Forest at historic S.C. plantation to be restored
But first, archeologists must do some cultural detective work at Hampton Plantation to ensure other important elements are not destroyed.
Mon, Nov 30 2009 at 3:29 PM
BALANCING ACT: The boundaries of old slave quarters and a graveyard must be determined before invasive species are removed and pine trees can flourish. (Photo: South Carolina Parks Department)
The checklist includes a cemetery that may be the final resting place of antebellum slaves, a former South Carolina poet laureate, ground-penetrating radar at a National Historic Landmark, and reforestation at a rice plantation.
Clearly the work that’s being planned at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site in South Carolina, about 35 miles north of Charleston, is not your run-of-the-mill use of stimulus funds.
“This has the potential to be really exciting,” said David Jones, archaeologist for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Funding for the ambitious project — which combines the cultural and natural heritages of Hampton Plantation — is $139,000 in stimulus funds, awarded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
The ultimate goal is to restore portions of the longleaf pine forests on the Hampton site to their former glory. But before that work can be done, great care will be taken to make sure nothing of historic value is disturbed, including an African-American cemetery that is still being used for burials and what may be long-forgotten slave quarters.
“We’re trying to balance the site’s cultural and natural resources,” said Valerie Carter-Stone, resource management biologist for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
The Santee Delta’s Hampton Plantation was first built in the mid-1700s, historians believe, with enlargements and additions through the end of the 18th century. The property is significant because it is one of the few surviving 18th century rice plantations open to the public. In addition to the historic mansion, it includes many of the elements necessary for understanding low country plantations, such as remnant rice fields, work areas, archaeological sites and landscapes. George Washington visited there in 1791, and at its peak as a plantation before the Civil War, it was home to as many as 340 slaves. The house passed through several well-known South Carolina families as they inter-married, including the Horry, Pinckney and Rutledge families. Archibald Rutledge, former poet laureate of South Carolina, sold the plantation to the state in 1971 and it is now open to the public.
Before the parks department can get to the reforestation work, it will take pains not to disturb any of the historical record. There are two areas of concern: the African-American cemetery and the possible former slave quarters.
Rutledge mentions the cemetery several times in stories set at Hampton. “He calls it ‘the old slave cemetery,’ and describes it as ancient,” said Al Hester, historic sites coordinator. “We know it goes back to the 1890s, but it may even go back to the 1700s.” The cemetery is not part of the Hampton site, but no one knows where its actual boundaries are, and it may spill over into Hampton territory. So Jones, the archaeologist, will use ground-penetrating radar to determine where the oldest graves are and to make sure none are disturbed by the work.
In addition to the cemetery, an 1809 map of the site shows several buildings in what is now forest that historians believe may have been slave quarters. The forest is too thick for much to be visible to the naked eye, but there are old bricks scattered around from long-gone buildings. Jones plans to do archaeological excavations on the site to determine if there are former slave quarters there.
“If they are there, then it could become a full-scale excavation, and it would guide the types of reforestation techniques used,” said Jones.
Once the tests are complete, the work can begin on restoring the longleaf pine forest, said Carter-Stone. That will consist mainly of removing hardwood trees, privet and wisteria and doing prescribed fires. The result will be a forest more like the one that grew in place at Hampton Plantation more than a century ago, with rare longleaf pines above and wildflowers below.
In addition to the work to be done at Hampton, the federal stimulus funding also covers South Carolina longleaf pine restoration projects in Hunting Island State Park, Givhans Ferry State Park, Lake Warren State Park and Barnwell State Park.
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Phil Kloer is a public affairs specialist for the Southeastern region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
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