Back in September, when I visited the Rose Hill Plantation in Union, SC, I hadn’t planned it as one in a series of visits to historic plantations in the Southeast but that’s what it turned out to be. In October, I visited the Jarrell Plantation in Juliette, GA and just before Thanksgiving I visited the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation in Brunswick, GA and the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, FL. Instead of posting about these two plantations separately, I combined them into one post because they provide two examples of coastal plantations, one that cultivated rice and the other that cultivated cotton. The cotton plantations are widely known, but the rice plantations are not as well known.
I visited the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site in Brunswick, GA on 19 November. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been working in Brunswick since 2009 and never visited it before, but I’m glad that I finally did. Unlike inland plantations which grew cotton, Hofwyl-Broadfield was a rice plantation. Just like cotton plantations, however, rice plantations depended on slave labor. William Brailsford of Charleston bought the property in 1806 when it was named Broadface; when with slave labor, he turned swamps of Broadface into a rice plantation he renamed it Broadfield. The property would remain the same family through 1973; upon Brailsford’s death Broadfield passed to his son-in-law (and brother of Georgia Governor George Troup) James Troup, following Troup’s death it passed to his son-in-law George Dent and it would remain in the Dent family until the death of Ophelia Dent in 1973. Ophelia Dent left the property to the State of Georgia and it became an historic site. Hofwyl was added to the name of the plantation in the early 1850s went the Dents built the house that is on the site now, naming it Hofwyl after the Swiss school that George Dent attended.
In a way, Hofwyl-Broadfield reminds me of the Jarrell Plantation. During the Civil War, the Dent family women and children went to a refugee settlement near Waycross while George Dent and his son James served in the Confederate Army. When they returned after the war and the abolition of slavery, it was harder to keep the plantation running. It had always operated in debt, but now that they had to pay labor, it was even harder to try to break even. Instead of diversifying like the Jarrells did, however, the Dents changed tack; they ceased operating as a rice plantation and became a dairy farm. As a dairy farm, they supplied milk to customers in Glynn and McIntosh County around Brunswick. When the dairy farm shut down around World War II, the family had managed pull the plantation out of debt and it survived for Ophelia Dent to leave it to the State of Georgia.
The Visitors Center shows a very informative film and it the and part of the visitor’s center museum point out how labor intensive rice cultivation was, both in building up and maintaining the dike and canal system used to grow the rice and the method of planting and harvesting the rice. The visitors center also features a collection of the family silver from the plantation. From the visitors center, you walk through a grove of massive live oak trees to the working part of the plantation. A silo foundation, pay shed, bottling house, dairy barn, and commissary that were part of the dairy farm still remain. The duplex servants quarters are located between the working part of the dairy farm and Hofwyl House; one part of it is left as is and the other half were turned into the site’s restrooms. Hofwyl House is open to the public through a guided tour that is given every at the top of every hour. The house is left as it was when it was left to state and features items from every generation that owned Hofwyl Broadfield. The guided tour is highly recommended as the tour guide provides background on many of the times and the house that would be hard to learn otherwise (there are quite a few links between some of the house’s furnishings and historic homes in Savannah).
A few days later, on 21 November, I visited the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, FL as part of a road trip to north Jacksonville. It wasn’t my first visit, but it is the first time I’ve posted about it on this blog. Located along the Fort George River on Fort George Island, the Kingsley Plantation is part of the National Park Service’s Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. The plantation was owned by a number of planters, but the most notable was Zephaniah Kingsley. He owned the plantation from 1814 to 1839 when he sold it to his nephew. Kingsley was very interesting; he was polygamous and his family was multiracial as some of his wives were former slaves. The most prominent of those wives was Anna Madgigine Jai, a slave he freed and married – she also lived on Kingsley Plantation above the kitchen. Kingsley was considered a permissive slave owner; he was nowhere close to being an abolitionist, but he did argue for more humane treatment of slaves believing that it would be more peaceful and prevent the abolition of slavery. The multiracial family was not all that unusual for the Florida area; Florida at times was under Spanish rather than English control and Spanish policies regarding race were more liberal. When north Florida fell under English control, Kingsley bought property in Haiti and Anna Jai and their sons moved there in 1837 to escape what Kingsley believed was intolerant prejudice under the English.
Kingsley owned more property in North Florida and owned more than 200 slaves, but 60 slaves resided and worked on the Kingsley Plantation cultivating cotton, corn, citrus, and sugarcane. The slaves lived in 32 tabby slave cabins, the remains of which 15 still exist, which were arranged in a semi circle about 1000 yards away from the plantation house. There a number of theories about the semi circular arrangement, but one of them is that it was a reflection of how African villages were organized. The cabins are in various states, but the driver’s cabin has been renovated to show how they would have looked. Between the slave cabins and the plantation house are a tabby barn and the kitchen house (part of which was Anna Jai’s residence. The two story plantation house sits next to the Fort George River; it was first built in 1797/1798 by a previous owner and was added to by subsequent owners. It also had to be repaired after it was damaged by American raiders during 1813’s Patriot Rebellion.
Even though my series of road trips brought me to four different antebellum plantations, I’m glad that they did. Each provided a different example of plantation, from the inland Rose Hill and Jarrell plantations to the coastal Hofwyl-Broadfield and Kingsley Plantations. On a visceral level, the Kingsley Plantation is the most impactful. Whenever I visit, I can’t help but be emotionally and intellectually touched by the tabby slave cabins. In fact, on this most recent visit it was disappointed to see some folks frivolously posing in one of the barn’s doorways; it seemed that they weren’t aware of the slave labor that worked out of built it. The plantation I was most impressed with was the Jarrell Plantation; the story of how they adapted to a changing world after the Civil War and the Boll Weevil by diversifying is fascinating.