top of page
  • mswood303

Slavery in the Low Country, Charleston, SC.

Maybe I was twelve when I last visited Charleston, South Carolina. It's not the same Charleston that I remembered. Of course, that was the mid-1980s, and the Country was rising out of an economic slump. That tall and awkward girl remembered the Market Hall being a much rougher location, and very near the Old Slave Mart building. In my mind, I think I mixed up the history of what happened where. Both buildings are within walking distance of each other; and both since renovated (40 years later). I also remember the smell of boxwood hedges. My dad used to call them "dog-pee" bushes.



Perhaps, since we were there in the spring on this trip, the boxwood was not as odoriferous, (as say in the summer months); nor was the Old City Market a run-down vendor market, it's instead a renovated farmers/tchotchke market; and the Slave Mart was less impressionable -- which I think is a shame.


My confused memories thought the Old City Market was where the enslaved and indentured were sold, the Slave Mart being a processing center. This idea sat with me a long time. I planned this trip because I wanted my children to understand the depravity that was impressed upon me, and an understanding of how incredibly cruel men (and women) with power can be. My memory of the slave trade is correct, my memory of the logistics are incorrect. Interesting, regarding the City Market, in "1788, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney ceded the land to the City of Charleston for the express use as a public market, and he stipulated that the land must remain in use as a market for perpetuity." Pinckney, is fictitiously portrayed in "The Indigo Girl" (and rather ideologically, as I find the book to be.) The real Pickney was a signer of the Constitution.


In an effort to be more sensitive in today's world, I found the Old Slave Mart to be a sterile museum. I think something has been lost in its PC condition. Or, maybe, everything just seemed bigger and scarier back then.


To recap, the Death and Depravity night tour was awful. Not only were several "facts" wrong, it also didn't cover the depravity of slavery, and hardly the huge amount of pirates, including Blackbeard, who frequented the local bar scene.


After our calamitous night tour, we had two fantastic tours with old guy docents who obviously go home and study for their next American History exam by reading University Press non-fictions and watching documentaries on the History Channel. The two men were fantastic. On our Ft. Sumter ferry, old guy # 1 gave a fun and interesting history of the Fort, and the whys and wherefores of the shot that started the Civil war. He was obviously retired Navy.


Old Guy # 2 was a retired history teacher, born and raised in the Upstate of South Carolina (as opposed to the Low Country, which is literally lower than the ocean, protected with seawalls.) And he just really knew his stuff, too. So, not all tour guides are bad, and it's probably just hit or miss.


After the ferry ride and tour of Fort Sumter, we tried a restaurant within walking distance to the Ferry Visitor Center. We found a sushi place in a tiny little strip mall. It was five minutes before opening. We ran into a nice couple and they said the restaurant was great. They couldn't seat my family together, (since we didn't have reservations) so the kids sat at the sushi bar, the nice couple next to them, and we were sat at a two-top. The nice couple said that was ridiculous and switched with us. So, all four of us sat in a line and watched the sushi being made in front of us.


I am not exaggerating... Shiki was the best damn sushi I have ever had. And I have had sushi in New York and San Francisco. The Chef is a born and raised Charlestonian who inherited the restaurant from his father, and he had exacting standards. And, as my husband does, he chatted up the Chef, and got us on his good side. The Chef made us an amazing tuna belly roll that melted like butter in our mouths. Highly recommended, but make reservations.


My son had a goal, to see the house that was used in Outer Banks. It just so happened it was one of two SOB house museums we wanted to tour. The Edmondston-Alston house is below the seawall at the south end of the Charles Towne peninsula, -- a lot of Charleston is man-made backfill and concrete wetlands.


We had a slight problem, however. Between our downtown walking tour with the history teacher and this house museum, we went to have lunch at a restaurant named SNOB. Okay: SOB is a local term for "South of Broad Street" and SNOB is a local term for Slightly North of Broad Street. Broad Street was the high street in its time. If you lived South of Broad, you were rich. If you lived Slightly North of Board -- you weren't quiet so rich, more like a merchant, but still fairly well off. So, you were either a S.O.B or a Snob. (Or so the terrible Death and Depravity tour guide proliferated. (I asked the history teacher if this was the true entomology, or even true of the time, and he said neither were of historical Charleston origin.)


Anyway, we all got food poisoning at SNOB. I mean, it could happen anywhere, so I won't say it was their fault; however, the server kept checking with us if everything was okay -- like she knew something was wrong. Don't know what the kitchen was like, but the place seemed decent. We all managed the tour, and then I barely made it back to the car without throwing up. At one point, John stopped to buy water, and I was bent over just trying to hold it together. A woman stopped and asked if I was alright. (I wasn't, but I said I was. John didn't get affected until the next morning, so he didn't understand my urgency.)


We made it back to our short-term rental without some horrible, embarrassing episode, but all of us eventually succumbed. Thankfully, we each had a bedroom and bathroom to ourselves (even use married folks. It just so happened to be a 4bd/4ba QNs) This also made us sad, because we had reservations at a really nice restaurant that we had to cancel, and we flew out the next day. Thankfully, while not feeling great, we had everything under control for the flight.


I recommend making reservations in advance for guided tours and restaurants. The museums, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, and the Slave Mart all are walk-up, at least at spring break.


Our flight was in the afternoon, so we drank Gatorade, packed up, and went to the Magnolia Plantation, near the airport. We did not have tickets, so we couldn't tour inside. But they had an Audubon Swamp Gardens -- where we saw crocodiles, turtles, and tons of different birds; a small wildlife center; and a "From Slavery to Freedom" trail. The trail was an interesting walk with inside views of original slave cabins. Of course, these cabins show very hard conditions especially compared to the plantation home. But, after driving across all these hundreds of miles, and seeing some fairly deplorable single wide homes, it makes me wonder if our mobile homes would hold up, and the black craftsmen who built the cabins by hand -- these homes having sustained hurricanes. I'm not arguing that it wasn't harsh to be a slave. It was awful. It is awful.



It is estimated that approximately 12 million Africans were stolen and sold from their home country, and pre-Civil War census estimated four million people of African decent were enslaved.





In 2024, it is estimated that 167 countries in the world harbor 46 million slaves. worldpopulationreview


Charleston is worth the visit, especially if you are a history nerd, like everyone in our family.

I would go back to visit and spend a solid week. John and I entertained snow-birding there (but in our hearts were are West Coast migrators.)


Books read: The Yellow Wife


Links to Travel Blogs in order












9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page