The plantations of South Carolina were central to its wealth and power. Most of them used slavery to produce cotton, rice and tobacco, and in turn collapsed when slavery was abolished. They stand preserved to this day; these wondrous homes and magnificent gardens attract many visitors. Charleston reflects an American conundrum that is more compelling than ever today – to the point that it has become a global question. How is the legacy of slavery still as pressing as it ever was and what stories should be told? Here are some plantations for you to visit to help you engage with these questions for yourself.
McLeod Plantation Historic Site
McLeod Plantation Historic Site was established in 1851 and tells a very American story. As a Gullah/Geechee heritage site it preserves and instructs the significance of this African-rooted culture. Standing as a living tribute to the suffering endured by black men, women and their descendants, it upholds the determination to achieve freedom, equality and justice to this day. Visitors are pressed to delve into the lives of all the people involved in this complex story to work out where they stand; gut-wrenching and beautiful.
About 15 miles away from Charleston on the Ashley River, lies the oldest unrestored plantation house in America. John Drayton, actually born on the nearby Magnolia Plantation, built this residence for himself in 1738. Having escaped the Civil War, the house has also survived the fate of being modified for tourists and stands well preserved. With their commitment to seek positive change through truth-telling, transparency and education, there is no whitewashing of the past here.
The stories told on these plantations are sometimes inescapably grueling, stories of people stripped of their names and living in slavery. Middleton Place, around 15 miles northwest of Charleston, believes in holding on to the spirit of those who worked the land and keeping these stories alive. The story of how the Middleton family came to sign the Declaration of Independence is the release. Stories of those who were enslaved and those who became free.
Considered to be the number one plantation in the Charleston area by USA Today, Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 and is distinguished by its planted oak tree corridor as you drive towards the mansion house. TV and film buffs will recognize it from many famous productions such as North and South, The Notebook, Queen and The Tempest. It is possible to catch a live presentation by Gullah ladies in the gardens, promoting a positive and spiritual message of endurance and love.
One hour’s drive from Charleston is the imposingly grand mansion on the Hampton Plantation. The astonishing wealth that colonial times bestowed on the elite is clearly on display here, particularly in what could be described as the equivalent of a Hollywood mansion. This lavish display of wealth is juxtaposed with natural surrounds which are delightful to get lost in.
Founded in 1676 on the Ashley River by the Drayton family, these are the oldest public gardens in America, and the most visited in the region. These famous grounds run wild with fabulous flowers and plants and, when spring is in full bloom, the colors are quite a sight to behold. From the nature train and rice-field boat tour to the glee of the petting zoo, there is much to keep you switched on and energized.