Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.
My first slave cabin stay in Georgetown County, South Carolina was Hobcaw Barony. I had great anticipation for this stay because of the county’s historical ties to the growing of rice. Many slaves were imported into the state of South Carolina because of their knowledge of growing rice.
Two media representatives made arrangements to spend the night with me on this visit. In the end only one - Eric Frasier from the Charlotte Observer - stayed. His role on this occasion was as a freelance writer exploring my desire to sleep in slave cabins.
I met George Chastain, executive director of Hobcaw Barony, at the Visitor’s Center at 6:00 p.m. as scheduled. Representatives from the media were there also. After learning about the history of the plantation from George we all proceeded to the cabins. Once at the cabins the media proceeded to follow my every move as I toured each and every building.
The mosquitoes were fierce so I knew that I would be in for a long night. After dousing myself with insect repellent, I became more tolerant of the mosquitoes. When I inspected the cabin, I discovered something unique that the other four cabins that I had stayed in to date did not have - this cabin had most of its original historic fabric left. Hobcaw Barony’s policy has been to maintain, not restore. It suddenly reminded me of my many visits to Drayton Hall in Charleston, SC. The cabin was one of several buildings in the village, which also contained a church, doctor’s office and several other houses. These buildings - which had been lived in up until the 1950s - were an indication of how the plantation evolved from slavery to freedom.
Eric Frasier mentioned that getting to sleep would be a challenge for him, but once we got settled into the cabin we discovered a calm that would allow us to sleep. The mosquitoes did not bother us, maybe because of the insect repellent or the burning of the candles or both. Our biggest challenge was the humidity. That was the first time that I slept in a cabin with both doors left open. The next morning I proceeded to do my usual documenting through an audio visual recording. Eric did the same before we both packed up and went our separate ways.
In my conversation with George Chastain the previous evening, I mentioned to him that I was trying to make contact with the owner of Mansfield Plantation, which is also located in Georgetown County. He mentioned that Mansfield had an absentee owner but he would do all within his powers to help make that connection. He also mentioned that Mansfield is located on the Black River a fact that I had not previously known. The Black River runs through my hometown of Kingstree, SC. Because of that revelation, this project has now gotten personal.
Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.