Archaeology in the Parks: Hampton Plantation State Historic Site

Our last entry in the Archaeology in the Parks series features the ongoing work at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site by SC State Parks Archaeologist Stacey Young.

Hampton Plantation State Historic Site is located along Wambaw Creek on the South Santee River. Hampton functioned as a rice plantation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries under ownership of the Horry-Rutledge family. The Horry family was one of several French Huguenot families who settled in the area in the eighteenth century. The property remained within the family for nearly 300 years when it was acquired by the Park Service in 1971. The Mansion is perhaps the most recognizable feature on the 240-acre property. However, shortly after the property was acquired, the first archaeological investigations were carried out by archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. Results of this archaeological work found that the site contained well-preserved features and artifacts associated with the early beginnings of the plantation as well as the enslaved laborers who lived and worked here. For more information about the Park and virtual tours of the house and grounds follow this link: https://southcarolinaparks.com/hampton

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Figure. Photograph of Hampton Plantation Mansion.
Figure. Photograph of Hampton Plantation Kitchen

In the early 1990’s after Donnie Barker was hired as the first State Parks archaeologist, he began excavations within the kitchen building at Hampton. This work was performed in association with preservation efforts to stabilize the building which was in need of structural repairs. For the next eight years, excavations were carried out here. Through these excavations, a water well and brick lined drain feature were identified beneath a layer of rubble, burned material, and clay which evidenced that an earlier building had burned, the well was filled-in an covered, and a new floor constructed. 

Brick lined well found beneath current floor of kitchen building. The wood floor has been removed and the beams are visible in the photo.

In 2010, New South Associates was contracted to conduct archaeological investigations in areas along the western portion of the Park property, away from the Mansion and Kitchen buildings. An 1809 map shows several buildings in the area. The buildings were thought to represent houses, outbuildings, and workshops occupied by enslaved laborers. The archaeological investigations successfully identified a portion of a brick foundation and artifacts associated with the settlement.

Initial excavations exposing brick foundation (Structure 1), Spring 2010.
Final excavations of brick foundation (Structure 1), Spring 2010.

From the Fall of 2010 until the Spring of 2016, excavations continued in the location where the brick foundation was identified. Over a six year period, 43-5×5 foot units were opened, nearly 1,000 cubic feet of soil excavated and sifted, and over 20,000 artifacts recovered. Hundreds of volunteers dedicated their time to these efforts and without them the work could not have been accomplished! Results of the excavations revealed a brick foundation (measuring 15x30ft) of a duplex-style house. The presence and locations of two end chimneys, a central partition, and two doorways suggest that at least two rooms were present and likely at least two families lived in the house. 

Besides having on-site archaeologists and volunteers available to describe the work and findings to visitors as it progressed, several local scholars and collaborators participated in the work and visited the site. We were fortunate to have cultural historian Vennie Deas Moore working with us to share her knowledge of the local history. Programs and special events were held during the field occasions including a visit by author and 2014-2015 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, Scott Huler in Fall of 2014. At the time, Huler was retracing the route English explorer John Lawson who traveled through the Carolinas in the 1700s. Lawson passed through this area of the South Santee and described his accounts of the people and plants in his book A New Voyage to Carolina published in 1709. Similarly, Scott Huler wrote about his accounts along the same route some 300 years later. You can read more about The Lawson Trek and Scott Huler’s journey here: https://www.lawsontrek.com/

In March 2015, Joe McGill and the Slave Dwelling Project visited Hampton Plantation and camped out at the archaeological site as part of his efforts to raise awareness about the importance to preserve and interpret slave dwellings. This was the first occasion that Joe camped-out at a (former) slave dwelling location since generally the buildings are still present! Joe travels across the United States and visits properties and buildings associated with slavery, gives talks and presentations, and stays overnight in the buildings.

Learn more about his work here https://slavedwellingproject.org/ and for details of the overnight stay at Hampton check out the following links: https://slavedwellingproject.org/speaking-from-beneath-the-earth/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLFurtE4Qnk&feature=youtu.be

Volunteers from the Charleston Chapter of the ASSC working on Structure 1 excavations, Fall 2010.
View of Structure 1 excavations, end of Fall 2010.
Overhead view of Structure 1 excavations, Spring 2013
Overhead photograph of Structure 1 excavations, Spring 2015.
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View of Structure 1 excavations following 2015 historic flood event, January 2016.
Volunteers troweling excavations before overhead photograph, Spring 2016.
Overhead photograph of Structure 1, Spring 2016.

Today when you visit the site, the excavations have been filled in. An outline of the brick foundation was replicated above ground and an interpretive sign is placed so that you can view a conceptual drawing of how the house may have once looked in the location. Many thanks to all of the volunteers and everyone who has supported this project.

Structure 1 excavations backfilled. Replicated above-ground brick foundation as viewed through interpretive signage, Spring 2018.

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