OK, so some of you feel I need to do another blog post. My girls are so in demand! We have been busy but nothing too really interesting that merits ‘blog worthiness’ I thought…until Friday ..when I became a
Field Trip chaperone!
That’s right, I volunteered to take a day off and accompany a bus full of
nice little kids 3rd graders on a field trip. We were going to one of our neighboring historical plantations where they were to get illustrations and examples of early ‘Cash Crops’ in our country that they had just studied in school.
Walking down the halls of the elementary school that morning someone asked if I was chaperoning? I said Yes, (apparently it is my turn in the family). The nice teacher offered back, “You know, they give all the problem kids to the male chaperones!”
Not me. I had my Dylan in my group, the nicest kid.
Before I start, here is some background on Boone Hall Plantation (the most photographed plantation in America), our target destination plantation. It is one of the magnificently maintained plantations preserved from our 1700 and 1800’s in the Charleston area.
Here are some facts from Wikipedia:
The earliest known reference to the site is of 1681, in a land grant of 470 acres (1.9 km2) from owner Theophilus Patey, to his daughter Elizabeth and her new husband, Major John Boone. Apparently, cultivation was started on the tract almost immediately; a wooden house was raised on the tract in 1790. It was a two-story frame house with a one-story front porch.
The house that stands now was built by Thomas Stone, a Canadian who purchased the land in 1935. He wanted a “grander style” home than what was there, so he built the Colonial Revival-style house in 1936 that stands there today.
The bricks in the house were made in their Horlbeck brickyard. the Horlbecks were previous owners of Boone Hall Plantation. This new house was designed by Beers and Farley of New York. Mr. Stone also reinvigorated the pecan farming operation at the plantation, focusing on about 200 acres of what had been a 700-acre pecan farm along with other agricultural initiatives like apples, strawberries and other local crops.
But then World War II broke out and Mr. Stone was asked to return back to Canada. He sold the property to a Russian, or Georgian Prince, Dimitri Djordjadze in 1940.
Now does that strike anybody as odd, that a Canadian sold the property during World War II to a Russian?
Regardless, the property was sold again in 1945 to Dr. Henry Deas and his wife Adele Deas and then a gain to the current owners, Harris M. McRae and his wife, Nancy Thomas in 1955. The McRaes opened the plantation to the public in 1956 and have made great efforts to preserve the original structures and gardens.
Today, we simply know it as Boone Hall Plantation, one of America’s oldest working plantations, continually growing crops for over 320 years now. Boone Hall Farms is the present agricultural arm that operates this part of the plantation. April to June, strawberries are the centerpiece at Boone Hall Farms. The annual Lowcountry Strawberry Festival caps off the peak of each season and thousands of pounds of strawberries are picked from Boone Hall Farms U-Pick fields.
Avenue of Oaks ~ ask me about those big balls!
On the grounds today, besides the house, sit nine of the original slave cabins which date back to 1790-1810, a smokehouse dating from 1750, a Cotton Gin house (1853), and the grand Avenue of Oaks that was created in 1743 and completed in 1843. The live oak trees run 3/4 of a mile long from the entrance to the front house gates.They used to have their own brick mill too (Horlbeck brickyard), where slaves produced all the bricks for the house and a few of the slave quarters. We could make out finger prints in these bricks.
I can’t speak for the 3rd graders but I learned more in the first 15 minutes of the tour than I thought I would the entire trip.
Take for instance the local and plentiful Spanish Moss hanging in the Oak tress:
Neither ‘Spanish’ nor ‘Moss’
The guide first pointed out the abundant Spanish Moss hanging from the old live oaks on the property. As everything has a history here she asked the visiting 3rd graders not to put any in their pockets to take home. “..that the Spanish Moss has bugs in it.”
Still that did not stop the early settlers from stuffing their pillows and even their mattresses with it the guide told us. But you know what? It still had bugs in it.
Hence the old saying, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite”.
There, now you learned something too.
Our guide went on to point out Spanish Moss is neither from Spain nor is it moss. Spanish Moss is actually closer to the Pineapple family.
Go figure. I learned something again!
Our guide then pointed out the beautiful live oaks lining the Avenue of Oaks. She said they date back some 250 years, suggesting that the early owners here actually planted these beauties them self.
See that metal balls in the pictures above? They are called Ballast Balls. They were used in the unloading of the early crops from the flat boats going down to the harbor.
If one of these long boats had a few 500lb bundles of cotton removed from one end they might tip over from the weight on the other end of the boat. So as the heavy product was unloaded these Ballast Balls would be put on to the vacated area, replacing the weight and helping to stabilize the boat.
Next on the tour was Slave Street, a row of 9 brick homes that housed some of the slaves for the plantations. Now these were made of brick and had wooden floors, not what you picture most slaves in America having.
We find out these homes belonged to the ‘upper crust’ of the slaves, so to speak. These slaves had jobs working in the owner’s house, or carpenters or something.
Field slaves, as they were called, had their own set of houses, not nearly as ‘livable’ as this.
The first house at the top of Slave street was called, Praise House and that is where the slaves had their house of worship.
It was pointed out the most of these slaves came from Western Africa and often spoke different languages. From their captivity they were forced to learn English (and Christianity apparently). They were not allowed to speak their native languages. From these old African dialects formed a new African type of English called Gullah, which you can still hear today in some remote areas of the coast of Carolina and the lands surrounding the Gulf.
