Discover the History of the Redcliffe Plantation

By:Marie McAden

Date:8/2/2013


The man who coined the maxim “cotton is king” wasn’t kidding — and he had the lifestyle to show for it.

James Henry Hammond owned four plantations along the Savannah River encompassing more than 14,000 acres of prime cotton-growing terrain. The jewel in the crown was Redcliffe​ Plantation, his non-working estate in the agricultural community of Beech Isl​and.

The splashy home, built by slaves in 1859, was the antebellum answer to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” The two-story Greek Revival-style mansion sits on a 400-acre hilltop overlooking a terraced landscape of century-old trees, orchards, vineyards, seasonal gardens and a magnolia allée that served as the grand entrance to the estate.

“He built this big house to show off how wealthy the Hammonds were,” said Interpretive Park Ranger Elizabeth Laney. “The family lived here for three more generations.”

Hammond’s great grandson, John Shaw Billings, donated the plantation to the state in 1973. Two years later, the South Carolina Park Service opened it to the public as a historic site.

A U.S. congressman, senator and the 60th governor of South Carolina, Hammond spent his life defending slavery and the southern plantation system. During his lifetime, he enslaved some 300 men, women and children. Between 20 and 50 of them lived at Redcliffe. The freed descendants of the five or six families of slaves continued to live on the property until the 1990s.

Admission to the plantation is free. Four historic buildings remain on the land: the mansion, stables and two circa 1857 slave cabins. One-hour tours of the home are offered at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for youth ages 6 to 15.

The park service has preserved the interior of the home as it was before Billings died in 1975. The eclectic array of furnishings spans more than 130 years from the early 19th century to the 1970s.

“We have 4,000 objects in the collection,” Laney said. “Seventy percent of them are on display.”

This fall, a new Visitors’ Center will open with exhibits on the history of Redcliffe and the people who lived there.

Along with the house tours, the park service presents a number of educational events throughout the year. A program on the vineyards is set for Sept. 28, followed in October by a tour of the Hammond family cemetery.

A symposium on “The Lives of Enslaved Women” is set for Nov. 23 and will feature a number of special guests including author and genealogist Elvin Thompson and several Redcliffe descendants. The $35 fee for the all-day program includes lunch.

For more information on the plantation or any of the upcoming events, click here or call (803) 827-1473.

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