Charleston’s wealth and wars

Tuesday 9 to Friday 12 April

We flew from New York to Charleston in South Carolina. This was the start of our southern road journey – our fourth road trip in the USA. We hoped to fill in a lot of what we had missed in previous road trips.

In 2016 we had covered the west from Los Angeles east to Colorado, north to Wyoming and west to Oregon then followed highway 101 back to Los Angeles. We then flew north to Washington State and drove east via Vancouver to the Dakotas, the Great Lakes, Montreal and Quebec to New York.

In 2017 we explored the east coast of Pennsylvania and the Virginias as far south as South Carolina before visiting Washington DC.

We were finally out of the cold of Europe and New York City. It was time to pack up the doona coat and thermals. But it rained. Oh well, the umbrellas were out.

We found a southern dinner – shrimp and grits for me. I found it heavy, not my first choice.

We enjoyed exploring Charleston. The city is set on a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers.

Wealth had been made in these parts by rice and cotton. These are heavily laboured crops only possible with slaves. The houses were big and beautiful and there was no shortage of churches.

Charleston has a City Market which we were drawn to a number of times. We found yummy snacks, nice greeting cards for upcoming birthdays and a hat for Bruce.

We found a lot of high end shops and exclusive shopping malls. But I was looking for craft shops. I knew we had many miles on the road ahead of us and I needed some knitting. Bruce and I have an agreement on these long road trips – for our sanity. He drives and I navigate and knit.

Of course, my plan was to knit something for our very first granddaughter, due in September. I was excited!

We took a boat trip to Fort Sumter, built on a tiny island in Charleston Harbour which is formed by the confluence of the Cooper and Ashley rivers.

Fort Sumter, named after the Southern Carolina Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Sumter, was one of a series of coastal fortifications built after the War of 1812. It was here that the first shots were fired in the Civil War on 12 April 1861.

In December 1860 South Carolina voted to secede from the Federal Union so that they could protect their right to retain slavery. Slavery was vital to the southern economy but had become untenable in the northern states. By February 1861 Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana had followed its example and the Confederate States of America was established with Jefferson Davis elected as president. Texas joined the confederate soon after.

At this time Fort Sumter was held by the Federal Union commanded by Major Robert Anderson. The commander of the Confederate forces, Brig. Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard demanded that Anderson surrender. When he refused, the Confederates opened fire. The battle lasted a mere 34 hours, before Anderson boarded a ship for New York, leaving the fort entirely burned. The Civil War had begun.

We had become confident with using Uber in the United States, so we booked a car to take us to Avis where we picked up a hire car for our great road trip. We found ourselves with a fairly new Jeep SUV. Bruce was very happy.

Our next stop was Savannah in Georgia for just a single night. It allowed us the opportunity to visit one of the south’s great plantations Magnolia Plantation and Gardens on the Ashley River in South Carolina.

The property was first established by Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann who arrived from Barbados in 1676. They grew rice and wealth. The property has been in the family for more than 300 years. Thomas and Ann’s great grandson John became an episcopal minister, but the stress of running the property and studying for the ministry left him with tuberculosis. He used the development of an informal English style garden to aid his recovery.

The area from Myrtle Beach to Colombia in South Carolina then to Savannah was a no-mans land for the powerful Sioux, Iroquoian and Muskogee tribes and was settled by smaller tribes. These tribes welcomed the English settlers who afforded them some protection from the warring super powers.

We were more interested in the garden, so didn’t opt for the Nature Train Tour or the House Tour or the From Slavery to Freedom Tour or the Nature Boat Tour. Instead we spent two hours wandering around the magnificent gardens, armed with a map highlighted with a suggested route.

The gardens were first opened to the public in 1870 and have evolved and grown into one of the greatest public gardens in America.

I was particularly taken by the ‘Spanish Moss’ an epiphytic from the bromeliad family that grows on the ancient trees with its beautiful contrasting bluish-grey colour.

A wildlife observation tower gave us sweeping views of the historic rice fields and various lakes provided pretty aspects. There was no shortage of alligators and turtles in the lakes. The camera was busy!

We left the gardens for a short drive to Savannah which is just inside the Georgia border from South Carolina. Let the road trip begin.