The house at the Oaks Plantation is significant for its association with the military occupation of St.Helena Island during the Civil War and with the establishment of Penn School, the first school for freedmen in the United States.

John Jeremiah Theus Pope of St Helena and his wife, Mary Frampton Townsend of Edisto Island built a house at The Oaks , a five-hundred-acre sea island cotton plantation between Chowan and Wallace creeks. They set the house near the south bank of the Chowan Creek and raised it on a foundation of brick piers. The Oaks Plantation House is a Greek Revival sea island residence that incorporates the lateral rear wings characteristic of Beaufort construction.

The Popes did not enjoy their new home very long. Mary Townsend Pope died in February 1861. With the Federal occupation of the island in November 1861, J.J.T. Pope left the island and the plantation was confiscated. L. Pierce, one of the leaders of the Port Royal Experiment , chose The Oaks Plantation as his headquarters because it was the first plantation to be reached on St. Helena Island by boat from Beaufort. The Oaks Plantation remained Saint Helena Island headquarters throughout the war and was the center for military and agricultural activities on the island.

In 1862 Ellen Murray and her friend Laura M. Towne both from the Pennsylvania Freedmen’s Relief Association opened a school for freedmen in a back room of The Oaks Plantation. This was the founding of the Penn Normal School. At first there were only nine adult students, but several months later the class had grown so large for its small room that it had to be moved to a brick church near the center of the island. Originally the idea of the school was just to provide training in farming and agricultural pursuits. It was not very long before the school added trade skills to the curriculum. The house also served as a hotel for military personnel from Port Royal, superintendents and teachers. Misses Towne and Murray lived at The Oaks Plantation until 1864.

J. J.T. Pope died in 1864 without ever returning home. The Oaks Plantation house and about half the acreage were eventually redeemed by his son Daniel Townsend Pope. The hurricane of 1893 damaged The Oaks and the porch was afterward rebuilt with a gabled second-level portico above a simple shed roof. The lateral wings have since been extended to each side. The house retains its integrity of form, massing, scale, and location. In addition, significant architectural detail remains intact on the primary façade. The Oaks Plantation was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Although no archaeological survey has been conducted at The Oaks Plantation, the early and extensive occupation, limited amount of landscape disturbing activities, and historically and architecturally significant activities at The Oaks Plantation suggest that the site has the potential to yield valuable archaeological data.

National Register of Historic Places