With our trip off to a relaxing but rainy start, we got some rest and then woke up to find that the front had passed. Winds were calm at dawn, providing some fun, small surf once again at our Folly Beach rental, but as the sun rose, offshore/sideshore winds begin racing into the 30kt range, blowing away all the nice little waves. The waves and lukewarm temperatures were a welcome reprieve from our dry, endless winter in the Northeast this year. Still, the air was warm and the sky was completely without clouds, so we knew it would be a great day to get out and see some natural and American history. I have seen most of the "original" Charleston/Savannah Plantations which are open to the public, save Magnolia and Middleton, both of which are right outside of Charleston. So we figured we could knock one of those out.
Why did I put quotations around "original?" To my knowledge, only one Ashley River Plantation - Drayton Hall (constructed 1732-1742) - was not destroyed during the last months of the Civil War, as troops from the 1st SC Union Volunteers (not Sherman's troops) marched and floated down the Ashley River. All of Columbia, SC (upstream) and the plantations at Runnymede, Magnolia, Middleton, The Oaks, and Pierpont were destroyed by Union troops. Remember that these agricultural operations were each several thousand acres in size, and were all destroyed. Luckily, a Drayton Hall slave told the approaching Union Troops that Drayton Hall was owned by a Union Officer, which was not true - a cousin of the Drayton owners had become a Union Naval Officer but he did not own the plantation. However, this was enough to save Drayton Hall from destruction.
Only some plantations were rebuilt after the war, a daunting process given the fact that all of their wealth was in now useless Confederate dollars, and that the newly freed slaves would have to be paid in cash for their work -albeit a pitifully small sum. The destruction of the plantations included setting fire to all buildings, boats, and carriages, and destroying mills, dams, and berms that supported the agricultural operations of the plantations.
Anyway, enough sordid Civil War and slavery tales. How about some delicious Low Country Food?
Whole Buttermilk-fried Quail with Cheese Grits and Fresh Buttermilk Ranch Dressing from the Glass Onion in West Ashley, SC (I am still fantasizing about this meal - one of the most enjoyable of my life).
Middleton Plantation Guest House, rebuilt 1868-1875
The Ashley River Plantations in Georgia and South Carolina were each composed of thousands of acres of very intensely-managed agriculture, primarily supported by slave labor. While corn, tobacco, and cotton were important cash crops to the plantations, the primary crops of these plantations was rice, which grew wild on the riverbanks, and could be grown in seasonally-flooded rice impoundments, managed just like moist-soil emergent wetlands. Rice impoundments are a predictable, manageable, and less vulnerable (to flooding and drought) way of producing this native grain, but unfortunately the rice impoundments were usually built in the footprint of existing tidal freshwater wetlands. In writing this blog entry, I also learned that the rice plantations owed their success not only to the slaves' physical labor, but also their technical knowledge of rice growing (slaves were apparently selected from the "low country" of Sierra Leone, whose tribes practiced - and still practice - similar agriculture on a small scale).
Azaleas in bloom at Middleton Place Plantation
Sadie enjoys an off-road snack
A small (demonstration) rice impoundment - still flooded from fall/winter 2008
River cooters are native to coastal South Carolina, and are quite content to exist in managed ponds and impoundments created by humans
American alligators, nearly extinct 40 years ago, are again a common sight in freshwater tidal wetlands south of the Virginia - North Carolina border. The American Alligator is one of two remaining "true" alligator species in the world. This fella, good sized by Carolina standards, is about 7 feet long. A forthcoming post will discuss the biogeography of the Alligator, one of my favorite wildlife management topics.
This Northern Black Racer - the first one I've seen in at least 3 years - was feisty and very mobile. He had almost finished shedding his last skin - note the line over his eye. See if you can identify the leaves - I can see camelia, holly, and perhaps a live or blue oak?