The Charleston area has many plantations for tourists to visit. I have a love/hate relationship with plantations. I love their opulence, grandeur, beauty and hate thinking about all the slaves that brought them into being. It’s a lot like going to the zoo. I love seeing the magnificent animals and wonder if they wouldn’t be better off back in the wild, if there’s any wild left where they came from, that is.
So we decided to visit Boone Hall, a highly regarded plantation home, unique for having only belonged to five families since it was built in 1681. Every Downton Abbey fan knows that the second son inherits nothing, so second son John Boone came to the New World and built his home on land here awarded by the king. Soon he married the young lady next door and doubled the size of his estate. The stereotypical plantation grew cotton and some was grown here, but the way to success was diversity. Growing indigo made one fortune and brick making made an even bigger one. People grew tired of the frequent fires burning down wooden buildings in Charleston, so a law was passed requiring that everything be made of bricks. Bricks made at Boone found their way all the way to Boston.
Of course, the bricks were priced right because slaves were making them. The defective bricks were used to make the homes many of them lived in. Ironically, the home we saw today was the fourth plantation home on the site, but the brick slave quarters were still standing strong. The house was a disappointment. It was built in 1934 and was an imaginary version of what the owner thought a plantation should look like. The bottom floor, the only one we were allowed to see, was nicely furnished with pieces from the time, but it all felt rather Disneyland.
We really enjoyed a presentation made by a gullah woman who appeared to be about our age and had vivid memories of her great grandmother who was born a slave and lived to be 107. Gullah is both a language and an African based culture. Since the slaves spoke many different language in Africa, they came here and created a conglomerate with a little English thrown in. After emancipation, many ex-slaves along the SC/GA coast retreated into their own communities and chose to speak gullah.
An important part of their culture today is weaving sweet seagrass baskets. As we drove the twenty miles down the Sweet Seagrass Highway to Boone Hall, we passed 79 wooden huts where gullah sell their baskets on the side of the road. Traffic moves quickly on the four lane divided highway and many of the huts were in spots where there was nowhere to stop. Others stood in tree banks in front of other retail establishments, something that would probably not be allowed where we come from. Creating these baskets is very time intensive and they are very appealing, but a bit out of my price range. But if we're here long enough, I can imagine leaving owning one. They're beautiful!