Restless by nature, Poellnitz in 1790 exchanged his Minto estate for a 2,991-acre plantation, Wraggtown (later Ragtown), on the Great Pee Dee River in Marlboro County, South Carolina.
Nobleman, horticulturist, inventor. Born on December 30, 1734, in Gotha, Prussia, Poellnitz spent his early adult years in Europe, where he served as chamberlain in the court of Frederick the Great. He immigrated to the United States, arriving in Edenton, North Carolina, in 1782. He soon thereafter moved to New York City, where he bought a twenty-two-acre estate, Minto, on which stood a four-story brick house, the home of the last British governor of New York. There, Poellnitz pursued his interest in horticulture, conducted agricultural experiments, and grew a wide variety of fruit trees and other plants. He also focused his inventive interests on developing new types of farm implements. In 1790 President George Washington visited Minto and bought a plow for use at Mount Vernon. Poellnitz and his threshing machine appeared in a 1788 parade in New York to celebrate the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. In 1790 Poellnitz wrote to Washington outlining an ambitious plan for a federal demonstration farm to develop new agricultural techniques. Washington proposed the idea in his inaugural address, but no further action was taken.
Restless by nature, Poellnitz in 1790 exchanged his Minto estate for a 2,991-acre plantation, Wraggtown (later Ragtown), on the Great Pee Dee River in Marlboro County, South Carolina. At Wraggtown, the baron built a brick house on elevated ground, plans for which included an original design for bringing running water into the house from a nearby creek. No trace of the plantation house remains, but some of the canals he dug for irrigation and his experiments with crop rotation remain on the property.
The first federal census in 1790 listed Poellnitz’s household as including three white males over sixteen, four white males under sixteen, three white females, and fifteen slaves. In 1792 Poellnitz purchased an additional 578 acres, giving him a total of 3,568 acres. Although a slaveholder, Poellnitz nevertheless expressed strong views about the need to abolish the practice and to give full citizenship to African Americans. In essays published in the Gazette of the United States in 1790, he wrote that slavery was a “contradiction to the laws of free government and to those of a well-regulated monarchy.” He continued to correspond with President Washington, setting forth a broad range of views about agriculture, education, and the organization of society, with frequent reference to the law of nature. He again expressed his ideas about the importance of agriculture, commerce, and trade to the life of the nation.
Poellnitz died on April 7, 1801, and was buried at Wraggtown. An oak tree was planted atop his grave so that his ashes would become part of the tree and its acorns could be a reminder of his life and home in South Carolina for generations to come. In 1960 descendants placed a granite marker to his memory in Rogers Cemetery near his plantation. In 1976 the Marlboro County Historical Commission erected a South Carolina Historical Marker to Baron Poellnitz and Ragtown on South Carolina Highway 38 in Brownsville.
Johnston, Henry Poellnitz. Little Acorns from the Mighty Oak. Birmingham, Ala.: Featon, 1962.
Kinney, William L., Jr. “The Baron of Marlboro County.” Carologue 19 (winter 2003): 14–18.
Meador, Daniel J. Rembert Hills and Myrtlewood. Charlottesville, Va.: by the author, 2000.
Thomas, J. A. W. A History of Marlboro County, with Traditions and Sketches of Numerous Families. 1897. Reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing, 1971.