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The Legares of Charleston

It's would be difficult to travel anywhere in the greater Charleston area without encountering the name Legare or to having your pronunciation corrected to the proper Charlestonian's "LeGREE". There's Legare Farms and Legareville Road here on Johns Island; downtown's Legare Street (above), one of the historic district's most beautiful streets; and Sol Legare Island, the small barrier island between James Island and Folly Beach. But it's hardly surprising the name's so common, for the Legares are among the earliest European families to have settled here.

The Legare ancestor is Francis Solomon Legare, a French Huguenot whose family was driven from France late in the 17th century during that country's persecution of such French Protestants under Louis XIV. By the time the family arrived in the colonies, Solomon had dropped his first name, had become a silversmith and jeweler in Boston, and had so provoked his father's anger by marrying an English woman that he was disinherited and started a new life with her in Charleston, where he flourished at his trade and soon became one of the city's wealthiest merchants and planters, buying up property along today's Legare and Tradd Streets. By 1729, he'd bought the small island now known as Sol Legare Island as pasturage for his dairy herd and to cultivate rice.

The Seashore Farmers Lodge, now a museum

Traces of the plantation's slave cabins have been uncovered, as well as reminders of Civil War battles related to the siege of Charleston by Union troops. After the war, freed Blacks purchased or were given small tracts of land for farming, and the island ever since has been noted for its predominantly Black population, its circa 1915 Seashore Farmers Lodge where crops were bartered and sold, and for Mosquito Beach, a summer refuge from the city for Blacks who were barred from the whites-only beaches of Folly and James Islands until the civil rights period.

Legareville, about 1840

About the time Solomon purchased the island, he also acquired several hundred acres of land along the Stono River, where it meets the Kiawah River, as a summer retreat. It soon became known as Legareville and grew into a summer colony for white planters. Nothing remains of it today except a street name, for it was burned to the ground during the Civil War to prevent it from falling into Union hands.

But not far away is Legare Farms on River Road, first planted by Solomon in 1725 and still owned by direct descendants of the family. Solomon died in 1760 at 85 years of age, and is buried in the graveyard at downtown's Circular Church, which he helped to found.

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