Hampton Plantation Dig
Story and photos by Janet Blackmon Morgan/The Sun News
College student Olivia McCarthy spent time scraping the earth where slave families once lived near Georgetown County this week.
“You can only dig once so you go slow," she said using a trowel to do the work.
Around her are other volunteers on their knees tending to their own assigned earth in five-foot-by-five-foot squares at Hampton Plantation.
The plantation, which dates to the 1700s, is the site of Archaeology Day beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday. Hampton is located on Rutledge Road off U.S. 17 barely south of the Santee Delta bridges. The state historic site is about 15 miles south of International Paper in Georgetown.
The activities are free and will include a lecture by Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project, hikes around the plantation, dirt for the young to dig and self-guided tours of the mansion. The Slave Dwelling Project is a nonprofit organization helping to identify and preserve slave dwellings.
The freshly unearthed dwelling at Hampton measures about 20 feet by 30 feet. The soil-stained foundation bricks outline where two chimneys stood, two door cavities and where the walls of the wooden home started.
State parks archaeologist David Jones said it's hard to pinpoint the age of the house, but most of the finds this week point to around 1810. He said the dwelling housed two slave families and was often referred to as a double-house with a wall in the middle and each side having its own chimney.
"We have been wanting to tell the story of Hampton Plantation from the perspective of the people that were enslaved here, the ones that actually made the plantation work, and doing this archeological project has allowed us to begin to do that in a significant way," Jones said on Wednesday.
He and Hampton Plantation site archaeologist Stacey Young are leading the weeklong volunteer excavation at the double-house. They are joined by Sarah Stephens from the state department of transportation archives and history department. With them are students like McCarty from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Occasionally a student's voice breaks the sound of metal trowels scraping, dirt thudding into buckets and soil shaken through screens. They pipe up with finds of pipe stems, pieces of jars, pottery and bottles.
"I found this. I don't know what it is, but it's something. What is it?" one asks handing an iron spike to Jones.
He turns the six-inch spike in his hands. "It looks like a railroad spike. Can't be, but it does look like it." Jones said it and the other finds will be cleaned and identified. Some of the identifications, such as the spike, will have to be done using reference books.
Each student carefully collects a bucket of their trowel scrapings and sift the dirt through a screen. Mounds of dirt fall through the screen as the students pick through the top layers finding links to the people more than 200 years ago.
By Wednesday, three days of digging had made it not quite a foot from the top layer of earth. In those inches they've outlined the foundation, unearthed green glass, clay shards of pots or plates known as colonware, beads, a drawer pull, thumb-size pieces of glazed pieces that are white and yellow, nails, nails, nails and nails used on the wooden house.
Seth Grooms proudly reaches in his plastic bag to pull out a clay pipe bowl. He blows the dried, dark dirt from the outside and pushes off a fleck of red clay. The white object is embossed with rows of flowers, circles resembling the power button on computers and a spine that looks like the seam on a baseball.
He turns it trying to match the broken pieces of a white pipe stem found by fellow student Anna Hayes. Almost, he says to her grimacing face.
Young explains the numerous stems found at the site didn't necessarily mean there was a heavy smoker or a bunch of smokers here. She said the stems were often clogged or broken so the smoker snapped them off, tossed them to the ground and replaced them with another thin clay stick with a small hole bored in the center.
Young lead a community archaeology project at the plantation two years ago that incorporated the neighbors of the plantation who had been descended from the slaves. Not only did the community members help identify some of the found objects, like a coin with a hole used as jewelry, but it formed a bridge.
"It's not just us telling our story, it's them offering their perspective," she said. "It puts a personal story to the artifact."
She hopes the events Saturday continue to keep the bridge open with the neighboring community.
The dig site will be covered after Saturday's events, she said, but the finds will be cataloged and saved. Preserving the site are also hand-draw sketches of each of the five-foot-by-five-foot squares showing what was found, where in the square objects were found and other features in the squares. Features are carefully measured and documented as the dig continues in an effort to distinguish what they are. One feature was discovered in the center of the site on Wednesday. It was a dark stain and several marks the archaeologists identified as plow scars.
Stephens explained the area around the mansion were used by farmers after the civil war. The earth was plowed for fields that covered where slave houses once stood. The plow marks left discolored soil in the site.
The double-house is tucked away from the site of the mansion and the Rutledge family graves. It sits on high ground by the fallow rice field fed by Wambaw Creek. Just south of the site on a small trail is Sam Hill Cemetery where slaves and their descendants are buried.