FROM CAPE FEAR TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA.
A PORTAGE TO LAKE WACCAMAW. -- THE SUBMERGED SWAMPS. -- NIGHT AT A TURPENTINE DISTILLER -- A DISMAL WILDERNESS. -- OWLS AND MISTLETOE. -- CRACKERS AND NEGROES. -- ACROSS THE SOUTH CAROLINA LINE. -- A CRACKER'S IDEA OF HOSPITALITY. -- POT BLUFF. -- PEEDEE RIVER. -- GEORGETOWN. -- WINYAH BAY. -- THE RICE PLANTATIONS OF THE SANTEE RIVERS. -- A NIGHT WITH THE SANTEE NEGROES. -- ARRIVAL AT CHARLESTON.
Mr. Pope quietly telegraphed to the few families at the lake, "Take care of the paper canoe;" so when my destination was reached, kind voices greeted me through the darkness and offered me the hospitalities of Mrs. Brothers' home-like inn at the Flemington Station. After Mr. Carroll had conveyed the boat to his storehouse, we all sat down to tea as sociably as though we were old friends.
On the morrow we carried the Maria Theresa on our shoulders to the little lake, out of which the long and crooked river with its dark cypress waters flowed to the sea. A son of Mr. Short, a landed proprietor who holds some sixty thousand acres of the swamp lands of the Waccamaw, escorted me in his yacht, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, five miles across the lake to my point of departure. It was now noon, and our little party picnicked under the lofty trees which rise from the low shores of Lake Waccamaw.
A little later we said our adieu, and the paper canoe shot into the whirling current which rushes out of the lake through a narrow aperture into a great and dismal swamp. Before leaving the party, Mr. Carroll had handed me a letter addressed to Mr. Hall, who was in charge of a turpentine distillery on my route. "It is twenty miles by the river to my friend Hall's," he said, "but in a straight line the place is just four miles from here." Such is the character of the Waccamaw, this most crooked of rivers.
I had never been on so rapid and continuous a current. As it whirled me along the narrow watercourse I was compelled to abandon my oars and use the paddle in order to have my face to the bow, as the abrupt turns of the stream seemed to wall me in on every side. Down the tortuous, black, rolling current went the paper canoe, with a giant forest covering the great swamp and screening me from the light of day. The swamps were submerged, and as the water poured out of the thickets into the river it would shoot across the land from one bend to another, presenting in places the mystifying spectacle of water running up stream, but not up an inclined plain. Festoons of gray Spanish moss hung from the weird limbs of monster trees, giving a funeral aspect to the gloomy forest, while the owls hooted as though it were night. The creamy, wax-like berries of the mistletoe gave a Druidical aspect to the woods, for this parasite grew upon the branches of many trees.
One spot only of firm land rose from the water in sixteen miles of paddling from the lake, and passing it, I went flying on with the turbulent stream four miles further, to where rafts of logs blocked the river, and the sandy banks, covered with the upland forest of pines, encroached upon the lowlands. This was Old Dock, with its turpentine distillery smoking and sending out resinous vapors.
Young Mr. Hall read my letter and invited me to his temporary home, which, though roughly built of unplaned boards, possessed two comfortable rooms, and a large fireplace, in which light-wood, the terebinthine heart of the pine-tree, was cheerfully blazing.
I had made the twenty miles in three hours, but the credit of this quick time must be given to the rapid current. My host did not seem well pleased with the solitude imposed upon him. His employers had sent him from Wilmington, to hold and protect "their turpentine farm," which was a wilderness of trees covering four thousand acres, and was valued, with its distillery, at five thousand dollars. An old negro, who attended the still and cooked the meals, was his only companion.
We had finished our frugal repast, when a man, shouting in the darkness, approached the house on horseback. This individual, though very tipsy, represented Law and Order in that district, as I was informed when "Jim Gore," a justice of the peace, saluted me in a boisterous manner. Seating himself by the fire, he earnestly inquired for the bottle. His stomach, he said, was as dry as a lime-kiln, and, though water answers to slake lime, he demanded something stronger to slake the fire that burned within him. He was very suspicious of me when Hall told him of my canoe journey. After eying me from head to toe in as steady a manner as he was capable of, he broke forth with: "Now, stranger, this won't do. What are ye a-travel'ing in this sort of way for, in a paper dug-out?"
I pleaded a strong desire to study geography, but the wise fellow replied:
"Geography! geography! Why, the fellers who rite geography never travel; they stay at home and spin their yarns 'bout things they never sees." Then, glancing at his poor butternut coat and pantaloons, he felt my blue woollen suit, and continued, in a slow, husky voice: "Stranger, them clothes cost something; they be store-clothes. That paper dug-out cost money, I tell ye; and it costs something to travel the hull length of the land. No, stranger; if ye be not on a bet, then somebody's a-paying ye well for it."
