Africans Americans at Snee Farm

Enslaved Population of Charleston

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, with approximately 75% of that population under the bondage of slavery. In Christ Church Parish, present day Mount Pleasant, the total population reported as 2,954 persons, approximately 80% of which were enslaved. Snee Farm, located in Christ Church Parish, had a fluctuating population of enslaved individuals over time. The table below provides information on the number of workers at the plantation during Charles Pinckney's ownership and beyond.
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

Enslavement in South Carolina

Race-based chattel slavery existed in the United States until abolition in 1865. Individuals had no means of legally becoming free people under this form of slavery. Enslavers considered the person, their children, and their livelihoods less than human- they existed as property. Freedom seekers sought to self-emancipate and escape their places of enslavement, but were met with punishment, and sometimes death, for their attempts.

South Carolinian plantation owners estimated that a slave “paid for themselves” within five years. For the enslaver to achieve a profit, the men, women, and children had to survive the harsh conditions they worked in. Enslaved people commonly experienced malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases, and drownings occurred in the poorly drained and unsanitary rice fields. Women suffered the emotional toll of infancy death and still-born births due to lack of proper nutrition. The enslaved population was barely self-sustaining because of these conditions. Two out of every three enslaved persons born on Lowcountry rice plantations died before their sixteenth birthday.

The United States banned the trans-Atlantic slave trade on January 1, 1808, yet the institution of slavery flourished. As Black women bore children, the population of enslaved people grew. When the 13th Amendment passed, approximately four million people were released from the bondage of chattel slavery.

The Task System

Daily work shifted depending on the season. According to an inventory from 1787, enslaved labor roles included woodcutter, house maid, carpenter, barrel maker, gardener, oarsman, cattle handler, cook, shoemaker, and house servant, among others. Snee Farm grew a variety of crops, including indigo, cotton, local vegetables, and rice. West Africans enslaved and brought to the Lowcountry came equipped with deep knowledge and skills involved with rice planting, harvesting, and processing. This skilled labor provided food on Lowcountry tables and the income which made Charleston one of the richest cities in the world.

The “task system” managed how enslaved people worked throughout the day on Lowcountry plantations. Individuals were assigned a certain amount of work based on skill, age, and capacity to finish in a day, often pushing them to their limits. Many plantation owners, like Pinckney, hired overseers to stay on the property to dictate and manage tasks assigned to enslaved laborers. After enslaved workers completed assigned tasks, they could spend the rest of the day doing personal work. The task system exploited all a person’s energy, taking advantage of their labor and as much daylight as possible. Enslaved people labored upwards of 12 hours per day, then had little time left for personal matters, health, or socialization. If not resting for the next morning, they could hunt, fish, or cultivate small garden plots permitted to grow for their own food source.


Mount Pleasant After Slavery

The relationships between plantations owners and their formerly enslaved workers changed little after abolishing slavery in the United States. Many newly freed people signed labor contracts to continue to work at places like Snee Farm during the Reconstruction Era. These contacts controlled and oppressed freedmen and women, often providing low wages or payment after the end of a working season. Many owners claimed that the amount promised was unavailable when it came time to receive their money or drove workers off property with violence and intimidation.

Formerly enslaved people did not experience equal rights post-abolition. Black freedman communities formed in Mount Pleasant, including Snowden, Phillips, Tibwin, Ten-Mile, Eight-Mile, Seven-Mile, and Awendaw, among others. These communities provided mutual aid, education, worship groups, and a sense of togetherness for Black men and women of the area. Many of these communities survive today through the descendants of formerly enslaved people, although they are under the threat of gentrification and development. Newly freed people in Mount Pleasant had access to only one educational institution in the area, the Laing School. The Friends Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen established the school to educate freed people of all ages in agriculture, industrial work, and homemaking skills. People walked upwards of ten miles to access their education in Mount Pleasant.


The Gullah Geechee Culture

Enslaved West Africans retained many of their traditions and beliefs when forced to the United States. Bringing their knowledge, religious beliefs, cooking methods, and language, these cultural ideals passed to new generations over time. Gullah Geechee culture developed as a blend of these traditional aspects, mixed with new beliefs, foodways, songs, crafts, and more in the United States.
These men, women, and children created a unique and beautiful culture despite the harsh, dehumanizing conditions of slavery they endured. Descendent communities actively practice many of these traditions in the kitchen, through worship, spoken language, and more. The culture continues vibrantly today, and aspects of it can be seen along the Southeastern coastline from North Carolina to Florida.

To learn more about the Gullah Geechee culture, please visit our colleagues at the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.

Last updated: January 7, 2022

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