Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.
A chapel located at Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown, SC would be the seventh slave dwelling that I would stay in since May of this year. Unlike many of the dilapidated structures left in the slave village, the chapel had been restored; though, one of the slave cabins in the village is currently undergoing restoration work.
Of all my stays thus far, Mansfield Plantation was the most anticipated. The plantation is located on the Black River in Georgetown County, which also runs through my hometown of Kingstree, SC in Williamsburg County. Mansfield holds for me the strongest possibility of ancestral ties than any of the other locations I’ve stayed.
Like Goodwill Plantation near Columbia, SC, Mansfield Plantation is privately owned. The main house and its adjacent structures currently operate as a bed and breakfast. Owner John R. Parker personally funded the chapel’s restoration, and a non-profit has been formed to raise the funding necessary to restore the remaining buildings.
I arrived at 6:00 p.m. to do my usual inspection of the slave dwelling. After settling in, Parker and board chair Wyndham Manning met me at the plantation’s chapel. We discussed the history of the plantation and the current effort to restore the slave village; they extended to me an invitation to come back in November to address the board and convince them that restoration of buildings in the slave village would be a worthwhile effort. I learned that an African American member of the board has done the necessary research to trace his ancestry back to Goodwill plantation. He also has family members in Kingstree, my hometown. I immediately accepted the invitation.
Shortly after they left, my colleague, Terry James, arrived. This would be Terry’s second stay in a slave dwelling (the first being Anderson, SC). Terry brought with him a machete for added protection from ill-intentioned critters—I could only hope that he would not wake up from a nightmare swinging that thing in a disoriented state. That machete was the least of my worries, because the mosquitoes would not allow us to sleep. After dousing ourselves with insect repellent, we could lie atop our sleeping bags and let the mosquitoes have their way, or seal ourselves in our sleeping bags and sweat profusely.
The following morning we proceeded to the main house to eat breakfast with the rest of the guests. They were all impressed by the slave cabin project, and were even more impressed that Terry and I accepted the invitation to come back in November to address the board about preserving the rest of the buildings in the slave village.
After breakfast, Terry and I took the scenic route back to the chapel along the Black River, making plans for our return visit as we walked. We both vowed to visit the cemetery so that we can remind ourselves of why we’ve taken on this worthwhile project.
Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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