Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 11, Thu. Jan. 31, 2013, Middleton Place

I didn’t check the weather before leaving this morning and because yesterday was 78 degrees, I didn’t put on a turtleneck. The temperature was only 50 degrees and it was windy. When I got to the plantation at 9:30, it felt very cold. Luckily, I’d left sweater and coat in the truck and I needed both. As a matter of fact, I even did up the top two buttons on the coat to protect my neck.

I paid the fee at the ticket booth and was given a map. First up, the carriage ride in which I was the only passenger. They had a blanket on the bench which I gratefully put over my lap. I am finding the history of these areas so fascinating and the tour guides are great. The carriage bumped over muddy paths through 20 foot tall sugar cane. Wow, that’s tall. She said that it now grows wild and they use if for barricades.

Unfortunately, the ride was too bumpy to take many photographs or to take notes. Between the carriage ride and the slavery tour, I am piecing together the story as well as I can remember:

Two Middleton brothers had come to America from Barbados (the family was originally from England.) They wanted to build plantations like in Barbados yet be like English aristocracy. Their empire grew as they acquired more land through grants from the king. Henry Middleton acquired the current property through his marriage to Mary Williams.

Timber, hunting for hides, and cattle were the earliest commodities to sell. There were about 7,000 acres to this property although the family owned many other places. Henry Middleton set out to create an immense garden and slaves were put to work under the instruction of an English landscaper.

Along with sugar cane from Barbados, rice was brought from Madagascar. At first, an experiment, rice turned out to be the crop to bring the fortune and this was all possible because of the labor of slaves. Indentured servants did not work out because they could not take the humidity and the hard physical labor. Native Americans did not work out as slaves because they could easily disappear.

African slaves were originally the booty of warring nations with the winning kings or tribal leaders trading them for needed supplies and goods. Charleston was the major port in America. Some of the slaves brought to America were highly skilled; carpenters, masons, seamstresses, and more and it was through the African culture that the rice plantations became so profitable for the planters.

Middleton slaves worked on a task system. A slave was assigned a task for the day and when that task was done, the day was done and he/she could go “home.” The work day was Monday through Friday with a half day on Saturday and Sundays off. Each family was allowed a little plot to have a garden of their own. Slaves generally ate well-balanced meals because it was important to keep them healthy and strong.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, Arthur Middleton (later a signer of the Declaration of Independence,) was a staunch supporter for American liberty and when the British stormed up from Savannah, Middleton was imprisoned in St. Augustine. The British ransacked the mansion. Middleton returned to rebuild.

The Civil War was devastating to plantation owners. Union soldiers overtook Middleton Place and destroyed most everything, burning the main house and north wing and even demolishing the slaves’ homes. The odd thing is that they never touched the chapel or the rice mill building. Those are still standing today.

With the freeing of the slaves and with no one left to tend the fields, the days of plantations were over. Some rebuilding went on and some former slaves came back to work for the Middletons. Just because slaves were “free,” that didn’t permit them acceptance or jobs. They were still poor, they were still uneducated (by American standards,) they were still considered barbarians; in other words, they were only free in name only.

Then in 1886, the Great Earthquake shook the country side. The main house and north wing were then totally destroyed and the property was left to go wild for a number of years.

Today, this part of the property consists of 110 acres of sculptured lawns and gardens, and restored out buildings. One thing that impressed me very much was that a lot of the fencing and some of the outbuildings were made from the bricks from the destroyed main house and north wing.

Oh, I could go on, but this is not a history lesson… well, maybe for me. After my one person tour, I wandered around on my own. The plantation house and restaurant were closed for renovations, but there was plenty to see. I visited the stable area where there are not only barn yard animals, but also peacocks and water buffalo. I spent the last hour meandering through garden pathways, down to the river and along the ponds. What was really nice was that the trails were either dirt or brick which made it easy to walk quietly. I don’t like to make noise when I walk.

I did see one small alligator, though the day was too cold for them. I wandered high ground and low and took many photos of those massive trees. It would be wonderful to go back sometime. They said the best time to visit is the end of March when all the azaleas are in bloom.

I stopped in the museum gift store, bought some post cards and three books. Two were on the Middletons and their slaves and the third is about the belles of plantations. Hmmm, think a little reading might be in order for tonight.

Day 11, Thursday, January 31, 2013, a.m.

I’ve been up since 4 a.m.  I finished uploading photos of my visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Facebook is really being slow with uploads and I’m having to do one at a time. I also edited and uploaded photos from the return visit yesterday. Then I finished writing last night’s blog.

