The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
McLeod Plantation - An open letter to the Mayor, City Council, and the Board of the Historic Charleston Foundation
Carol S. Jacobsen
607 Wampler Drive
"Located across Charleston Harbor just southwest of the city, McLeod Plantation encompasses acres of fields and woods. McLeod offers the Foundation an opportunity to interpret the contributions and influences of the rural and agrarian South." The Historic Charleston Foundation website.
I note with concern that we seem to be entering a war of words regarding the opposition by the Friends of McLeod, Inc. to the sale of McLeod Plantation to the School of the Building Arts. The Friends of McLeod, Inc. are dedicated to preserving and protecting all aspects of McLeod Plantation including its house, slave cabins, outbuildings, cemetery, oak allees, woods, and character-defining fields. We want to inform and educate the public on the plantation's historical importance, its military history, its importance in the Civil War, and particularly its importance in African-American history, from slavery to the Civil War to freedom.
We were not formed to purchase the plantation, but rather to provide information and to help in any restoration project of this unique complex of buildings and fields. We were not formed to battle the Historic Charleston Foundation, because we are admirers of the work that HCF accomplishes. We note that HCF has stated on its website that, "1990…In his will, Willie McLeod leaves partial interest in McLeod Plantation, c. 1858, on James Island to HCF. The Foundation purchases full title to the property by 1993, saving the plantation, complex of antebellum outbuildings and archaeological resources, from future development."
We share a common goal with Historic Charleston Foundation to ensure that this National Trust site with its grand heritage be entrusted to a group that understands the serious obligations that go with stewardship of the plantation. As a 1993 Post and Courier article notes, "Frankly, it's one of the most unique and historic properties in America. It's a model of a 19th-century South Carolina plantation,…and we intend to preserve it for the benefit of future generations," foundation president Thomas A. Palmer said.
Our opinions diverge regarding the proposed sale to the School of the Building Arts (SOBA). In their most recent plan, SOBA proposes to build 21 new structures on the property. This is perplexing to us. Constructing new buildings requires the use of bulldozers and other equipment that disturbs the soil. One of the studies funded by HCF to determine archeological resources on McLeod Plantation (Jaeger, Pyburn, New South Associates), states, "The archeological and historical inventory of McLeod Plantation confirms the presence of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century archeological components on this property."
Again, from the HCF website on the protective power of a preservation easement, "Since 1940, Charleston has lost several hundred historic structures and nearly one-third of the antebellum plantation buildings in the surrounding countryside. Countless battlefields and archaeological sites have been destroyed by development. New construction…has caused significant encroachment on the quantity and quality of our precious heritage sites, sometimes through demolition, but more often through neglect, improper maintenance, insensitive alteration…" Please tell us how 21 new buildings on McLeod will be a sensitive alteration to this precious heritage site, listed as one of the 100 most important historical sites in South Carolina.
On the HCF website, we also find the work of Dr. Carter Hudgins, Executive Director of HCF from 1994-2000. Writing on Archaeology in Charleston, Dr. Hudgins gave this advice: "What can you do to help protect Charleston's buried heritage?"
• Support efforts to draft an archaeological protection policy in Charleston.
• Disallow "pot hunting" on your property. This means saying no to those who want to dig out your cistern or privy in order to collect bottles or other artifacts.
• Get more information before doing large-scale excavations such as putting in a pool or heavy landscaping. Are there any restrictions such as easements or covenants on your property that require approval of the work in advance?
• Remember, the greatest protection you can afford to the archaeological sites on your property is to leave them alone.
The African-American members of the Friends of McLeod, Inc. are particularly sensitive to McLeod's importance in their history. Where else do you find the row of slave cabins with a praise house? Where else do you find a site that in the words of one member of the city's Planning Commission, "…show us what it was like, how far we have come, and how far we need to go."
In a Post and Courier article from 1997, named "50 Years of Preservation-Foundation Keeps Eye on Past, Future," Robert Behre reported on Bernie Mayzck, the second black to serve as a foundation trustee. He said, "the foundation has found itself in an important position, largely because it owns two of the most intact plantations in the area - the Aiken-Rhett House, an urban plantation on Elizabeth Street, and the McLeod Plantation on James Island…both of those sites could be incorporated into a South Carolina African-American Heritage Museum." Mayzck went on to say he applauds the foundation for emphasizing the roles not only of the property owner, but also of the slaves and freed blacks who worked in both places.
Another quote from the article is, "There's been a growing push and awareness to do something with the African-American aspect---"We're pro-active in that area," said Elizabeth Jenkins Young, who served as a trustee for more than 40 years."
The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment organization supports the Friends of McLeod, Inc. in our efforts. The regiment occupied McLeod and used it as a headquarters, hospital, and encampment, before the plantation became a Freedmen's Bureau.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., has expressed many opinions about green space, and our natural and architectural environment. In December, 2001, "Creating parks and green space is increasingly important as more and more Americans live in urban or suburban areas away from the beauty of nature." From his inaugural address in 2000, "Now the strength of our economy and our increasing international recognition produce the chance for unprecedented and rapid changes to our natural and built environment. In the blink of an eye, we could destroy an irreplaceable natural area or allow a use which irresponsibly changes a special place." In 1997, after an aborted attempt to build a fire station on McLeod land, Mayor Riley said that, "There is a lot of concern that we may be unnecessarily diminishing the character of the remaining McLeod Plantation…If we are going to err, it is better to err on the side of preserving than not."
In January of 2003, Ms. Kitty Robinson, the present Executive Director of HCF, was quoted as saying of McLeod Plantation, "It's a treasure. I like to think of it as the heart of James Island."
We agree with Ms. Robinson, the Mayor, and all of the people who have been quoted. McLeod is the heart, the soul, and the spirit of James Island. It is irreplaceable.