As we head towards North Carolina this morning, we depart the historic town of Charleston, South Carolina- a magnificent city that could have easily taken up two to three days of our trip. Yesterday we learned that it takes a solid three hours to tour a plantation home, and that is not including the necessary photo-ops. The Hampton Plantation, located just outside of Charleston in McClellanville, was a once prosperous rice plantation situated in the South Carolina lowcountry. The Georgian style mansion was home to the Horry, Pinckney and later Rutledge families and was built between the 1730’s and 1750’s by the more than 340 enslaved Africans living on the grounds.
Archibald Rutledge, poet, owner, and resident of Hampton Plantation until 1970 when it was sold to the state, was unable to maintain the mansion in his later years. Therefore, the mansion and gardens suffered years of wear and tear. When the mansion was turned over to the state, they did very few renovations and, instead, removed some plaster off of the walls so that visitors could view the “insides” of history. There are very few records about the home prior to the Civil War, and most of the recorded history is in journals and letters to and from the family. The notes always mention the day-to-day life on the plantation, with very little talk of who was living there at the time and more talk about the amount of money they were bringing in and how much they were producing on the farms.
We also visited the Frampton Plantation in Beaufort, SC. In 1865 Sherman’s troops burned the mansion and surrounding gardens when the passed through the area. Three years later, the Frampton family rebuilt the main house to only a third of the size of the original. Today, renovations have taken place to allow the lower level of the house to act as a visitor’s center and “museum.” This plantation was somewhat disappointing as there was little information available about the history of the plantation and we were not allowed to tour the house in its entirety- basically just the gift shop.
The Hampton Plantation reflects a time when rice and indigo as cash crops could allow a family to gain a significant amount of wealth in the New World- our tour guide compared the Horry’s and Pinckney’s wealth to that of Bill Gates. Through the sale of these crops to some of the coastal region and exporting to England, a family could afford to build a mansion as grand as the Hampton- in addition to several summer homes and residences in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and even right across the street from the Hampton. The Hampton Plantation enjoyed visitors such as George Washington… if only for breakfast one morning when he was “passing through.”
We asked our tour guide if, at the time, she thought the Horry’s were living outside of their means when they built this immense project, and she truly believed that they were not. The rice industry gave the Horry’s and Pinckney’s a life one could only dream about.