In the colonial and antebellum periods, South Carolina’s wealth was shaped not only by the products of plantation agriculture but also by the commerce of a dynamic urban center. By the eve of the Revolutionary War, Charleston was the wealthiest city, per capita, in British North America; 54% of its inhabitants were African and African-American but only a minuet number of these were free. Despite legal restrictions, slaves as well as citizens used material trappings as well as behaviors to define self.
On our “Textiles in Town and Country in Early South Carolina” study tour, which takes place October 18th – 19th in Charleston, South Carolina, textile scholar Kathy Staples will explore how textiles—clothing, furnishing fabrics, and accessories—as well as the textile trades helped to shape styles, ideas, and behaviors among all ranks of people in the Carolina Lowcountry during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Staples, an independent scholar, hails from Greenville, South Carolina. Over the past 16 years she has published on facets of the importation, production, and use of textiles in colonial and antebellum South Carolina and Georgia, including imported textiles in colonial Charleston, textiles for the Southeastern Indian trade, girlhood embroidery in Charleston and Georgia, and slave clothing in the Carolina Lowcountry. She has also been guest curator for three exhibitions on southern girlhood embroideries; the most recent is Georgia’s Girlhood Embroidery: “Crowned with Glory and Immortality.”
Along with an examination of elaborately constructed quilts, clothing, embroideries, and sweetgrass baskets from the South Carolina Lowcounty, tour participants will experience the spaces in which these objects were worn, displayed, and used on visits to a range of historic sites. Studies of specialized collections will be enhanced by presentations by local researchers and curators.
At the Aiken-Rhett Mansion, Charleston’s most intact antebellum urban complex built in about 1820, an archaeologist will be joining the group to explore the laundry, built about 1835, to interpret the results of a recent excavation here, which has yielded over 10,000 artifacts. The historic interiors, conserved and stabilized, have survived unaltered from 1858. The site retains its two original outbuildings: a kitchen and laundry and a stable house, above which were sleeping quarters for the house’s slaves.
Next stop will be The Charleston Museum, founded in 1773, and houses the most comprehensive collection of South Carolina materials—material culture, documentary and photographic resources, and natural history—in North America. The tour will go behind the scenes to examine some of the museum’s textile treasures—clothing, decorative embroideries, and furnishing textiles—that were made and/or used in the Carolina Lowcountry.
The Nathaniel Russell House, built by a Bristol, Rhode Island, merchant in 1808, is recognized as one of America’s important neoclassical homes. It boasts a restored interior architecture and important collection of fine and decorative arts that reflect the lifestyle of the Russell family. Participants will learn about the recent the soft furnishings project, which aims to identify and recreate the range of textiles used in the house at the time it was constructed. Here, during the lunch break, distinguished sweetgrass basket maker Sarah Edwards-Hammond will discuss and demonstrate this treasured African craft form.
The first day will conclude at the Heyward-Washington House, built in 1772, features magnificent period furniture made by Charleston artisans, a formal eighteenth-century garden, and period kitchen building.
Day two will begin in the Country with a short drive up the Ashley River to Drayton Hall, constructed in 1742, the first example of Palladian architecture to be executed in North America and the hub of a vast plantation empire and slave society. A guided tour will explore the legacy of this complex—the architecture, landscape, people, and things. Special attention will focus on surviving evidence of the role of textiles in the Drayton family.
Further up the river, Middleton Place features expansive gardens, stableyards, and a house museum that interprets four generations of the Middleton family. The property, originally a rice plantation, has been administered by the same family for over three hundred years. Participants will have the opportunity to wander the property, tour the house and view family clothing and furnishing textiles, and enjoy a locally-sourced buffet lunch.
Fees for this tour include bus transportation between Savannah and Charleston, and between all of the venues on the itinerary; one night stay at the Hampton Inn – Charleston Historic District (double occupancy); entry fees and curated-guided experiences at all of the museums and historic sites; and lunch each day.