I visited Redcliffe plantation on January 16th, 2020. Because of Covid, the tour was restricted to the first floor but I located a video that I linked at the bottom of this blog that covers the other floors. This site is one of South Carolina’s beautiful 47 state parks. I was looking forward to visiting the mansion and learning about its history. Little did I know that it was built for a despicable man named James Henry Hammond. The mansion was built for him by his slaves in 1855-1859.
He married into prominence by taking the heiress Catherine Fitzsimons as his spouse. His marriage made him a plantation owner. He was elected to office shortly thereafter. James henry Hammond became a US representative, the 60th governor of South Carolina and a US senator. He ended up owning considerable acreage, over 10,500 acres in addition to 300 slaves. He was obsessive about documenting almost every aspect of his life. He wrote about how to run a plantation, documenting everything from the monetary worth of his slaves, to how they are to live their lives, how they are to be punished, the clothing they received, their food allotment, how to treat pregnancy, down to how long to nurse their children.
In the tour I learned that he sexually abused his four nieces who were the daughters of Wade Hampton II another prominent South Carolina politician thus ruining any marital prospects they might have had. Wade Hampton II made this fact public which caused some damage to Hammond’s political carrier but did not ruin it completely as he was elected back into office after a few years. Hammond had also taken two of his slaves as mistresses Sally Johnson and her daughter Louisa . They had children with him who were enslaved as well. His wife did leave him for a period with her children following these scandals but she returned two years later. I have had nightmares about this man ever since my tour and to think that he was a school teacher and an attorney sworn to uphold the letter of the law! I am having a tough time accepting that people elected him to his last public office after his atrocious acts were made public.
Hammond is known as a strong supporter of nullification and a staunch defender of slavery. He argued before congress that “there should always be a lower class to serve the upper class”. I trust God put him in his rightful place after passing in 1864.
For many years I lived a couple of blocks from the prestigious Hammond academy in Columbia, SC. Curious about the name, I looked up the school. The school, initially named The James H. Hammond Academy was founded as a segregation academy in 1966. It changed its admission policies and was renamed to the Hammond school in the 80s. There was an article in the The State newspaper on August 25, 2020 written by Lucas Dapril where Hammond alumni requested the school name to be changed to further distance it from Hammond’s legacy. They stated that they don’t like to disclose where they attended school because of its history in segregation in addition to its name.
Redcliffe mansion was inhabited by 3 generations of James Henry Hammond’s descendants and several African American families until 1973 when John Shaw Billings -Hammond’s great grandson donated the estate and its furnishings to the state of South Carolina. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same year.
Kudos to our South Carolina State park rangers for the wonderful job they do in maintaining our beautiful state park grounds and preserving the history of our state. I enjoyed the tour and the factual information offered. Your efforts are much appreciated.
The mansion, circa 1859
Inside the mansion
The library has over 2,000 books. Artifacts in the house date to the late 1800 and early 1900s
Slave cabin, circa 1857
I knew about about slavery of course, but seeing the names of people and their value in the “Estimate Of the Value Of Stock” display hurt my heart. It is very difficult to remove this photo from my mind.
The stable, circa early 1900s
A well fed visitor
I had to get a photo with the beautiful Cedar tree, a symbol of my birth country Lebanon
An interesting video is published by the SC parks system where ranger Chelsea explores books and other artifacts left behind at Redcliffe some dating back to the 1800s. I highly recommend it. You can find it here.