South Carolina – African-Americans – Houses that Offered Little Cover
South Carolina SC African Americans SC Slavery Houses that Offered Little Cover
This article was written for SCIWAY by Michael Trinkley of the Chicora Foundation in Columbia. Chicora is a non-profit organization that has been preserving South Carolina's history since 1983.
Plantation owners in the nineteenth century sought to improve their image in the eyes of abolitionists by taking better care of their slaves. One way they accomplished this was by building larger dwellings and raising them off the ground. Charles Manigault, like other planters of the day, was careful to refer to these dwellings as "houses," although in 1865 – in a rare moment of candor or maybe just as an accident – he called them "huts."
Visitors to Southern plantations described huts, hovels, and houses, with an occasional narrative romanticizing them as cottages. Manigault's slave quarters at Gowrie measured 18 by 18 feet and were built side by side, with a fireplace in the center that served both quarters. Each side was occupied by at least four people.
Slave dwellings were often grouped in one or more rows and set away from the planter's house. Sometimes they were located along the road leading to the main house; sometimes they were situated near the overseer's house or a utility area.
Although there are numerous descriptions of these settlements, our best views come from photographs taken at lowcountry plantations during the Civil War. One is of the Drayton Fish Hall Plantation on Hilton Head Island. Taken in 1862 from the southwestern end of the row, the photograph looks toward the main house at a slight angle. The double slave row is separated by a relatively wide street, maybe 70 or 80 feet wide. The structures to the left or northwest of the photograph appear to be older than those to the right or southeast, based on their condition and the size of the trees planted on each side of the row. The structures are not evenly spaced and there is evidence for at least one gap in the northwest row.
To help us understand this arrangement, there is also an 1864 map of the settlement, made by the US military. This map shows a series of 15 structures southeast of the Fish Hall access road (13 of these on the road and two set to the rear) and 15 structures on the northwest side of the road (12 on the road and three set to the rear).
In sum, by the 1850s or so, most slave dwellings were
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