Africans Americans at Snee Farm

The Slave Population

During the first Census of the United States, taken in 1790, the total population of the Charleston District of South Carolina was reported as 66,985 persons. Although the accuracy of the numbers can probably be questioned, the slave population of 50,639 was seventy-five percent of the entire Charleston District population. In the Christ Church Parish, in the area of Mount Pleasant, the total population reported as 2,954 persons. The slave population was 2,377, which was eighty percent of that total. Census lists for the plantations in the Charles District from 1800 through 1860 show the fluctuation of slave holdings at Snee Farm Plantation (See Table 1). In gathering information, the attempt was to match the owner of the plantation at the time with the numbers of slaves.

Table 1: Snee Farm Census Data 1800-1880. Source from Population Schedules of the Census of the United States, 1820-1880. Note: slavery ended in 1865.
Year Owner White Males White Females Enslaved Males Enslaved Females Total Enslaved Persons
1800 Charles Pinckney 1 NA NA NA 18
1810 Charles Pinckney 1 NA NA NA 58
1820 Francis Deliesseline 2 2 5 7 12
1830 William Mathews NA NA 29 12 41
1840 William Mathews NA NA 24 28 52
1850 William Mathews NA NA 21 29 50
1860 L.A. McCants NA NA 31 38 69
1870 L.A. McCants 3 4 0 0 0
1880 L.A. McCants 4 4 0 0 0
 

Domestic Life

The slave village at Snee Farm was the slaves' attempt to recreate their home communities in Africa. "Small rectangular houses with steeply pitched roofs and dirt floors are typical of the African architectural vocabulary" (Blythe et al.) The houses were usually used only for sleeping and storage. The plantation owners probably did not know that the relatively inexpensive houses were a reminder of the slaves' African heritage. Both the typical African home and the slave house had exterior chimneys. The preparation of food was communal event and was done outdoors. Archaeologists found food preparation sites, disposal areas, and central cooking hearth at Snee Farm near the slave village.

Daily Work Life

During the Pinckney era (1754-1817), rice and indigo were cultivated at Snee Farm. According to a slave inventory from 1787 enslaved persons at Snee Farm had occupations such as woodcutter, house maid, carpenter, barrel maker, gardener, oarsman, cook, shoe-maker, house servant, as well as field hand. Enslaved persons on the plantation tended to cattle as well. The Africans' methods and knowledge of rice growing were the basis of the region's successful rice plantations.

The Lowcountry plantations had a unique labor agreement between masters and slaves known as "tasking." Basically, the enslaved persons were assigned a certain amount of work based on skill, age, and capacity to finish in a day. When the person was finished with his or her task, he or she had the rest of the day off to do with as they chose. By being able to control some aspect of their day, enslaved persons had a certain amount of autonomy. Slaves of both sexes maintained personal gardens, Peas, corn, and greens were grown in the one-half to two-acre gardens. They also maintained livestock such as chicken and pigs. They were allowed to sell any extra foodstuffs they had produced at local markets. Luxury items such as alcohol, cloth, tobacco were usually obtained with the excess production. Fishing and hunting were other ways enslaved persons supplemented their diets.

In South Carolina planters estimated that a slave paid for him or herself within for or five years, so that the real profit from labor came after that time. They looked upon slaves as an investment from which the owner could reasonably expect above 16, 20, and 25 percent when rice gave a tolerable price. But, for the master to achieve this profit, the slave had to survive. The worth of the enslaved person was economic. The conditions on rice plantations were particularly unsafe and deadly. Malaria, yellow fever, and other disease were common as well as drownings in the poorly drained and unsanitary rice fields. As a result, the population was not self-sustaining. Two in every three enslaved persons born on Lowcountry rice plantations died before their sixteenth birthdays. This resulted in the dependence on a steady flow of new individuals to maintain a constant workforce. Futhering the dependence of plantation owners, like Charles Pinckney, on the slave-trade itself.
 

After Slavery

The relationships between plantations owners and their African American workers changed little over the years after slavery. Many of these African Americans found that after slavery, most had to become inexpensive labor for plantations like Snee Farm. Many of the formerly enslaved African Americans over the age of had at one time or another worked for one of the plantations in Mount Pleasant.

Truck farming began in the late 1930s when tractor cultivation became possible and lasted through the 1960s. The Hamlin-family farm (owners of Snee Farm from 1900-1936) had at least 500 acres of produce, including snap beans and tomatoes. In early years the produce was shipped by boat to the Southern Railroad docks in Charleston.

Transportation was difficult for people living in Mount Pleasant. Snee Farm was one of the few places at which people could work without having to seek transportation. There were few roads and little electricity even in the late 1930s-1940s. Many African Americans living in Mount Pleasant had to walk to work.

Snee Farm had horse stables, corn mill, cotton gin, and a dairy. During the Hamlin-family ownership African American workers had occupations including Gardner, foreman, firing furnace, headman, cook, laundress, maid, wood cutter, nanny, midwife, and farm laborers who picked pecans, tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables.

The daily schedule at Snee Farm began at 5:00am and breakfast was completed before the bell rang at 7:00am. At noon, the bell would ring to signal dinnertime and at 1:00p.m., the bell would ring again to signal it was time to go back to work. Around 5:00p.m., the bell would finally ring to signal the end of the workday.
 

Gullah

The African American former slaves and workers of Snee Farm also are a unique part of the Gullah population. They share the Gullah culture, language, crafts, and funeral customs.

Gullah is a creole language and a culture formed as a result of the West African Slave trade. Large numbers of enslaved persons lived on Lowcountry plantations, which were often absent of white owners. Because of the social dynamic of the plantations, the enslaved persons held onto cultural traditions from different parts of West Africa. The isolation of the communities continued after the end of the American Civil War. Gullah people on the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida still speak and practice many African-related languages and traditions today.

The system of agriculture adopted by the South Carolina colonists drew heavily on the labor patterns and knowledge of their African slaves. The tools used in the harvesting process were identical to those used in West Africa. Tools like winnowing baskets, hand sewn using sweetgrass (muhly grass), palmetto leaves, and bulrush, were essential to the process of harvesting rice. Baskets made in Sierra Leone today are very similar to the sweetgrass baskets made by the Gullah peoples of Mount Pleasant.

It was not until a hurricane hit in 1911 that sweetgrass baskets were sold commercially. The storm wiped out the farms and devastated the crops. Desperate for income, the Gullah people of Mount Pleasant started to sell the domestic tool. Unfortunately, due to expansion of the Charleston metropolitan area the basket makers have limited access to resources for creating these baskets. Many rely on the making of baskets as their only source of income. Sweetgrass baskets are an important tradition that keeps the Gullah culture alive today and connects us back to the period of slavery, colonization, and the slave-trade.

Last updated: October 17, 2017

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