adventures in the low country part 2

We Fada wa dey een heaben,
    leh ebrybody hona ya name.
We pray dat soon ya gwine
    rule oba de wol.
Wasoneba ting ya wahn,
    leh um be so een dis wol
        same like dey een heaben.
Gii we de food wa we need
    dis day yah an ebry day.
Fagib we fa we sin,
    same like we da fagib dem people
        wa do bad ta we.
Leh we dohn hab haad test
    wen Satan try we.
Keep we fom ebil.

~Gullah Geechee Translation of the Lord’s Prayer~

 

boone hall plantation

Because a trip to Charleston would not be complete without a visit to a bona fide plantation, Day 2 found us at Boone Hall Plantation about 10 miles from downtown Charleston.

Before I expound upon my own personal experience at Boone Hall, I want to express my regret that we did not first take the opportunity to speak with the native Charlestonians who would have forewarned us of a few minor (cough) discrepancies in the marketing of this historical site. 
 
Firstly, the mansion that currently stands on the site is not the original plantation house.  It is not even the second plantation home.  The red brick structure situated at the end of the long, lovely entry drive, majestically canopied by 300-year old Live Oak trees was the third home on the site, built in 1935 or approximately 74 years after Ft. Sumter was fired upon and the Civil War began.
 
DISAPPOINTING.
 
Apparently, as often is the case during that period of time where candles were used for lighting and fires were regularly burning within the homes, the first two plantation homes burnt to the ground.  And y’all know, I GET THAT.  These things happen.  However.  You only find this out after you’ve coughed up $19.50 expecting to meander through real Civil War history. 
 
But.  All in all it’s still a very impressive home.  The house tour, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, includes the library which boasts of walls and walls of hundred-plus year old books, the dining room, and a portico.  And.  Well.  That’s about it.  The upstairs is off limits to the public as the current owner shows up in the evening when the tours are complete and resides on the second floor.
 
HOW CONVENIENT.
 
At the end of the house tour, there is a small back room in the house with still shots of the movies that were filmed on the plantation, including ‘Queen’, the sequel to ‘Roots’, as well as John Jake’s television mini-series, ‘North and South’.  Ironically when we first stepped into the foyer of the home, I told ‘C’ that the staircase looked exactly like the one in ‘Queen’. 
 
HOW ASTUTE AM I?  IT WAS THE STAIRCASE FILMED IN ‘QUEEN’.
 
What I found most fascinating on the house tour (and truth be told, there wasn’t awfully much other than the opulence of the furnishings) was a framed document in the back room on the opposite wall from the still movie shots.  It was a document, a list really, from the original owner.  This list included all the things he had bought that particular month.
 
Including ‘One Negro Girl’ for $990.
 
SOBERING.
 
In today’s economy, $990 would have been the equivalent of $32,000.  To give you some perspective as to the wealth of the original owner of Boone Hall Plantation, at the height of its success there were nearly 300 slaves on site.  I am not overly confident of my math skills, but I do realize that’s a large sum of money invested in human property.
 
A VERY LARGE SUM OF MONEY.
 
I’m going to slightly digress here to state that Charleston does an excellent job of embracing their Southern past and the lifestyle, while at the same time showing visitors the whole picture.  Every house we visited, as well as the Charleston Museum all give equal time to both the wealthy planters and the slaves in a very well-rounded perspective of the age.
 

a view of slave row from the main drive

After the house tour we walked down Slave Row where 9 of 27 original brick slave cabins still stand.  Talking to native Charlestonians the next day as they were re-enacting 1860’s life at the Charleston Museum, we were told that it is questionable whether these are truly the original cabins.  The consensus among the re-enactors was that a planter of the time, and certainly one of the prominence of the owner of Boone Hall Plantation, would not have flaunted his slaves in front of his plantation, but strategically placed them out-of-sight, most likely behind his plantation.

 

inside a slave cabin

Conversely, the tour guide for Boone Hall explained that although there are only 9 remaining brick slave cabins on-site, there were originally 3 rows of 9 cabins each that housed the ‘skilled slaves’.  These slaves would have been the ones who, after they completed their work on the plantation, would have been hired out in downtown Charleston to earn money for the plantation via a trade.  The brick cabins which are in direct view of the main drive coming up to the manor house, would have also been home to the house slaves.  The tour guide explained that the planter purposely had the slave cabins built in the front of the house to show his wealth to visitors.

 
TWO DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSING IDEAS. 
 
Both camps, however, agree that the field slaves resided in cabins made of wood and dirt floors far away from the plantation, near the rice fields. 
 
The majority of rich planters in Charleston amassed their fortunes growing rice.  To that end, the slaves originally brought to the Low Country area were captured in Western Africa and came to be known as the Gullah Geechee people.   The Gullah Geechee are an ethnic group originally living in the border area between Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa known for their expertise with rice crops.  It was only through the skills and knowledge of these slaves that the plantations flourished.  For the balance of our time in Charleston, we were, more than ever, acutely aware that every single mansion and three-story ‘townhouse’ (and that term is used very loosely as all the homes in Charleston that were considered townhomes are mansions), was built on the backs of slaves.   It was only through this brutal, ‘free’ labor that the planters and their families acquired what they had and were afforded the lifestyle they so thoroughly enjoyed.
 

the gullah theater at boone hall plantation

The highlight of our visit to Boone Hall Plantation was, by far, the Gullah Theater located at the end of Slave Row.  The woman who gave the presentation from the slave’s perspective was a black woman whose ancestors were actual slaves on Boone Hall Plantation.  

 
WE WERE COMPLETELY ENTHRALLED.
 
When she wove her story about the slave culture, you gained a completely different feel from the rest of the plantation.  And when she recited the Lord’s prayer in the Gullah Geechee dialect, I nearly wept.  It was a moment that reached down deep into my soul.  For hours afterwards I couldn’t stop ruminating on how unearthly strong these slave women had to be to endure the hardships imposed upon them.   Afterwards, I swore I would never again complain about superfluous daily stress in my life. 
 
“Mus tek cyear a de root fa heal de tree.”  ~Gullah proverb~
[You need to take care of the root in order to heal the tree.]
 
Stayed tuned for further tales of our adventure.
 
I remain, fondly yours,
Beezus Lollitrop
 
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