Slaves during slavery in the South. Photograph display on Gullah culture at Boone Hall Plantation.
Boone Hall Plantation.
What is special about Boone Hall? It has a wonderful Virginian Live Oak alley which was planted from 1743 to 1843. The plantation has been continuously producing crops since 1681. It especially focuses on Gullah culture and the slave quarters with presentations by black Americans. Eight slave cabins (1790-1810) depict different aspects of Gullah culture and history. The plantation style homestead was only built in 1936 but the original house was built around 1700. It has beautiful flower gardens and the azaleas should be at their best. In the 1850s the plantation had 85 slaves with many involved in red brick production. Its main crops in early years were indigo and then cotton from the early 1800s. Its structures include the round smokehouse (1750); and the cotton gin factory (1853).
Gullah Culture and Language and Blacks in Charleston.
Gullah language is recognised as a distinct language and the black American population of coastal Sth Carolina and Georgia recognise themselves as Gullah people. But where did this culture originate? American historian Joseph Opala has spent decades researching the connections between Sierra Leone in Africa and Sth Carolina. A majority of the coastal black slaves arriving in Sth Carolina in the 1700s came from Sierra Leone where the area was known as the “Rice Coast” of Africa. The slaves brought with them the knowledge and skills for rice cultivation in Sth Carolina; their rice cooking methods; their West African language; their legends and myths; and their beliefs in spirits and voodoo. The Gullah people are thought to have the best preserved African culture of any black American group. Few have moved around the USA and black families in Charleston are now tracing their family history (and having family reunions with relatives) in Sierra Leone and Gambia, despite a break of 250 years in family contact! Many can trace their family links back to the Mende or Temne tribal groups in Sierra Leone. The Gullah language is a Creole language based on English but with different syntax more akin to African languages and with many African words and a few French words. The word Gullah is believed to be a mispronunciation of the African word Gora or Gola which came from several tribal groups in Sierra Leone. The direct links with Sierra Leone have been supported by the discovery of an African American funeral song which is identical to one sung by villagers in Sierra Leone.
The Gullah women in Charleston are also known for their weaving- the Sweetgrass basket sellers who can be found in several locations around the city. The skill and tradition of basket making came directly from Africa. And although they do not usually use the term voodoo the Gullah people believe in spirits and the power of roots, herbs or potions to ward off evil spirits or to snare a reluctant lover. If a spell is cast upon you can be “rooted” or “fixed” by this witchcraft and unable to resist the spell. This spiritual tradition is still strong and even whites in Charleston paint the ceilings of their piazzas blue to ward off old hags and evil spirits (and the colour is also meant to deter mosquitoes.)
In the city of Charleston about 18,000 of its residents were slaves in 1861. Large households often had 10 to 20 slaves to do gardening, the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the food serving, caring for the horses etc. Some households hired out servants to others for short periods and some households sold products produced by the slaves - dresses, other clothing, pastries, shoes, hats, horse shoes etc. Some slaves were musicians and played for their masters or were hired out for social functions to other houses; others were hired out with horse teams for transportation of others etc. So not all slaves worked as domestic servants. But there were also free blacks in Charleston. Often illegitimate children were freed upon their white father’s death and some slaves received small incomes if they had special skills and they could saved enough to buy their freedom. Eventually some free blacks became slave owners themselves by either purchasing slaves or by inheriting slaves from their white fathers. One of the wealthiest free blacks in Charleston in the Antebellum period was Richard DeReef who owned a wharf where he ran a timber business. He also owned a number of rental properties in Charleston. Richard was not a former slave. His African father with his Indian wife had migrated to Sth Carolina in the late 1700s when this was still possible. As his business grew Richard purchased slaves of his own. Despite his wealth Richard DeReef was considered a mixed race or coloured man and was never accepted into Charleston society. After the Civil War when the Radical Republicans from the North were overseeing/controlling Southern governments Richard DeReef was elected as a city councillor in 1868. That was the year that the new federally enforced state constitution allowing blacks to vote came into force. DeReef probably only served for a year or two. By 1870 the Ku Klux Klan was active and blacks disappeared from elected positions. When Northerners left Sth Carolina to its own devises in 1877, with the end of Northern Reconstruction, Sth Carolina stripped blacks of their right to vote by new state laws. Ballots for each of the usual eight categories of office had to be placed in a different ballot box. If any ballot was placed incorrectly all votes by that person were illegal. Later in the 1880s southern states brought in grandfather clauses- you could only vote if your grandfather did. This meant that slaves were not eligible to vote.