Appearing at the 44th annual Audubon Pilgrimage on March 20-22 for the first time is Retreat Plantation, which was built about 1823 and first owned by Sarah Bingman and her husband, Stephen Cobb.
After Cobb’s death, Bingman married Army Capt. Clarence Mulford, who was involved in the arrest of Aaron Burr on charges of treason against the United States while stationed at nearby Fort Adams, according to Anne Butler, St. Francisville native, author and local historian.
When Mulford retired to his new wife’s plantation, he called it a soldier’s retreat, Butler writes.
Upon Bingman’s death in 1859, the retreat was purchased by Elizabeth Leatherbury Randolph Percy, beginning six generations of Percy occupancy, according to Butler.
Born in 1811, Elizabeth Leatherbury first married Judge Peter Randolph in 1828, and after his death, she and Thomas Butler Percy were married in Natchez in 1833 and settled on his family’s plantation, Beech Woods (sometimes referred to as Beechwood) in the Weyanoke area of West Feliciana Parish.
Leatherbury had one son by Randolph and two daughters and five sons with Percy.
Percy’s grandfather, Charles, was the first Percy to settle in Spanish West Florida, where he served as an alcalde and acquired a fortune in land and slaves, but in a fit of despondency, he drowned himself in Percy Creek, Butler said.
Charles’ son, Robert, who went to sea as an 8-year-old in 1770, retired from the British Navy in 1802, according to Butler’s account.
Robert Percy settled his family on a 2,200-acre plantation along Big Bayou Sara, known as Beech Woods, where he later married his Scottish wife, Jane Middlemist, in 1796.
The fifth of Robert and Jane’s seven children was Thomas Butler Percy, who was appointed to West Point in 1826 by John Q. Adams and graduated from Medical College in Philadelphia.
“As a boy, Thomas must have known (John J.) Audubon, for in the 1820s, Audubon’s wife, Lucy, was in residence at Beech Woods to tutor the Percy girls and a few neighbors,” Butler said. “Audubon himself spent time there and hunted in the surrounding woods where he was said to have secured the wild turkey cock that became one of his most famous illustrations.”
One of Thomas Butler Percy’s sons, William Chaille Percy, was born in 1840 and died in 1891 on his plantation, Retreat, where he had six children.
The youngest son, Edward McGehee Percy, of Ellerslie Plantation, owned Retreat and his heirs occupied the home through most of the 20th century until it was acquired by Edward’s great-niece, Mary Cleland de Laureal Owen and her husband C.B. Owen.
Retreat Plantation, an Anglo-Creole style home, is a story-and-a-half and includes a brick-walled cellar and four rounded brick columns across the raised front gallery. It was built of poplar, including the big beams and floorboards.
Fine interior woodwork and original Federal mantles grace the larger dining and parlor rooms as well as downstairs in the original old house, and a steep and narrow interior stairway leads to several bedrooms, according to Butler.
“Fortunately, very little has been altered in the house over the years, and the Owens have recently completed an extensive renovation, keeping the original footprint and fabric of the old house while attaching a new wing to increase living space,” Butler said. “Seamlessly blended with the old, the new wing includes a large kitchen, downstairs bedroom, screened porch overlooking an orderly parterre garden and beautiful landscaping designed to perfectly root house to setting.”
Family antiques are throughout the house, including several chairs and a four-poster bed salvaged from the burned Greenwood Plantation, home of Mary Cleland’s grandparents, and range from the Federal period through the third quarter of the 19th century.
“The Owen children are the sixth generation of the Percy family to enjoy Retreat Plantation,” Butler said.
In addition to Retreat, Audubon Pilgrimage will include tours of Dogwood Plantation, the Levert-Bockel house and The Oaks as well as Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches in St. Francisville and St. Mary’s in Weyanoke.
For Audubon Pilgrimage tickets and tour information, contact the West Feliciana Historical Society at (225) 635-6330 or (225) 635-4224, visit www.audubonpilgrimage.info or email sf@audubon pilgrimage.info.