Looking for an off-the-beaten-path day trip while visiting Charleston, SC? Look no further than Hopsewee, a gorgeous rice plantation north of Charleston and south of Georgetown, SC. There are three things you must do if you visit!
1) Tour the house. A guided tour of the house is a must! The tour guides are knowledgeable and take you on a journey back in time from when the house was built to the present day. The Hopsewee Plantation, constructed in 1740, sits on the banks of the North Santee River near Georgetown, SC. Built decades before the American Revolution, the house is the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Sr. and his son Thomas Lynch, Jr. While both men served as South Carolina delegates to the Continental Congress only Thomas Lynch, Jr. was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence after his father Thomas Lynch, Sr. fell ill and died in Maryland in 1776. Through the centuries, Hopsewee was owned by several families, and at one point the International Paper Company, until purchased by the Beatty’s, the current plantation owners.
After the Civil War, the former slaves continued to work the land via contracts, and some former slave families lived and worked the land until around mid-1900. Slave cabins on the grounds give a glimpse of living conditions at the plantation and are well preserved.
Today this private home and its grounds serve as a preservation museum for all to learn about Hopsewee and enjoy the setting along the river. Tour guides are knowledgeable and welcome questions. The house tour highlights the beautiful Colonial architecture common in the 1700’s. Walking through the house reminded me of the architecture from back home in Bucks County, PA.
As a Yankee Girl, like many not from the South, I was under the misconception that all Southerners owned extravagant plantation homes like Tara from Gone With The Wind or the Mansfield Plantation used in the movie The Patriot. After living in the South for many years I’ve learned otherwise. While there are numerous plantations that fit that movie or book ideal, surprisingly most people did not live extravagant lives on gigantic estates, much like today. The Hopsewee Plantation is a beautiful example of a historical plantation, with a long sweeping drive opening up to the lawn and home. It is more like what we non-locals think of when we think plantation.
2) Walk the grounds. The plantation is no longer a working agricultural estate, however it was once a large producer of indigo and, eventually, rice. The plantation was converted to a rice plantation after the Revolutionary War when the demand for indigo fell as it was no longer sold to the British Navy for their uniforms. What were the plantation owners to do? They found a new crop to grow – rice – using the exclusive skills and knowledge of slaves from West Africa using a task system.
Rice culture was heavily dependent on the knowledge of slaves and would not have been successful without them. Unlike cotton plantations, which used a “gang system” or a system without any down time for the slaves, rice plantations used a “task system.” This “task system” allowed for the slaves to negotiate tasks for the week. Once the overseer agreed to the tasks and the tasks were completed, slaves were free to do as they pleased –garden, hunt, or fish, for instance – under this system.
Today, the Hopsewee Plantation is roughly 70 acres of its previous 430 plus acres used for planting rice. Although no longer producing crops, the grounds of the estate are quite beautiful, with a long drive to the house, a view of the North Santee River, and Spanish moss draped over the trees. While there, don’t pass up the chance to sit on the joggling board, it is most relaxing!
Although they plantation no longer grows the crop, the local foods movement in Charleston is paving the way for the reintroduction of Carolina Gold rice. On this same weekend trip I attended the Food Film Fest in Charleston, and part of the festival was dedicated the growing of heirloom rice locally.
3) Have lunch or a formal tea. All of the walking and learning at the plantation will encourage your stomach to signal the impending need for sustenance. What ever shall you do? Why take in some treats at the River Oak Cottage Tea Room on the grounds of the plantation. This cozy tearoom serves up delectable treats – any one of which will delight your tastebuds.
I went for the full Southern tea! I, unlike many native Southerners I know, am a hot tea drinker – British style with milk and sugar. My grandpa used to call it old maids’ belly wash. Most natives to the South drink sweet tea, which I also love, but are not as fond of the hot stuff. The tea included savories, scones, sweets, and, of course, tea. It was different from other teas I’ve had, such as one of my favorites at the Ethel Barrymore Room at the Hotel Atop of the Bellevue in Philly. (Sadly, the Philly hotel changed ownership and the high tea is no longer available.) Even though it was different, I really enjoyed it, especially the curried chicken salad on a ginger cracker, the bleu cheese quiche, and the cranberry & orange scones with cream and jelly.
Although I chose the full Southern Tea, they offer many other menu items and they have an good tea selection, including the Hopsewee blend. The menu includes Southern classics such as tomato pie and shrimp and grits. No matter what you choose, you will enjoy your meal! I recommend making reservations for the tea room if you plan on grabbing a bite to eat while visiting.