It was still quite breezy as we left Charleston and headed round the bluff, into the waterway that separates Mount Pleasant from Sullivan Island. Sunday is a busy day for boaters, so we had the pleasure of being passed on both sides by nippy little craft, their bronzed owners waving cheerily, and creating large wakes. It was quite a change after our solitary days in the Lowcountry, but the Captain restrained himself from comment over the VHF radio.
As we passed Bull Bay, there were some lovely houses overlooking the water. The South still has very much its own identity and old loyalties stay strong. I’ve seen the Civil War referred to as The War of Northern Aggression. At Buck Hall, several of the houses were flying the Confederate flag.
When we got to McClellanville, Chandler, the dockhand, told us to look out for the visiting dolphin. On cue, he appeared on our starboard side, diving below the surface, but looking at us for long enough between dives for us to feel that he was really trying to communicate with us.
Sadly, what he was trying to communicate was a request for food, and we hadn’t any. He was used to getting tit-bits from the shrimp boats. Eventually he swam off, and we could feel his disappointment.
Georgetown, on the confluence of the Sampit, Black, Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee Rivers was our next stop, and we took a day off the boating to absorb a flavour of its history, given its status as the third oldest settlement in South Carolina.
The slaves who came from Africa to South Carolina at the end of the 18th century brought with them many skills, one of which was rice cultivation. The cypress swamps were cleared to make ideal rice paddies, as the tidal rivers would flood the fields with fresh water. In the seven years it took for the cleared swamps to become productive, they grew indigo instead – the dye which was produced from this plant fetching a very high price in Europe. South Carolina quickly became very prosperous.
The docent at the Rice Museum, who gave a very good talk on her subject, said that after the Civil War, many liberated slaves continued to work for the plantation owners. South Carolina was the prime exporter of rice in the US, but towards the end of the 19th century, other states had started to grow rice and were able to mechanise production. This wasn’t possible in South Carolina because of the marshy ground. Then in the 1890’s a series of hurricanes flooded the fields with salt water, making them unusable for seven years. That effectively ended cultivation for good, though there is still one plantation producing aromatic rice, and we have a bag in the cupboard being saved for a special occasion, as it smells so good.
Georgetown replaced rice cultivation with a steel works and a paper mill, so there is still some industrial landscape.
In the afternoon we were just in time to catch the last tour of the day at the Kaminski House, left to the city in 1972 by Julia Kaminski. Her husband’s family had been merchants in Georgetown and her husband Harold, aged 55, served in the US Navy and on the morning of December 7th 1941, alerted his senior officers to the presence of a Japanese submarine in Pearl Harbour. His report wasn’t taken seriously and in the aftermath and recriminations, Kaminski’s senior officers were discharged from the Navy.
Harold and Julia had no children, and used their wealth to restore their 18th century house and furnish it with antiques, though there are some interesting 1950’s touches, like Julia’s pink and turquoise bathroom. Twenty years after Julia’s death, the trustees finally got round to having the curtains and the dressing table skirt in her bedroom cleaned. They found, sewn inside the skirt, a diamond brooch, which was valued at $76,000. Unfortunately, Julia had stipulated in her will that if anything from the house was sold, the proceeds would have to be donated to an animal charity. So although the trustees would have liked to have the money for repairs and maintenance to the house, the brooch remains in the safe box.
Another enjoyable visit – guided tours are something the Americans do exceptionally well.
Afterwards we strolled round the historic district.
We had dinner on the verandah of the River Room, which served good local seafood, and with the steelworks and paper mill lighting up the sunset.