The McBrides and Rip Raps

Rip Raps Plantation
The sun is shining on the back porch.
James Samuel McBride 
Only child of Samuel & Martha Ruberry McBride, Father of Alice Maude McBride Dabbs.

James McBride met Sophronia Adams Warren (born October 19, 1839), a distant relative of his mother’s family from Charleston, when they came to visit his family home at Egypt farms. They became engaged and he began building a large home to be later named Rip Raps as a gift for his bride, marking it off on the ground immediately in front of the house in which he currently lived. The new house was initiated in 1858. He was 17 years old at the time. It features 14  rooms, each measuring 20 x 20, symmetrically positioned on either side of a large hall that flows through the entirety of the mansion from front to back. The front and the back entrances are identical, with six columns and a large piazza across both. A landscape artist from New York City was engaged to lay off new grounds with the bigger house at a slightly different angle and a new avenue that stretched through the pinewoods for 3⁄4 mile. An expert from Barchman nurseries (later known as Fruitland Nurseries) in Augusta, Georgia, came several times to advise and direct the keeping of the grounds and gardens for Rip Raps and the Witherspoon Plantation, known as Coldstream. upon completion, Rip Raps is strikingly similar to a previous home built in the area known as Rollingdale, which was destroyed in a fire.

James McBride and Sophronia Adams Warren were married on February 22, 1859. James had developed tuberculosis. There is some speculation that he may have contracted this as a child from his aunt (his mother’s step- sister), Susan Vardell Ruberry, who died at 24 of what well may have been tuberculosis. (Susan Ruberry married Charles Sparks before her death. Their stones are next to the McBrides on the back right-hand side at Brick Church for those of you trying to figure out who Susan Sparks was and why she is buried there.) James was just an infant at the time, and Susan, who was in poor health, asked to have him brought to her. Susan, even though young, was evidently a convincing evangelist and requested that the baby James be baptized in her presence in her room where she held him in her arms and offered prayer.

As a young man, James was not strong enough to go with the Confederate troops, but was given a pass to nurse the troops behind the lines; possibly thereby also spreading tuberculosis. His wife’s many brothers and sisters moved up to Rip Raps from Atlanta. Her brothers Lewis and Albert both fought for the Confederacy and, it is said, that her brother, James Warren, who was too young to go to war, climbed to the top of the roof of Rip Raps in order to tie a Confederate flag to a chimney.

A fervent supporter of the Confederate cause, young James refused to embellish his new home with furniture and curtains while troops were in need. Instead, he supplied wagon loads of corn to troops in North and South Carolina (after his death, his wife and father-in-law continued the practice). Families of troops were welcomed at the plantation and given corn when in need, to the extent that, when people asked where someone was going they’d respond, “To Egypt to get some corn.” In this way, the McBride farm was referred to as Egypt farms.

It has been suggested that they might have referred to it as Egypt farms so as not to alert any Yankee sympathizers as to their supply source, but it was also said that Samuel McBride had previously named his farm Egypt Farms in reference to the high quality of corn he was producing and how far away people came to get seeds for their own crops. In Sallie Ruberry Burgess’s history of the Mayes family written in 1930, she claims that the Northern Army made regular trips to Rip Raps – called the old home “Goshen” – and carried away wagon loads of corn. There is nothing we have to support that story; quite the opposite, in fact. Oral history tells us again and again that the Yankees never marched up the avenue to Rip Raps with the exception of one poor lost straggler who was promptly turned around and sent on his way at gun point. By the end of the war, there wasn’t much corn left for anyone to eat, even those who lived there.

At some time during young James’ experience behind the lines, he camped beside the Rip Raps River in Virginia, and listened through the night to the water gurgling and rushing over the stones on its way down the mountain. When he returned home, he lay in bed hearing the rain water rushing down the forty foot gutters and remembered the Rip Raps River. So with some nostalgia, he named his new home Rip Raps. One story goes that when James returned briefly from the war to see the results of his new home, he was astounded at the size. Indeed his father-in-law, Guy Warren, wrote from Jonesboro on February 10, 1861, “James is now building himself a large new house. I think it is about 60 x 80 feet, two stories high with a large hall running through the center and three rooms on either side of the hall in either story, a total twelve rooms with Piazza all around the house. I cannot imagine what he intends
to do with so large a house.” What was, indeed, staggering and took more than 50 years to resolve, were the debts that were incurred during the building of this home. When young James died leaving his wife with only Confederate money to pay the bills, (worth only four cents on the dollar following the war) his 5-year-old widow, Sophronia, was left with overwhelming debt.

Rip Raps is the only home standing of the McBride/ Dabbs homes that was at one time a working plantation. On this site, 97 slaves worked to bring in crops of cotton, rice, and corn. Samuel McBride’s home that stood in the rear of the present site was torn down and a pegged “Summer Home” was built from it one mile away in the healthy part of the pine woods. That location was on the east side of Highway # 57 as you cross the Crossroads going towards I-95. The Summer Home burned in 1936. The family would spend eight months a year at the Winter Home (Rip Raps) and four months at the Summer Home, where the mosquitoes weren’t as bad. These two houses were little more than a mile apart.

The Union Army never passed by Rip Raps, although there was great fear that they would. The children had been told that, should they see Union Troops starting down the half mile avenue that led to the house, they could begin eating all of the molasses and sugar they wanted. Sugar came in blocks or bars and was kept in a bin that still exists at Rip Raps today. Surely, at least some of the younger family members lived with the desire to see at least one “Yank” before the war was over. Once, on a Sunday following a skirmish with the Yanks at Dingle’s Mill, while people were holding services at Brick Church, a courier came riding up, dismounted, and walked into the church and up to the minister with a message. 

The Yankees were moving up the western side of Black River towards the only crossing, just below Mayesville and headed for the Salem community. The congregation was dismissed, and headed for home to prepare. At Rip Raps, valuables and money were hidden, corn was spread over the ground, and all possible precautions were taken against looting. It was feared that the library within the house would be sacked and burned. A number of valuable old books were placed in a large sack, tied with a cord, and taken through the attic to the hollow top of a column and hung on a nail inside.

Meanwhile, the Mayesville members on the way home from church stopped after crossing the river just long enough to burn the bridge completely. When the Yankees arrived, already behind on orders to meet Sherman’s men at Camden, they could not wait long enough to rebuild the bridge and had to move on.

The books at Rip Raps remained in the column until the end of the war when it was discovered that the string had broken and the books had fallen to the bottom of the column. Boards had to be pried loose to get them out. Most of them were molded or eaten by mice.

As a young child in the 1950s, I remember innocently asking my grandmother whether Sherman was a Yankee or a Confederate. Her stunned look alerted me that I had not done my homework. “Dear,” she replied. “Don’t you ever mention that man’s name in my house again.” I didn’t.