The next house displayed the craft or art form or skill of making Sweetwater Baskets out of the local sweet grass. These were time-consuming but were a major part of the early life here, along with things made from clay in the early years. These flat baskets were used in gathering rice. But I found the one style below very interesting; the Moses Basket.
See if you can read the description below…
Again, these were some important slaves to the life of the Plantation. Still they did their jobs then came back to these houses after their jobs were finished.
Our group, and their 50+ pair of dirty shoes, were not allowed on the Plantation Home either.
CASH CROPS Tour
The bulk of the tour was on the raising of cotton in the fields and the evolution of that trade here in America. There was great care put into tilling the soil for this very labor intensive and profitable crop.
In the presentation the guide pointed out all the tiny seeds that needed to be pulled from the flower of cotton before it could be usable. This may have been done by the slave children.
Later, the Cotton gin was invented that could mechanically de-seed the cotton, helping to enhance a faster production of cotton into the 300 – 500 pound bundles that were sold out of Charleston harbor.
But it was pointed out a slave could work from sunrise to sunset and still only pull about 3-4 pounds of cotton. So LOTS of slaves were used to establish this lucrative cash crop in the early south.
The kids also learned a little about Rice, which was grown in abundance here in the coastal Lowcountry. The low-lying wetlands were a perfect place to grow rice, the seeds brought over from Europe. It became a staple in the early colonial diet. So much so that today it was discussed how some local families still prefer rice over mashed potatoes in their Thanksgiving day dinner.
Another cash crop brought over from Europe was the plant Indigo. The local climate of Charleston made it a natural place to produce Indigo.
Now the green plant is not easy to grow here. The local horticulturists at the Boone Hall Plantation said they have tried unsuccessfully for three years to grow Indigo here.
The early settlers were successful however. They told us the harvested green plant was diced up and put into barrels to steep, like tea, in the warm South Carolina summers, perfect for creating a warm brew of Indigo.
Still, soaking the warm Indigo was not what was needed to produce the purplish dye. Ammonia was needed to turn it to its useful color.
So the question was presented to the 3rd graders of where do you think they got ammonia from?
Do any of you know?
Standing in line to make Indigo…
Human urine apparently was rich in ammonia. So human urine was added to the warm barrels of steeping Indigo. Then a slave had to mash and press the color out of the indigo stalks in the barrels, often up to his elbows or higher.
They tell us the process did actually smell worse than you can imagine in the warm Carolina summers. Still, with the abundance of slaves to the wealthy plantation owners, Indigo became a profitable cash crop out of the ports of Charleston in the early colonial and pre-colonial years.
Our Indigo cotton balls we made..
Now, I have mentioned a few times about getting these cash crops to Charleston harbor, a harbor so busy and profitable it was often stalked by actual pirates back in the day including Edward Blackbeard Teach and Stede Bonnet, the gentleman pirate.
The scope of the Plantations production, given free slave labor, was quite impressive even by today’s standards. So how did they these heavy bales of cotton, and rice and barrels of indigo get to the ports?
All of Charleston’s impressive plantations are sitting on the banks of a waterway where the river flows out to the harbor. So boats were used to float the tonnage of products to the ports. If you can see the Indigo picture above you can see the river just on the other side of the bushes.
But there were no motors for ships in these low-lying wetlands, no oars could row these heavy flat ships to port. These plantations relied of the tides to float their product downstream. The boats were loaded up then released as the tides started to rescind from all the coastal waterways. The 2-5 mile trip to the harbor may last all day trip to get to the harbor. Sometimes two.
That was a good chunk of our Field trip tour. Sorry I have taken up so much space and of your time of you are still with me.
I tell you, THIS 3rd grader learned a lot on this Field Trip! And I was so glad I went.
I had a great time with my great 3rd grader!
Now off in a neighboring field the guide told me they were setting up for another, modern-day Cash Crop festival, the Fermented Grape festival (as he told the kids) was taking place this weekend on Boone Hall Plantation!
Now I have heard of this annual Wine Festival but I have never attended it (Yes! Its true!) So I did a little digging to find out more. The number and space for tents looked quite grand!
Here are some pics from last year’s Wine Festival…
Casual Wine Sampling with a few hundred of your closest friends under the Oaks
Maybe some ‘Wine Pairing’ too!
(I love Wine Pairing.. I am such a Foodie…sounds better then Winiey I think.
…I don’t want to be known as Winiey)
Like the Plantation Owners before them, NOTHING is done of a small scale here.
Don’t let your glass go empty!
So who is with me?
Anyone want to tag along to this festive event?
Maybe even take a trip through the Plantation house to use the facilities…
Watch your step!
Glimpse Inside a Well-Manicured Historic Plantation House (note poinsettias)
Anyone wanting to make some Indigo used the barrels behind the Plantation House.
If you would like more info on this historic plantation go to their website at:
For More History on Boone Hall Plantation here is a good place to start.
If you are feeling thirsty or have a penchant for the Fermented Grape Industry you might want to check out this weekend’s festival at:
WINE UNDER THE OAKS http://boonehallplantation.com/wine_under_the_oaks
Thanks everyone for tagging along. I hope this made you happy!
I’ll try to do better next time knuckleheads….
Oh, one more thing…