(Image-heavy post. I apologize if it loads slowly!)
Being that I want to do more “roadschooling”, and being that my good friend was going to be down in Charleston with her girls for spring break, it was a no brainer to pack up for a few days and head down there as well. I love a good road trip, even more so when I can add some learning into the mix.
We have been learning about the American Colonial period. Last week in particular, we were learning about the Southern plantation culture. Charleston was a perfect stop since it was founded during the colonial period and was an important city through the Civil War.
The two main sites we visited were Boone Hall Plantation and Fort Sumter (I’ll write about that in the next post). Downtown Charleston is a site in and of itself, and we definitely walked a bit of that (I’ll write about that soon, too).
Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 and is located in Mt Pleasant. It is one of the oldest, continuously working plantations in America. From cotton and indigo, to pecans, to bricks, to multiple crops, this land has been privately owned, and worked for centuries.
As you drive up to the main house you pass through the Avenue of Oaks. They claim the Avenue was started in the 1740s by the Boones, but further research online debates this¹ ². Either way, it is breathtaking.
They recommend that you give yourselves three hours for the visit, but we easily spent close to five. It may have been the schoolwork I gave all five girls to work on while we were there. Even the girls who aren’t homeschooled enjoyed figuring out the answers and filling out their sheets.
We first explored the only extant cotton left on the plantation.
It’s in a small field next to the house. They keep it to show visitors what the fields would have looked like. The cotton gin dates from the 1800s and is being restored to be used as a restaurant.
Then we toured the slave houses. They are original and were built between 1790 and 1810. Only the most skilled lived in these houses.
The builders often left their “signature” in the brickwork. This is the maker’s mark. Can you make out the double black diamond on the chimney in the picture below?
Often it was the children that had to put the bricks in the ovens to fire them. Their hands were small enough. If you look carefully, you can still find finger marks in the bricks.
The slaves made quilts and sweetgrass baskets. Today you will pay upwards of $100 to $300 or more for a basket.
They would use (and still do use) various grasses to get the color variations.
Each slave cabin houses a different aspect of slave life up through the civil rights movement. Here we were learning about the different religions the slaves practiced and how they would incorporate secret messages into their songs. Fascinating!
The last cabin is dedicated to the Gullah-Geechee culture. Brother Bob gave a fascinating talk on how the Gullah-Geechee language came about and how it has influenced American culture. Ever hear the song Kumbaya? (sorry for the brainworm) “Kumbayah” is Gullah for ‘come by here’.
- goober (peanut) is from the Gullah word ‘guba’
- benne (benne or sesame wafer) comes from the Gullah word ‘bene’
- gumbo is from the Angolan word for okra
Boone Hall is located on the Wampacheone Creek and had a dock where it would ship its cotton.
While rice was king in Charleston, Boone Hall only grew enough to feed its inhabitants. One guide mentioned that the water was too brackish.
It seems like the multiple owners of the plantation have dabbled in a little bit of everything. In the 20th century, they were into polo, and even now some polo ponies are still stabled here.
We went on the trolley ride around the grounds, through the woods, and past the current crops that are grown. Our driver, who had been driving all day must have been bored by this time, because it seems like he was finding ways to stay amused. One way was to drive 25 mph through the woods on a dirt path that wasn’t quite wide enough for the trolley. Several people were slapped by branches as we went along. So, beware and sit towards the center of the trolley if you go…
Here was one of the guests we encountered on our drive!
We took a tour of the house, but no pictures are allowed to be taken inside. The bottom floor is open for tours, but above that is still used as a residence when the owners are in town.
Other than the gale-force winds, it was such a beautiful day. The girls learned a lot, and I probably learned even more.
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