For more than 150 years, planters raked in the big bucks growing "Carolina Gold" rice in fields created by African slaves. They built grand homes like the Hampton Plantation mansion in McClellanville.
Now part of South Carolina's park system, the Hampton Plantation State Historic Site offers visitors a glimpse back at the culture that fueled the economy of the Lowcountry during colonial times.
Built between 1730 and 1750 in the state's Santee Delta region, the Hampton mansion served as the home of the prominent Horry, Pinckney and Rutledge families. Visitors can explore a dozen rooms in the three-story Georgian-styled house and look inside the plaster walls that have been opened to reveal the structure's framework.
Behind the mansion is a kitchen house built in the mid to late 1800s. Slaves assigned cooking duties delivered three meals a day to the big house.
At the height of rice production in Hampton Plantation, some 340 slaves worked on the property. Many continued to live on the plantation long after rice was no longer a profitable crop in the Lowcountry. A chimney that was part of a house built by slave descendants Prince and Sue Alston is all that remains of the tenant homes.
The 274-acre historic site also features one of the impoundments and dikes created by the enslaved Africans for the production of rice. But the vast majority of the crops were grown on Hampton Island, which lies just across Wambaw Creek at the back of the property. Some 25 rice fields once stretched across the land as far as the eye could see.
On my recent visit to the plantation, I walked the grounds, stopping to look at the Rutledge Cemetery and the gardens planted by South Carolina poet laureate Archibald Rutledge in the mid 1930s. Most of the magnolias, camellias, wild azaleas, dogwoods and white lilies featured in the garden were dug up from the surrounding woods and replanted around the house.
Want to learn more about this National Historic Landmark? Click here or call (843) 527-4995.