For an hour I entertained this roughest of law dignitaries with an account of my long row, its trials and its pleasures. He became interested in the story, and finally related to me his own aspirations, and the difficulties attending his efforts to make the piny-woods people respect the laws and good government. He then described the river route through the swamps to the sea, and, putting his arm around me in the most affectionate manner, he mournfully said:
"O stranger, my heart is with ye; but O, how ye will have to take it when ye go past those awful wretches to-morrow; how they will give it to ye! They most knocked me off my raft, last time I went to Georgetown. Beware of them; I warn ye in time. Dern the hussies."
Squire Jim so emphasized the danger that I became somewhat alarmed, for, more than anything else, I dreaded an outbreak with rough women. And then, too, my new acquaintance informed me that there were four or five of these wretches, of the worst kind, located several miles down the stream. As I was about to inquire into the habits of these ugly old crones, Mr. Hall, wishing to give Squire James a hint, remarked that Mr. B_____ might at any time retire to the next room, where half the bed was at his disposal.
"Half the bed!" roared the squire; "here are three of us, and where's my half?"
"Why, squire," hesitatingly responded my host, Mr. B_____ is my guest, and having but one bed, he must have half of it -- no less."
"Then what's to become of me?" thundered his Majesty of the law.
Having been informed that a shake-down would have been ready had he given notice of his visit, and that at some future time, when not so crowded, he could be entertained like a gentleman, he drew himself up, wrapped in the mantle of dignity, and replied:
"None of that soft talk, my friend. This man is a traveller; let him take travellers' luck -- three in a bed to-night. I'm bound to sleep with him to-night. Hall, where's the bottle?"
I now retired to the back room, and, without undressing, planted myself on the side of the bed next the wall. Sleep was, however, an unattainable luxury, with the squire's voice in the next room, as he told how the country was going to the dogs, because "niggers and white folks wouldn't respect the laws. It took half a man's time to larn it to 'em, and much thanks he ever got by setting everybody to rights." He wound up by lecturing Hall for being so temperate, his diligent search in all directions for bottles or jugs being rewarded by finding them filled with unsatisfactory emptiness.
He then tumbled into the centre of the bed, crowding me close against the wall. Poor Hall, having the outside left to him, spent the night in exercising his brain and muscles in vain attempts to keep in his bed; for when his Majesty of the law put his arms akimbo, the traveller went to the wall, and the host to the floor. Thus passed my first night in the great swamps of the Waccamaw River.
The negro cook gave us an early breakfast of bacon, sweet potatoes, and corn bread. The squire again looked round for the bottle, and again found nothing but emptiness. He helped me to carry my canoe along the unsteady footing of the dark swamp to the lower side of the raft of logs, and warmly pressed my hand as he whispered: "My dear B____, I shall think of you until you get past those dreadful 'wretches.' Keep an eye on your little boat, or they'll devil you."
Propelled by my double paddle, the canoe seemed to fly through the great forest that rose with its tall trunks and weird, moss-draped arms, out of the water. The owls were still hooting. Indeed, the dolorous voice of this bird of darkness sounded through the heavy woods at intervals throughout the day. I seemed to have left the real world behind me, and to have entered upon a landless region of sky, trees, and water.
"Beware of the cut-offs," said Hall, before I left. Only the Crackers and shingle-makers know them. If followed, they would save you many a mile, but every opening through the swamp is not a cut-off. Keep to the main stream, though it be more crooked and longer. If you take to the cut-offs, you may get into passages that will lead you off into the swamps and into interior bayous, from which you will never emerge. Men have starved to death in such places."
So I followed the winding stream, which turned back upon itself, running north and south, and east and west, as if trying to box the compass by following the sun in its revolution. After paddling down one bend, I could toss a stick through the trees into the stream where the canoe had cleaved its waters a quarter of a mile behind me.
The thought of what I should do in this landless region if my frail shell, in its rapid flight to the sea, happened to be pierced by a snag, was, to say the least, not a comforting one. On what could I stand to repair it? To climb a tree seemed, in such a case, the only resource; and then what anxious waiting there would be for some cypress-shingle maker, in his dug-out canoe, to come to the rescue, and take the traveller from his dangerous lodgings between heaven and earth; or it might be that no one would pass that way, and the weary waiting would be even unto death.
But sounds now reached my ears that made me feel that I was not quite alone in this desolate swamp. The gray squirrels scolded among the tree-tops; robins, the brown thrush, and a large black woodpecker with his bright red head, each reminded me of Him without whose notice not a sparrow falleth to the ground.
Ten miles of this black current were passed over, when the first signs of civilization appeared, in the shape of a sombre-looking, two-storied house, located upon a point of the mainland which entered the swamp on the left shore of the river. At this point the river widened to five or six rods, and at intervals land appeared a few inches above the water. Wherever the pine land touched the river a pig-pen of rails offered shelter and a gathering-place for the hogs, which are turned loose by the white Cracker to feed upon the roots and mast of the wilderness.
