MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, SOUTH CAROLINA
Updated: Aug 15
S-L-A-V-E-R-Y. A seven letter word meaning a life sentence. America is still a nation deeply uneasy about its role in the barbaric practice. Some Americans just cannot let go of the guilt, some demand reparations..It is hard to see how there will ever be a healing.
We came across an old Southern plantation, with the fragrant name of Magnolia, just outside Charleston. This former 2000 acre estate was built on the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of slaves, imported from distant lands as a commodity, like gold or spices. The land for this vast property was gifted by Charles II of England to one of his flunkies in the 17th century and has remarkably stayed in the same family's ownership for 13 generations. The early owners struggled to find a successful crop in the wet, humid, hostile territory but eventually had abundant success with rice. The wealth generated was beyond comprehension. But first they had to dig hundreds upon hundreds of acres of 'paddy fields' which were to be fed from the local River Ashley. This was before the Industrial Revolution and so the answer was in the market place - slaves. Not only was it back breaking work but it was also extremely dangerous. Poisonous snakes and spiders, voracious alligators and deadly diseases all took their toll. Incredibly, 40% of the male slaves born into this abhorrent captivity died before the age of 20. But, hay, what's a few slaves when it is making the land owner as rich as Croesus? Well, quite a lot to the Northerners apparently who were sickened by what was going on. So that, in a nutshell, was one of the main causes of the American Civil War which started here in Charleston when the Confederates fired the first salvo at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Union, of course, won after four bloody years and on their march through the Deep South took their revenge on the Plantations by freeing the slaves and burning the huge houses. Magnolia Plantation today, however, is a glorious natural garden. The paddy fields, miles of them, are the peaceful home to alligators and some beautiful bird life. The woodland trails and colorful gardens would do an English country home proud.
Slavery has been abolished for a century and a half. But there is a movement to seek retribution all over again. They want statues torn down. They want every symbol of the 'empire' of exploitation razed to the ground. Yes, all empires are built on a two-class system, those who own the land and those who are paid a pittance to work on it; those who own the factories and those who labored away in appalling conditions - it still happens today in parts of China, India and Africa. But this modern-day summary retrial for what happened generations ago is as illogical as it is just plain wrong. To see students toppling statues is, simply, imbecilic. Should Rome tear down the Coliseum, should Athens blow up the Acropolis, should Cairo take down the Pyramids stone by stone? Of course not. But to many, the destruction of statues of political leaders and war heroes is more than a futile gesture. However, history cannot and should not be rewritten. Mistakes there may have been and the best way of stopping us making them again is to have the reminders staring down at us.
Magnolia Plantation serves this purpose well. A wonderful day out but with an underlying sober message. Lest we forget.
Magnolia Plantation House
One time paddy fields
Alligator munching a turtle - crunchy outside with a lovely soft center