I’m struggling with feeling disorganized. I had planned on keeping everything in order and I wanted to keep an accurate daily record of all doings. Somehow, I got a little mixed up. My poor brain short circuits. Can I blame it on age? I’ve got notes written in four different notebooks.

It’s very different down here. To get there, you have to drive down the road to turn around and come back because of the divided highways. Sometimes you take an exit expecting to turn into a place only to find yourself on another highway in which you have to drive a bit to find where you can turn around to come back. Sometimes there are left hand turns and sometimes you have to go right to get to the left and sometimes you don’t know until you’re there. I try driving in the middle lane and hope that if I see which exit I want, the traffic will let me in.

It’s confusing, overwhelming when you’re not used to it, and I find I get tired very easily. Okay, maybe getting up at 4-4:30 every morning doesn’t help. Still, I want to have time to get writing done. By 5 or 6 p.m., my brain is too fried to concentrate. I am just not a night worker and I’m not at home either.

Today I will tell the front desk that I’ll stay at least one more night, maybe two. There’s still Middleton Place and Drayton Hall to visit which are on my agenda today. I’m not sure I can do both in one day. That’s not even counting Cypress Gardens (the one in S.C., not Fla.)  Plus it’s getting towards the end of the week and I need to consider my newspaper work.

It’s getting on to 8 a.m. The sun is shining and the sky looks clear. Middleton Place looks to be quite large. It boasts an inn and restaurant. I’ll go there first. I’ll clean up here a bit first and try to put away papers and receipts I no longer need. I’ll head out about 9 a.m.

Day 10, Jan. 30, Magnolia Revisited

 This morning the skies were overcast, it was windy and 72 degrees. The odometer read 14458. After buying two bottles of water, I was directed to exit the hotel onto Rte. 17S, then immediately take a right at the set of lights bringing me around the hotel onto Sam somebody road and to follow that to Rte. 61N which would bring to the plantations. I stopped for gas at a Sunoco station; $3.27/gal coming to $27.38.

At Magnolia Plantation, I was given a new sticker. I explored the petting zoo taking photos of turkeys, peacocks, and other birds. They had an albino raccoon. I debated what else to do and figured I’d seen most of everything here, so I got in the truck and drove to the Audubon Swamp Garden. My legs were stiff and I was moving very slow. Not a big deal. There wasn’t anyone else around.

This was a beautiful boardwalk out over the swamp. The water was thick with duck weed which is one of the world’s smallest flowering plants. It’s free floating, seed bearing and each frond is approximately 1/16th of an inch. Duck weed filters water to keep it clean. There were lots of water fowl; different types of teal, coots, ducks along with ibis, snowy egrets, great egrets, green herons, and great blue herons. I took many pictures, of course. Matter of fact, I filled my SD card. Good thing I had another.

This was supposed to be a 45 minute walk, but it took me two hours. The wind whipped my jacket and blew my hair. For the longest time, I was the only human around. It was so peaceful. I was being quiet so as not to scare the wild life. Then another person came by. It was the young woman who had given the talk on slavery the day before.

Great blue herons were nesting in a tree. It’s amazing how anything that big can build nests in the branches so high. There had to be eight to ten nests in that one tree and almost all the nests had a heron in it.  

In the swamps, two major trees grow; tupelo and cypress. It was funny to see an occasional narcissus in bloom on patches of dry land. There’d be that one bright spot of yellow in a dull winter landscape. I tried to envision what summers would look like when leaves were full and more flowers in bloom, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like the heat and humidity.

There were quite a few turtles, yellow sliders (can’t remember if the sign said “yellow bellied sliders) and I got a glimpse of one alligator. The walk was so peaceful even though I was aching. There were only the sounds of the wind whooshing through trees and swamp grass and the various calls of birds. Magnolia Plantation is near the Charleston Airport and an air force base, so occasionally a big plane flew overhead. The swamp grass that I recognized were cat ‘n nine tails and cane/bamboo. I’m sure there are other names.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a must see destination for anyone visiting South Carolina. I could easily spend days wandering the trails and most are handicapped accessible. This place must be amazing in full color. I’d love to see the wisteria in bloom. The camellia was in bloom, but most were going by and many blossoms lay on the ground. Visitors can purchase one. If I was going home now, I’d buy one (after making sure it would grow in the north.)

After over two hours (the swamp walk took two hours on its own) I’d had enough for one day. I wanted to also do Drayton Hall, but my legs and feet wouldn’t take it. I headed back to the city.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day 10, Wednesday, January 30, 2013, a.m.

