In my previous post I mentioned that an online conversation among Twitterstorians had covered the subject of how media cover the sale of historic plantations. While the conversation covers plantations of many locations or based in cotton or sugar, the emphasis of late tied to the sales of rice plantations in the lowcountry.
This week, a trio of historians penned an Opinion piece for the Washington Post addressing the subject with cogency. Please see the clearly titled Op/Ed here: Portraying plantations as luxury real estate downplays the legacy of slavery.
The ongoing reckoning with the history of racial oppression, especially the history of enslavement, is quickening among the Lowcountry’s tourist plantations. This week, the Washington Post brought a new piece examining this process and its most recent changes.
N.B. Among historians of the Lowcountry, the recent coverage by the Post & Courier of plantations as historical real estate and architecture, while ignoring how the properties got built, has created a Twitter thread or three.
The Savannah Morning News published an account recalling the tragic and terrible mass sale of 429 enslaved people in 1859. The sale, labeled “The Weeping Time” by African Americans, it is remembered as the largest auction of humans in the history of Georgia. Pierce Butler, a rice planter of great wealth, sold them and in the process shattered families with members of all ages.
The event and memory of it is the subject of an excellent book by Anne C. Bailey, The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History (2017).
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd the structural and persistent aspects of racism are being called out. A secondary, but still important feature of Americans’ reevaluation of images, symbols, and language, and the racist interpretations they denote and connote. The term plantation is under interrogation from Barbados to Rhode Island for these reasons.
Early credit is due to two young journalists, Katherine Kokal and Lucas Smolcic Larson at the Island Packet for being first out on this story.
Since then the Washington Post and New York Times (which also looked at the town of Plantation, FL) have followed their trail into the story.
Plantation is a complicated idea. It ranges from the use as applied to Rhode Island to what can be described as slave labor camps, as one historian put it. Since 1865 the term’s meaning has certainly migrated in the South from a land with a large enslaved population or community to mean anything from an estate that historically bore the name plantation to modern resort community. The future of the term is very much in question for those places that are not using the name as a continuation of a place name.
One of the less appreciated legacies of rice culture and the fact that many plantations remained undeveloped and fairly intact, is their role in establishing a wildlife refuge space today and into the future.
Hasty Point Plantation on the Pee Dee River in Georgetown, County, will become part of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge after the US government purchases it. The State Paper in Columbia reported on this as well as The Sun News in Myrtle Beach.
The addition of the 772 acre rice plantation to the NWR, will change public access from boats to automobile and open it to foot traffic. For that reason, this becomes much more than expanding the refuge by a few percent. Managers of the refuge picture Hast Point as the public entrance to Waccamaw NWR a 34,000 acre zone on the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Rivers of historic places along with landscapes of animal and plant diversity.
Tomotley Plantation, an ACE Basin property deeded by the crown in the late 17th Century served as a working rice plantation for generations. Over that time hundreds of enslaved people worked and lived there.
Like most ACE Basin rice plantation, in twentieth century Tomotley has been a home and hunting preserve. In 1990 the Mixon family, natives to the ACE Basin region, purchased the property and retained it until this sale. Portions are in conservation easement as part of the ACE Basin initiatives.
The early Nineteenth century live oak allée is legendary and much photographed.
The plantation sold recently for $7.8 million after several years on the real estate market.
I have to confess to an abiding passion for hash on rice. Hannah Raskin produced a nice study of the current state of hash offerings in South Carolina. She also gives a tidy history of hash too. Read it here.
Lonnie G. Bunch III, the acclaimed visionary and first director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, now Secretary of the Smithsonian, brings some rice culture into his new book. In an account excerpted at WCBI, he tells of a trip to Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown County. His story focuses on Princy Jenkins who managed the estate and descended from people enslaved there. Read it here, of find a copy of Bunch’s book.
The LA Times ran a thoughtful and lengthy piece this week on the reparations debate with their focus on Charleston and the Rice Kingdom. They quote important rice culture historians Professor David Littlefield, Vinnie Deas Moore, Zenobia Harper, and Richard Porcher.
It is rare for rice culture and the enslaved performed all the labor to get such detailed attention in a national newspaper.
The Georgetown Times offers a feature on local history produced by the Georgetown County Museum. The series is called “Museum Around the Corner” and does a nice job of making readers aware of local features of the past. The most recent essay related the story of Storm Towers or Hurricane Towers in the Rice Kingdom.
After a particularly deadly 1822 storm, plantations in the Waccamaw and Santee zone added raised, brick-built towers for enslaved people to shelter in during hurricanes.
Remnants of towers survive to this day. For more see books by David Doar and Richard Porcher.