Redcliffe Plantation, completed in 1859, contains a fascinating library which was in active use until 1973 when the house, including the library, was donated to the State of South Carolina.
Now a state-run historic site, the 400-acre estate is located near Aiken, South Carolina. The area is known as horse country and only twenty miles from the golfing mecca, Augusta, Georgia. The plantation was named for the red bluff in front of it and is in Beech Island, a colony from the 1600s. Settlement of the land dates further back to prehistoric residents and Native Americans.
The plantation house was home to four generations of the Hammond family with the last owner and a descendant, John Shaw Billings. Billings was the managing editor of Time-Life-Fortune magazines in New York City. He and his wife died without any surviving children, so the State of Georgia inherited his estate and the remaining acres in 1973.
James Henry Hammond, the original owner, built the house using slave labor. Hammond was the governor of SC and a congressman. He died before the Civil War ended but wasn’t a soldier. His wife, Catherine E. Fitzsimons from Charlestown, gave him the money to buy the plantation and deserted him for a while because of his terrible behavior.
Hammond had such a dark past; I’m not going into it! But if you want to know more, his scandalous Secret and Sacred Diaries were published in 1989, and the book is for sale online.
The tour guides presented a balanced tour starting with the slave quarters and brought to light how poor the conditions were to live and work there. While not a pleasant experience to reimagine how it was, it’s vital to confront and recognize our often controversial past to learn from it.
Karen Stensgaard is the author of two novels, AQUAVIT and BLUENESS. They don’t take place in South Carolina or on a plantation, but in different ways, they both touch on the Civil War.