Although the Simms and Nimmons families did not maintain close ties after the Civil War, Isaac Nimmons was a key figure at Woodlands and a significant presence in the Midway community through the end of the 19th century. William Gilmore Simms, Jr. describes him as follows:
Isaac Nimmons was our father’s body servant and coachman, and a great favorite with all the children. He had been a stable boy of my grand uncle A. R. Govan, who imported the great race horse Bosters from England, and as a partner of Col. William Johnson of Virginia ran a number of horses on the Washington Race trace at Charleston. Isaac was a born sport and knew the history of all the great races by heart, and being a good raconteur, endeared himself to the children of his many track anecdotes….
A.R. Govan, the uncle of the wife of William Gilmore Simms, Chevillette Eliza Simms, was a planter in the Orangeburg District who moved to Mississippi in 1828, indicating that Nimmons might have come to Woodlands at that time or in 1847 when Roach moved to Woodlands permanently.
Nimmons played a critical role in the lives of the Simms family at the end of the Civil War when he helped evacuate the family from Woodlands. He delivered food and other provisions to them in Columbia where they moved to escape Sherman’s destructive march through South Carolina.
In February 1865, after Woodlands was burned by Sherman’s stragglers, the neighbors in the community accused Isaac Nimmons of setting the fire. William Gilmore Simms, Jr. describes the incident as follows:
Some time after the army had passed, a jury of citizens in the neighborhood arrested my father’s coachman and body servant Isaac Nimmons and tried him for the burning [of Woodlands]. The weight of the evidence exonerated Isaac, although there was a good deal of feeling against him, but general opinion was that the dwelling was burnt by some of the bands of bummers that hung on to the outskirts of the army.
In the summer after the war, Isaac Nimmons contracted with Charles Carroll to serve as foreman for the harvest at “the Pinckney Place,” a plantation Carroll managed for his wife’s cousin, Lucia Bellinger Pinkney, who died in 1863. Carroll’s wife was also a kinsman of the Simms family. Nimmons was given power of attorney for a group of 24 other freedmen who signed up to work on the plantation until after harvest*. This contract provides evidence that Isaac Nimmons could write if not also read–rare skills among former slaves since it was illegal to teach to them to read and write–because his signature, as opposed to his mark (X), is clearly scripted in the document. In the body of the contract Carroll spells his name Nimons whereas Isaac spells Nimmons in his signature. Isaac, along with an Aunty Nimmons, is also listed in the group of freedmen identified by James Beecher as being at Woodlands just the month before. Isaac was apparently offered a better deal from Charles Carroll than the one he had at Woodlands in June, and, by July, was the manager of “the Pinckney Place.”
The 1865 tax return book for Barnwell Parish lists an Isaac Nimmons owing $2 in “capitation” tax, and in 1867 with $1 in “capitation” tax due. In 1867, Isaac maintained an account with Charles Carroll at his plantation, Burwood, near Woodlands. His wife was Fanny Carroll, who lived at one of Charles Carroll’s plantations. He is also listed in the 1870 Midway census, aged 34, with Isaac, 13, William, 10, Emma, 8, Diana, 5, Joshua, 5 and Peter, 1. He is not listed in the 1880 or 1900 Midway censuses. On January 1, 1883, Nimmons bought 220 acres of land from Shelton S. Lawton, an African American minister living in Midway, for $660 bound by lands owned by the Free, Rice, Utsey and Bessinger families. In 1888, he bought 100 acres of land near the Little Salkehatchie River from S. D. Dowling, and in 1890, he purchased 123 acres called the Rebecca I. Faust Tract. On October 26, 1905, his son, I. S. Nimmons, bought 80 acres of what was called “Bellinger land” from T. J. Counts. This property bordered “the Pinckney Place,” where his father had served as foreman after the war. A year later I.S. Nimmons sold half of the “Bellinger land” to his son-in-law, Joseph Nimmons. I.S. Nimmons’ oldest daugher, Onia Mae, was married to Joseph Nimmons. I.S. Nimmons attended Claflin College in 1870 and married Josephine Grayson from Sato, SC in 1885.
Nimmons left a will, which was recorded in the Bamberg County Courthouse in 1900, demonstrating a significant accumulation of resources for that time. To his wife, Elizabeth Newton, he left 25 acres of land “on which is situated the dwelling house which I now occupy and is part of the property purchased by me from Dr. W. B. Rice” and other lands “purchased by me from E.H. Dowling,” as well as “the crop, the household and kitchen furniture, two cows and one half, one buggy and one black horse mule purchased from Jones Bros. and other possessions.” He left Stephen Green 20 acres of land, which is also “a part of the Rice tract.”
Charles A. Orr, one of the three narrators of the Shared History documentary, is the great grandson of Isaac Nimmons. His mother, Eulamae Nimmons Orr, was the daughter of I. S. Nimmons and married David M. Orr in 1923. They moved to York, PA, following other of Eulamae’s sisters.
* Contract dated July 19, 1865, South Caroliniana Library. Freedmen listed in contract included Rhina Boneparte, August Green, Betsy Jennard, Dido Middleton, Edy Middleton, Peter Middleton, Phillipa Middleton, Sally Middleton, Sary Middleton, Stephen Middleton, William Middleton, Dedo Mitchell, Tom Moore, Isaac Nimmons, Ted Nimmons, Daniel Polite, Binah Simons, Stuart Simons, Becky Singleton, Ely Singleton, Harry Singleton, Sam Smith, Julia Washington, E. Wedio, Mily Yangy.