As its name states, Tabby Manse’s exterior walls are built with tabby.
But this house’s outer surface is one of the few remaining early buildings on the South Carolina coast made with tabby. Tabby material composes of whole oysters shells and lime from crushed oyster shells. Tabby Manse’s walls are an astonishing two-feet thick! Built circa 1786 by Thomas Fuller, a prominent local planter. Tabby Manse possesses classical proportions and superb construction. Tabby Manse’s stately history and legacy consist of much more than tabby.
Thomas Fuller, a rice and cotton planter, built this house, first known as the Fuller mansion, as a wedding gift to his bride, Elizabeth Middleton. Descended from Henry Woodward, the first English settler in South Carolina, Elizabeth was a member of three of the most prominent colonial South Carolina families—the Barnwells, the Bulls, and the Middletons. Her great-grandfather, John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell, subdued the Indians in the Carolinas, and her first cousin, Arthur Middleton, signed the United States Declaration of Independence.
Upon settling in Sheldon and Beaufort, Thomas Fuller made a fortune as a planter. He and Elizabeth reared their twelve children here. One of his sons, Dr. Richard Fuller, became a nationally famous preacher and spearheaded the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Following the Civil War Battle of Port Royal in 1861, the Fullers and their way of life changed drastically.
The house was auctioned in 1864 to pay Federal real estate taxes. Reverend Mansfield French purchased and lived in the home.
The Methodist minister headed an expedition to Beaufort to care for abandoned slaves. Active in Republican politics, he sought unsuccessfully to become the first United States senator of the Reconstruction era from South Carolina. His son, Winchell, founded a Republican newspaper here, The Beaufort Tribune.
In the 1870s when Winchell went bankrupt and moved to Florida, the French family transferred title to Winchell’s wife. Her relatives opened a guest house here, which they named Tabby Manse. It operated for almost 100 years.
In 1969 Beaufort native, George Graham Trask, and his wife, Constance Claire Bowen, purchased Tabby Manse.
This marked only the third time in almost 200 years the house has changed hands. They restored the dwelling, added a modern kitchen, and created the gardens. Their children were the first to grow up here in more than a century.
Tabby Manse gathers its essential architectural features from the inspiration of Andrea Palladio, the 16th-century Vicentine architect of country villas, and from the style of English country houses. These twin influences also inspired Thomas Jefferson in his contemporaneous design of Monticello, the most famous Palladian-style house in America.
The floor plan of Tabby Manse is symmetrical, each room having its twin on the opposite side. Elegant mantels, contrasting with simple woodwork, are in the high style of the 18th-century English designer Robert Adam. Projecting rear wings give the back rooms direct southern exposure to waterfront views and fresh sea breezes. Except for the 20th-century kitchen addition, the structure remains unchanged from 1786.
Tabby Manse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is also a contributing property in the Beaufort Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark.