Over 100 Years of Plantation History Preserved
at Sams Tabby Complex
Tabby hearth. Courtesy of South Carolina Historic Preservation Office
The Sams Tabby Complex contains the remnants of a successful plantation, including building structures and domestic artifacts from those who worked it. Tabby is an architectural term referring to both building method and the building materials/components. This method of construction was very important in the south eastern territories and colonies. Wooden boards are used as brackets, or frames, to form walls and openings for windows and doors. A handmade liquid mixture, a primitive concrete, made of crushed shells, sand, clay, and some forms or bits of limestone are poured into the wooden frames. These wooden cases were filled slowly and in stages to decrease the chances of air pockets. Once hardened, tabby structures were as strong as stone, like manmade limestone, and fireproof.
Although the plantation was most likely occupied before 1783, it was purchased by Barnwell Sams in that year. In the early 1800s he expanded greatly upon the tabby complex adding wings to the main house for his growing family, additional slave quarters, a large kitchen, smokehouse, barn/stables, and well/dairy house. There were many other structures in the complex, but only a few remain standing. Sams' plantation grew indigo, cotton, and oranges. Based upon the archeological evidence, remaining structures, and documented history of the Sams' business and exports, it is believed that hundreds of enslaved African Americans were needed to operate the plantation.
Main House Ruins. Courtesy of South Carolina Historic Preservation Office
After the Civil War, the plantation continued to function through the work of freedmen until the main house burned at the turn of the century. It is believed the entire plantation was abandoned by the start of the twentieth century. Sams Tabby Complex exhibits excellent integrity and is both archeologically and architecturally significant. Archeological evidence at this site can give insight into the actual date of the earliest complex structures. It can also provide important historical and anthropological information that adds to a range of research questions, such as: comparison and contrast of the lifeways between the freedmen on site who varied in social status, the lifestyle and treatment of enslaved African Americans who worked in the house versus other types of jobs, and finally the lifeways of freedmen living at the plantation without white owners.
By Stephanie Massaro
Sams Tabby Complex (38BU581) National Register form, submitted by the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office
Thornton, Richard. "What is Tabby architecture?" Examiner.com. http://www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/what-is-tabby-style-architecture (accessed July 19, 2011).