francis Marion National Forest (8, p. 872) (9, p. 86).

  • Circa 1920s – Daniel and Claudia McNair purchased Ballsdam Plantation. It had declined after the Civil War but McNair rehabilitated the plantation and it again was a working farm. The family lived in the smaller Pineland house. The larger Balls Dam house on the river was still in poor condition and was destroyed by fire shortly after the McNairs purchased the plantation. The McNairs believed the fire had been set deliberately by local whites who were dismayed that the McNairs gave assistance to their black neighbors (6, p. 27).

  • Circa 1960 – Robert McNair, who was governor of South Carolina from 1965 to 1971, inherited the plantation from his parents (6).

  • 2007 – Robert McNair died in Charleston of a brain tumor on November 17th. Just 10 days later, McNair's wife Josephine passed away at Ballsdam. They are both buried at the plantation in the McNair family graveyard (7).

  • 2013 – The plantation was for sale with an asking price of $3,800/acre which would be about $9.5 million (5).


  • Number of acres – 4,500 in 1835; approximately 2,500 with three miles Santee River frontage in 2017 (5) (8, p. 2)

  • Primary crop – Rice along the river and cotton on the higher land (8, p. 2)

  • The grave of South Carolina governor Robert McNair is at Ballsdam Plantation.


  • Number of slaves – ?

    We are actively seeking information on the slaves who lived and worked at this plantation. If you find a resource that might help, please fill out this form. Thank you.

References & Resources

  1. J. Russell Cross, Historic Ramblin's through Berkeley (Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan Company, 1985)
     Order Historic Ramblin's through Berkeley

  2. Claude Henry Neuffer, editor, Names in South Carolina, Volume I through 30 (Columbia, SC: The State Printing Company)
     Order Names in South Carolina, Volumes I-XII, 1954-1965
     Order Names in South Carolina, Index XIII-XVIII

  3. Anne Baker Leland Bridges and Roy Williams III, St. James Santee, Plantation Parish: History and Records, 1685-1925 (Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Company, 1997)

  4. Records held by the Berkeley County Historical Society

  5. Real Estate Listing - PDF

  6. Philip G Grose, South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006)

  7. Schuyler Kropf, Spouses Joined at the Heart (Charleston, SC: The Post and Courier, November 26, 2007)

  8. Louis P. Towles, Editor,A World Turned Upside Down: The Palmers of South Santee, 1818-1881 (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1996)

  9. Susan Hoffer McMillan and Seldon Baker "Bud" Hill, McClellanville and the St. James, Santee Parish (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006)

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Flower photographs by Virginia Saunders, Columbia, SC. Please click flower for more info.


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