Wednesday, January 10, 2018

McLeod Plantation, James Island, SC

On a recent trip to the Charleston area we visited The McLeod Plantation. When I was looking for places to visit I read all the websites and reviews of the area plantations and the admission rates. After much thought I decided that McLeod would be a great fit for us and great for the kids. Most of the plantations have a strong focus on the history of the family that owned the plantation showcasing their success and immense wealth.

 Allowing you to tour lovely gardens and old homes full of antiques while this is still enjoyable to be honest it only tells 1/2 of the story. On a visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's house a few years ago I was impressed by the tour about the enslaved people and was pleased to see the museum making an effort to tell their story. This is a positive trend in recent years. 
Much of history is difficult and uncomfortable but shouldn't be brushed under the rug it should be embraced and told it shaped America and its important for us all to learn. 

The Mcleod Plantation is run by Charleston County Parks and recreation, it was donated when the last member of the family passed away. The plantation was founded in 1851 and made its riches in sea island cotton a special cotton that was highly sought after for its softness. This cotton was grown, harvested and processed by enslaved people in fact they were brought from West Africa for their skills in agriculture particularly growing rice. The slave trade and production of cash crops grown for export in the colonies formed an awful circle that keep it going creating large sums of wealth on the backs of enslaved people. 

This museum tells the story of these people with the help of wonderful and knowledgeable guides who describe the hardships and working conditions, the day to day life at the time. How the transition  occurs after the civil war with the abolition of slavery, the politics and how often times plantation owners would return to the homes and land and trick now freed men, woman and children to continue to work for them and not really be free. The tour discusses the role of the Freedmen's Bureau and its work to help now freed people gain land and find work in fact the house was the headquarters for a local chapter. 
The plantation has a good number of original slave cabins you can enter and one of the most powerful moments for me was knowing that someone rented one up until 1996, it was rented at 27 dollars a month. This was a powerful moment for the children to see the contrast between how the enslaved people lived and the folks in the big house. 

The guide Olivia focused on the strength of the woman in holding the plantation together caring for the children, cooking and often being the only parent, as this particular owner had an awful reputation for selling strong men and splitting families apart. Really the owners were completely dependent on the enslaved people and were nothing without them. 

The sea islands near South Carolina are special as they are home to a group of people called the Gullah people, due to its isolation and hot and humid conditions this community were able to maintain many West African traditions and even have their own language. 

Most of Southern Soul food stems from West African cuisines and the expert cooking of enslaved people. 

I wish I could write that the days of slavery are over but human trafficking still occurs around the world from forced Laborers on Thai fishing boats, to domestic workers in the Middle East, folks working in hotels in London and other big cities and folks often fleeing violence in their homelands coming to neighboring countries being detained and forced into labor.

Be aware, read current events and have a zero tolerance support organizations that work to stop these activities, carefully think of your food choices and if you ever suspect anything wrong occurring speak up. 

We need to hear the stories of the great men and women who are part of Americas history and learn from them.

The sea island cotton was wiped out by boll weevil's and it hasn't been grown for many many years. However old seeds were found in Texas and sent to the plantation last year to see if they could be grown again and it was successful, when you visit you can see and touch it growing where it would have grown 300 years ago in the region. 

The house, its a lovely building with veranda's overlooking the river  is empty inside and I suspect not as grand as other plantation homes, but the magic of this historic site is in connecting with the men and woman who lived here honoring them and connecting to Gullah culture.

There is also a lovely avenue of live oak trees complete with Spanish moss very common in the Southern United States. 

 There is a live oak tree next to the house thought to be between 400-600 years old. Really a special tree also if your in the area the Angel oak, is worth a visit too its a 5 minute drive away. 

The kids were fascinated by the moss but be careful in warmer months little bugs live on it and you may be bitten. 

If your in the Charleston area I highly recommend a visit to this plantation it will move you, more than likely make you uncomfortable and tear up but its vital that we open our ears and listen to the stories of the past, to make sure that the future is better.

We each have a role to play in ensuring that it is.

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