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Historical Archaeology Field School at Cat Island, Georgetown County

Dr. Sharon Moses is studying the history of the Hume Plantation slaves who lived on Cat Island in Georgetown County, South Carolina.  Cat Island is one of three islands, including North and South Island, which make up the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center in Winyah Bay, SC. This area was home to the Spanish, French, and eventually the English.  In 1708 nearly half of the slaves in the South Carolina Low Country were Native American.  West African slaves were imported as the marsh land was transformed into rice paddies.

Cat Island is not open to the general public, although arranged tours are offered and multiple universities conduct marine, botanical, geological, and wildlife research there.  Dr. Moses is the Principal Investigator (a legal designation given to the archaeologist in charge of a site) through her permit status with the State of South Carolina, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center.  She then set up an historical archaeology field school using the Slave Street as the first sub-surface archaeology site to be conducted on Cat Island or in the Tom Yawkey Wildlife preserve.   Moses’ goals include delving deeper into daily life of mixed populations and how this changed over time, European domination and its influences over traditional beliefs, practices and values of Native Americans and African populations, and particularly of slaves and their children.  Dr. Moses uses a number of methods to locate the cabin sites, one of which is a hand drawn and painted plat map from 1827, a representation of the layout of Hume plantation at that time.  Dr. Moses has conducted research at the National Archives, made possible by a Coastal Carolina University PEG grant, and according to slave schedules, by 1850 the Hume family owned 200 slaves.  Some of that number was certainly part of the slave population on Cat Island, while others may have been in Charleston, as the Hume family was also prominent there.  Areas of the plantation that are still easily identifiable include the Hume Family Cemetery and Slave quarter – both situated along the dirt road (called the ‘slave street’ or “Negro street”) which was once the main thoroughfare connecting  the main house to its rice fields.  When Dr. Moses began excavating in 2011, she recovered almost 3000 artifacts of ceramic sherds, metal (square nails, pieces of horse tack), glass, and clay smoking pipes; in the second year she recovered 4953 artifacts!  These artifacts range from the late 17th century to the early 20th century, and are already beginning to paint a vivid picture of changing lifeways of the populations on Cat Island. 

Dr. Moses has identified other structures along the Slave Street, including a communal kitchen house built upon large square beams, whose supporting beam stains are all that is left in the dirt as they decomposed over the centuries.  Historically, plantations often followed a hierarchal layout.  At the Hume slave street, this is revealing itself as the main house, the horse and cattle pens & tack shed, the communal kitchen, the overseers house (white), the driver’s house (usually a slave of high status entrusted with responsibilities important to the master), and the remaining slaves.  Dr. Moses believes they have identified the Driver’s house.  This area contains remnants of pottery and Chinese ceramics - much nicer pieces that were probably hand-me-downs from the main house.  Historically, a driver would have had more interaction with the master and his family and as a status symbol, was sent home with cast-off home items from the master.   The farther the slave cabin was from the main house and the driver’s house, the lesser status the slave seems to have had, according to the kinds of artifacts found thus far in the cabin sites.

Dr. Moses is writing articles based upon her findings thus far, and looks forward to their publication in appropriate archaeological journals.  There is much more to discover on Cat Island as Dr. Moses and her students find pieces to the puzzle that lead to the answers of what kind of life the slaves led on Hume Plantation.