Good Morning, Everyone. Day 10 on the road. I’m beginning to lose track of time and what day it is. I was too tired to write last night. I am at a Comfort Suites Hotel in Charleston for a couple days. It’s cheaper than the Holiday Inn, has a nicer room, a much better bathroom, and it has an indoor pool which I used last night. I do miss the restaurant, though.

The lady at Magnolia Gardens had told me that I should return in the morning because rain is expected in the afternoon. Now that it’s daylight, it is quite overcast. I did want to hang out here a bit and do some writing, but perhaps I should take off early and come back early. Maybe I should only plan to do the part of Magnolia I missed yesterday and save the other two places until tomorrow.

Gosh, I’m getting old! I can’t seem to handle anything more than one thing in a day. Yesterday was a long day of walking around. Yes, some was riding, but a lot was walking and going up and down stairs. Needless to say, my legs and feet are still hurting. Maybe I’ll take a four pain relievers today instead of my usual three.

This is all so fascinating to me. I know I keep saying this, but I love Charleston. I don’t like the freeways, though. There is so much traffic. I was amazed that my room is next to Rte. 17S, I’m on the first floor, and I don’t hear the traffic that badly.

Finished my writing about yesterday and now I’m getting ready to head out. I want to do more of Magnolia Plantation and perhaps visit Drayton Hall which is down the road from it. I went out to the truck earlier. They said it’s 70 degrees, but it didn’t feel it. There’s quite a breeze this morning and it is overcast. I like it. Maybe I won’t be as hot walking as I was yesterday.

Day 9, Tues. Jan. 29, 2013, Magnolia Gardens

I left the Holiday Inn Riverview before 9 a.m. Odometer read 14436.2, the temperature was 55 degrees and the fog had lessened. I wiped the moisture off the sides and back window after putting the luggage in the truck. No matter which way you go leaving the hotel, you are pulling onto the left lane of a three lane highway. The route I needed to take to go towards the plantations was almost an immediate right across from the hotel. I had to go to the far end of the parking lot to gain access. It was a little scary to try to find an opening in heavy oncoming traffic especially having to cross three lanes. The lady behind the desk had told me to just be patient and I finally had an opening and scooted across.

The major route to the plantations is 61N. This was still a three lane divided highway with periodic stoplights for those needing to exit or enter. At one point, Rte. 61 went to the left and I stopped at a Rite Aid to get a couple bottles of water. My little discount tag I use back home worked down here.

There are three plantation areas along this route; Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Middleton Place. I wanted to start with Magnolia because I planned on spending the most time there. The driveways to these places are long. I put my sweater on with its big pockets so pens, pad of paper, and reading glasses fit along with the keys. At the ticket booth, I said I wanted to do everything. There are nature and bike paths, petting zoos, Nature Train, House Tour, freedom to Slavery Tour, and a Nature Boat. Unfortunately, the boat doesn’t run in the winter. The lady said that I could park at the swamp and walk the boardwalks on the way out.

I had about half an hour before the Nature Train, so I walked around a bit. There are quite a few people working the grounds. It must take a lot to maintain 500 acres, though I don’t know how much is water. I asked one of the guys about the trees with the moss. Come to find out, they ARE oak trees! No one knows if they are related to our oaks in the north, but the leaves are so different.

First up was the Nature Train. It’s not a real train, but a couple of cars pulled by a Clark (almost reminded me of the old Clark fork trucks we had at work years ago minus the forks.) This was a tour around the perimeter of the property. The road was bumpy so I couldn’t take notes as the driver pointed out blue winged teal, coots, rails, green winged teals, egrets, great blue herons, and a bald eagle. He also talked about the oak trees calling them Virginia Live Oak. This is not an evergreen tree. Leaves drop from January to March, but before they do, the new leaves come in so the tree always has leaves. Some of these trees are over 400 years old and they are massive!

Magnolia Gardens was the oldest public garden in the U.S. It was the first plantation to open itself to tourists. (The family had fallen on harder times and needed money.) The guide pointed out other plants.   There are over 200 species of azaleas alone on the property. Where ever the name of the plant is mentioned, it is given its Latin name because of the number of varieties of each. Some plants were imported. There were lots of knobby trunk growths along the waterways. He called them cypress knees and they grow up from the roots of trees. They reminded me of gnomes, a bunch of gnomes at a party.  

