Tabby Slave Quarter at St. Simons Island, Georgia

Back in March on my way from a road trip I stopped on St. Simons Island to see three original slave quarters.

This original slave quarter is constructed of tabby (a mixture of oyster shells, lime, sand and water). The building is now in the midst of a Methodist church conference complex. This view is of the eastern facade.

The slave quarters survive now in a fairly good condition because at least the one pictured above was being used a meeting when I visited in March 2011. There are two slave quarters on the property of Cassina Garden Club and the one above is part of Epworth by the Sea, a Methodist Church Conference complex. Historically, they were both just three of the slave quarters on the plantation of James Hamilton. Hamilton Plantation, established in 1793 on St. Simons Island for the production of cotton and shipping timber had a big house. Unfortunately, that building burned in 1890. James Hamilton died in 1829 as an extremely wealthy man (of course a wealth predicated on owning other people and forcing their unpaid hands to work for him). It appears these quarters were constructed during the ownership of James Hamilton Couper. Couper owned 386 enslaved people in 1830 and the estate of James H. Hamilton was listed as having 112 enslaved laborers.

These buildings were constructed of tabby (a mixture of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water). However, they were also scoured to appear like they are constructed of ashlar stones.

Detail of exterior wall slave quarter

 

Today, the slave quarters are located in such a way that (as should be obvious in the photo) makes it appear like a cottage surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees, and spanish moss. The beauty in these photos belies the tragedy of enslavement.

Sadly, the day I was there there was a meeting in the slave quarter at Epworth by the Sea and the nearby two quarters owned by the garden club were inaccessible too. There was recognition of these buildings from the signage directing me to them, but there was little interpretation. The enslaved people who lived here when handling cotton were involved with the plant from the spring through the fall each year. I admit that I do not know enough details about the Hamilton Plantation to know if the people who worked here worked by gang labor (common in the Upper South) or the task system (common in neighboring South Carolina’s lowcountry and not uncommon in coastal Georgia).

The fact that these buildings remain are not only cool, but they can be useful in telling the story of slavery in coastal Georgia. However, there is a need for greater interpretation of these buildings from the entities that own the three quarters. Luckily, the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Those interested in slavery and architecture and the relationship between the two would be remiss if they did not go and check out the buildings while traveling up or down US Route 17.

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