The History of the Sorrel Weed House

get to know one of the most historically significant homes in Savannah

The Sorrel Weed House is a historic landmark located near Savannah, Georgia’s landscaped Madison Square. The manor stands out with its architectural splendor and rich, deep-south history. Its ghastly past has rendered it one of the most haunted locations in America. We know today that mental illness and racial abuse ran rampant behind these perfectly decorated walls. Within them, humans were traded, appraised, and abused. This truth distorts the image of southern charm the home displays, turning it into a very sinister yet genuine picture of the past.

Francis Sorrel

The Sorrel Weed House was built in 1840 for shipping merchant Francis Sorrel (1793-1870). Mr. Sorrel, who was half-Haitian, half-French, grew up humbly in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), before traveling to North America and becoming one of the wealthiest men in Savannah.

Francis Sorrel’s father, Antoine François Sorrel des Rivières, was a French Colonel sent to Haiti to map the colony. Francis’ mother, Eugenie de Sutre, was believed to be a free black woman who died shortly after giving birth. While he was an infant, Francis lived with his father in his sugarcane plantation. Young Sorrel had been born during tumultuous times in the island as the Haitian Revolution was underway.

His father regularly traveled during the Revolution until one day, he never returned, leaving the young Francis in the care of slaves on his plantation. It was believed that Sorrel Sr. abandoned Francis because he was a constant reminder of the affair he had with a black woman.

Sometime during his father’s absence, the plantation was targeted by revolting slaves who sought to murder every colonist and set fire to their property. One of 5-year-old Francis’ enslaved caretakers took pity on him and hid him from enemy forces.

The slave then took him to Port Au Prince, where he was taken in by the caretaker’s relatives. This incredible act of kindness saved the young boy’s life. Unbelievably, even after being rescued and taken care of by slaves, Sorrel still managed to become a slave trader, selling and purchasing people like objects.

Sorrel’s Move to America

In 1807, Francis began to work as a merchant clerk in Port Au Prince to make ends meet. His hard work paid off, and he was soon transferred to the company’s Baltimore, Maryland branch.

While in Baltimore, he and his supervisor, Henry Douglass, started drafting the plans for a shipping company they planned to open in Savannah. They both moved down south shortly after, and Douglass & Sorrel was open for business.

The company imported a variety of goods: butter, salt, molasses, cotton, but they also distributed slaves. Even after his partnership with Douglass had ended - supposedly in amicable terms, Sorrel continued profiting from slave labor and trade, sometimes selling young mothers along with their month-old infants.

After several years of successful business in Savannah, Francis Sorrel commissioned the construction of the estate we know today as the Sorrel Weed House. The home flaunted Sorrel’s wealth and provided space to store the slaves he traded.

Henry D. Weed

Francis and his family lived in the home for roughly two decades until 1859 when he decided to sell the property and move into the adjacent house on 12 West Harris Street. The home was then purchased by Henry D. Weed (1803-1875), a wealthy businessman and landowner from Connecticut, and remained in the Weed family until 1914.

The dwelling was subsequently vacant until 1940 when it was opened to the public by the Society for the Preservation of Savannah Landmarks (now the Historic Savannah Foundation). Several years later, in 1954, the building was declared a State Landmark because of its historical value and grandeur.

American Revolutionary and Civil War Significance

The house stands where the British built their fortresses in preparation for the 1779 Siege of Savannah, one of the most significant and gruesome battles of the American Revolutionary War.

Much like the other historic 19th century homes in the city, the Sorrel Weed House also carries ties to the American Civil War as it was Confederate General Moxley Sorrel’s childhood home. After the war, Sorrel wrote a memoir titled Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer, now regarded as one the best postwar accounts of the intimate and slightly humorous lives of Confederate soldiers. The home was also visited somewhat frequently by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was a close family friend.

Construction and Design

The structure, designed by Irish-born architect Charles B. Cluskey is considered an excellent example of Regency Architecture due to its perfectly symmetrical layout and Greek Revival elements.

In 1835, the 16,000 square foot project was initiated and took roughly five years to complete. When finished, Sorrel had spent a total of 12,000 dollars, a substantial amount at the time.

The Sorrel Weed House is often compared to the Owens-Thomas House in Savannah, the similarities between them being not only their exterior appearance but also their cruel slave-centered past.

Tyranny within the Sorrel Family

The Sorrel Weed House is often referred to as one of the most haunted places in America. Although we won’t bore you with tales of ghosts and apparitions, there is value in discussing the historical aspects that earned the home such a reputation.

According to legend, the home’s paranormal activity stems from the tragic death of Francis Sorrel’s second wife, Matilda. Lucinda, his first wife, died of yellow fever in 1827, and Francis went on to marry her sister Matilda two years later.

The already uncomfortable story takes a dark turn when Matilda jumps to her death from the second story after she discovers Francis having an affair with a slave girl named Molly. Molly is said to have committed suicide as well, hanging herself in grief.

Records indicate that Matilda did commit suicide in 1859 by plunging to her death. According to Sorrel’s friend, Charles C. Jones, Matilda jumped from the second - or third story - window “in a fit of lunacy.”

The details were described in a letter Jones wrote to his mother. In the letter, he also confirms that the suicide happened next door at 12 West Harris Street, where the family lived after Sorrel sold his home to Weed. In her reply, Jones’ mother states that she was aware of Matilda being depressed for some time, although it doesn’t seem like many other people knew of Mrs. Sorrel’s struggle.

Matilda was an active member of the Board of the Female Asylum before her death, and word getting out that she had a mental illness would have been detrimental to her career.

As far as the existence of Molly, the available records point to two potential women. The first one appears written on a manifest that listed slaves transported by Francis Sorrel. The manifest mentions a 28-year-old “black” woman named Molly, who was transported from Savannah to New York in 1857, two years before the tragedy. It is unknown, however, if she ever returned to Savannah.

Charles Green, the owner of the Green-Meldrim House across the street, also owned a slave named Molly during this time. It is possible that Green, who was Sorrel’s friend, shared women with him.

After Matilda’s death, people began to speculate how Sorrel could have been attracted to Molly. African-Americans at the time were considered to be degenerate, savages who worshipped strange gods, and followed twisted traditions. Therefore, the only explanation for why Matilda would commit suicide would have to be that she fell victim to the workings of a dark young temptress who used voodoo to seduce her husband. What is highly likely, however, is that Francis forced himself on female slaves, a common yet unspoken practice at the time.

Slaves were, sadly, seen as nothing but property, exploited not only physically but also sexually. Regardless of how we view this narrative, the demonization of African-Americans, especially black women and the dominance of white-privileged men is evident.

Slave Quarters

The slave quarters offer a contrasting yet complete glimpse into the home’s past. As was customary, the main home proudly displayed expensive furnishings, while the slaves lived in cramped, deteriorating rooms.

The two-story building was equipped with the bare minimum: a fireplace, a table, and cast-iron pots for cooking, chamber pots for human waste disposal, and a barrel for bathing. The beds were a simple wooden frame with no other support except for an interlaced rope that created a sort of net-hammock hybrid.

The slaves were only provided two blankets, one was used as a cover, while the other was used as a pillow. This was sadly all that was available to those who lived their lives in confinement and who contributed so much to the development of the city.

Visiting the Sorrel Weed House

The Old Sorrel Weed House Museum currently conducts daily historical and paranormal walk-in tours of the main home and carriage house. The museum offers both adults only and family friendly tours.

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