Unfortunately, we were going too fast to get a lot of photos. Although there were a couple stops, we weren’t allowed to get off the car. The ponds and ditches are full of duck weed which looks like thick green algae. It almost looks like you could walk on it until you get a closer view. Lots of birds and other creatures feed on this weed. He said this was a slow season, that often these waters are full of fowl. There were turtles and I saw my first alligator.

All the ditches were dug by slaves for irrigation. The original owners of this plantation made their fortune on rice. Rice was one of the major staples of South Carolina along with cotton and tobacco. I was totally surprised by that. I never realized that rice was such a big production in the states. Growing rice is very labor intensive which is why there is not much of an industry in it now. Rice needs to be planted and harvested by hand. Because of the need for so much water, heavy equipment cannot be used due to the softness of the land.

The train dropped us at the house where there was a tour. This was the third building on the site. The original burned down from a lightning strike. The other destroyed by union soldiers. This house was built using phosphate mixed with lime and water. It was a little more stable than wood. The texture is very rough. I kind of liked it, but others thought it ugly.

The Charleston area is considered low country. There are no basements because the terrain is wet. Humidity is tremendously high and mosquitoes cause malaria. (The other day I was giving the impression that the mosquitoes here in S.C. are like small aircraft carriers.) The wealthy of years past often had other homes to go to during the summer.

After the house tour, I had about an hour before the slave tour. I had a cheeseburger and bought a bottle of water then took a walk along the Ashley River which was the major mode of transportation to Charleston back in the day. By buggy, it was a six hour drive, but by boat, only two hours.

It was hot! I went back to the truck, took off that heavy sweater, squeezed a smaller notebook, pens, and reading glasses into my pants pockets. Then found a bench to await the next tour. I wanted to take some notes from what I’d seen and learned so far, but my poor brain just would not recall anything.

Instead, I got into a conversation with a woman from N.Y. We talked about the oak trees and she agreed with me. She was traveling alone, too, so we sat together on the train as it took us to a set of slave cabins.
Our guide was a young woman who took us over to a set of picnic tables to explain slavery in the U.S. and how it came to be. At first I was in the beginning of the group, but then stepped back saying that I would let all the younger people go first as I was so slow.

“What younger people?” one of the others exclaimed and when I looked around, it seemed we were all up there in years. I wasn’t the only one having to use a walking stick. That gave us a chuckle.

She said that in the beginning, they were not kidnap victims from Africa. The abductions and selling didn’t start until greed set in. As she told her stories, her voice would choke and her eyes would fill with tears. Here was a young white woman who really felt for these people and the horrid conditions they were subjected to. Oftentimes, on the trip across the Atlantic, they were chained and packed in like sardines only being allowed up once a day. They slept, urinated, and defecated in that same spot. Many died. Some jumped overboard the minute they had a chance figuring that at least in suicide, they’d be free and their souls could return home.

Once the ship reached Charleston, it was quarantined sometimes for up to three months to make sure the slaves were free of disease. At this point, they were given good food to fatten them up for sale. Any with gray hair had charcoal put on it so the gray wouldn’t show to the buyers. The bodies would often be oiled to better define muscles. Planters wanted strong bodies to work their fields.

The homes that the slaves were given were often one small room for an entire family and there wasn’t any insulation. All cooking was down outside because of fire hazards. It was against the law for them to sleep outside, so even in the high humidity they had to sleep in those cramped little rooms.

But in spite of all that, they brought their culture and expertise to this new land. It was their knowledge that made plantations successful. They knew land, knew how to cultivate and care for it and its crops. These people may have been uneducated by our standards (or at least that’s what those in power wanted everyone to believe) but they were by far from ignorant. They had their community and continued their heritage through story and song.

The buildings here were close to the swamp which was at one time the rice fields. Alligators and snakes were a danger and all the weapons the slaves had to defend themselves were sharpened sticks. I couldn’t imagine living that close where something could crawl out of the bushes and kill me. Plus there were mosquitoes, gnats, and lots of other nasty crawly things that could cause sickness or death.

At the end of that tour, I got off the train at the house. I wanted to check out an area that I noticed along the way. I ended down by the river along a section I’d not walked earlier. I crossed bridges and kept telling myself that I’d go just a little further. I wanted to see an eagle, but didn’t. I did see a couple little alligators and lots of coots and teal. Finally, I had to head back. There was still so much to see, but I was dragging.

I learned so much and wish I could have taken notes. My memory is not what it used to be and I cannot remember all I heard. It’s so fascinating, these stories and the differences in the lives down here just because of the landscape and weather.