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History lost as Butler Island home goes up in flames
Huston House on Butler Island
Flames tear through the historic Huston House on Butler Island, just outside of Darien. Butler Island is connected to “The Weeping Time,” one of the largest sales of enslaved people in American history. Photo by Lewis Levine

DARIEN — A fire that consumed a historic home on a McIntosh County property was connected with one of the state’s and nation’s darkest episodes.

The Huston House on Butler Island Plantation burned June 26, and authorities suspect arson is the reason.

Historian Hermina Glass-Hill said the plantation is intertwined with what is called “The Weeping Time,” the largest single sale of slaves in the U.S. Held during March 1859, enslaved men, women and children, totaling 436 people, were sold off, often separating families.

Seeing the Houston House at the Butler Plantation was emotional for Glass-Hill.

“This is a really sad occasion,” she said. “I just hate to think of losing this place.”

The Coalition to Preserve Butler Island Plantation was successful in fending off HB 906, which would have enabled the land to be sold off in 15-acre parcels, Glass-Hill said.

Pierce Butler, a Philadelphia businessman, owned Butler Island Plantation. Because of a debt he owed, he had the 436 slaves sold at auction.

“This is the origin of the Weeping Time,” Glass-Hill said. “We understand this to be sacred ground. Those 436 people came from this place. This place is so sacred to all of us. This is a tragedy that this is occurring. It is one of the rarest intact plantations on the Georgia coast. It is one of the most sacred because of that very fact.”

The Huston House was built in 1927 and it was sold to R.J. Reynolds Jr. in 1938. The house currently is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation put the Huston House on its “Places in Peril” list in 2019.

McIntosh County Sheriff ’s Office deputies arrested Kyle Gill.

The Liberty County and Ludowici fire departments also responded to help battle the blaze at the Houston House.

—Lewis Levine contributed to this report

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