Reeve's Ferry, on the right bank, with a little store and turpentine-still, twenty miles from Old Dock, was the next sign of the presence of man in this swamp. The river now became broad as I approached Piraway Ferry, which is two miles below Piraway Farm. Remembering the warnings of the squire as to the "awful wretches in the big pine woods," I kept a sharp lookout for the old women who were to give me so much trouble, but the raftsmen on the river explained that though Jim Gore had told me the truth, I had misunderstood his pronunciation of the word reaches, or river bends, which are called in this vicinity wretches. The reaches referred to by Mr. Gore were so long and straight as to afford open passages for wind to blow up them, and these fierce gusts of head winds give the raftsmen much trouble while poling their rafts against them.
My fears of ill treatment were now at rest, for my tiny craft, with her sharp-pointed bow, was well adapted for such work. Landing at the ferry where a small scow or flat-boat was resting upon the firm land, the ferryman, Mr. Daniel Dunkin, would not permit me to camp out of doors while his log-cabin was only one mile away on the pine-covered uplands. He told me that the boundary-line between North and South Carolina crossed this swamp three and a half miles below Piraway Ferry, and that the first town on the river Waccamaw, in South Carolina, Conwayborough, was a distance of ninety miles by river and only thirty miles by land. There was but one bridge over the river, from its head to Conwayborough, and it was built by Mr. James Wortham, twenty years before, for his plantation. This bridge was twenty miles below Piraway, and from it by land to a settlement on Little River, which empties into the Atlantic, was a distance of only five miles. A short canal would connect this river and its lumber regions with Little River and the sea.
For the first time in my experience as a traveller I had entered a country where the miles were short. When fifteen years old I made my first journey alone and on foot from the vicinity of Boston to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This boyish pedestrian trip occupied about twenty-one days, and covered some three hundred miles of hard tramping. New England gives honest measure on the finger-posts along her highways. The traveller learns by well-earned experience the length of her miles; but in the wilderness of the south there is no standard of five thousand two hundred and eighty feet to a statute mile, and the watermen along the sea-coast are ignorant of the fact that one-sixtieth of a degree of latitude (about six thousand and eighty feet) is the geographical and nautical mile of the cartographer, as well as the "knot" of the sailor.
At Piraway Ferry no two of the raftsmen and lumbermen, ignorant or educated, would give the same distance, either upon the lengths of surveyed roads or unmeasured rivers. "It is one hundred and sixty-five miles by river from Piraway Ferry to Conwayborough," said one who had travelled the route for years. The most moderate estimate made was that of ninety miles by river. The reader, therefore, must not accuse me of overstating distances while absent from the seaboard, as my friends of the Coast Survey Bureau have not yet penetrated into these interior regions with their theodolites, plane-tables, and telametrerods. To the canoeist, who is ambitious to score up miles instead of collecting geographical notes, these wild rivers afford an excellent opportunity to satisfy his aims.
From sixty to eighty miles can be rowed in ten hours as easily as forty miles can be gone over upon a river of slow current in the northern states. There is, I am sorry to say, a class of American travellers who "do" all the capitals of Europe in the same business-like way, and if they have anything to say in regard to every-day life in the countries through which they pass, they forget to thank the compiler of the guide-book for the information they possess.
There was but one room in the cabin of my new acquaintance, who represented that class of piny-woods people called in the south -- because they subsist largely upon corn, -- Corn Crackers, or Crackers. These Crackers are the "poor white folks" of the planter, and "de white trash" of the old slave, who now as a freedman is beginning to feel the responsibility of his position.
These Crackers are a very kind-hearted people, but few of them can read or write. The children of the negro, filled with curiosity and a newborn pride, whenever opportunity permits, attend the schools in large numbers; but the very indolent white man seems to be destitute of all ambition, and his children, in many places in the south, following close in the father's footsteps, grow up in an almost unimaginable ignorance.
The news of the arrival of the little Maria Theresa at Piraway Ferry spread with astonishing rapidity through the woods, and on Sunday, after "de shoutings," as the negroes call their meetings, were over, the blacks came in numbers to see "dat Yankee-man's paper canno."
These simple people eyed me from head to foot with a grave sort of curiosity, their great mouths open, displaying pearly teeth of which a white man might well be proud. "You is a good man, capt'n -- we knows dat," they said; and when I asked why, the answer showed their childlike faith. "'Cause you couldn't hab come all dis way in a paper boat if de Lord hadn't helped you. He dono help only good folks."
The Cracker also came with his children to view the wonder, while the raftsmen were so struck with the advantages of my double paddle, which originated with the inhabitants of the Arctic regions, that they laid it upon a board and drew its outlines with chalk. They vowed they would introduce it upon the river.
These Crackers declared it would take more than "de shoutings," or any other religious service, to improve the moral condition of the blacks. They openly accused the colored preachers of disturbing the nocturnal rest of their hens and turkeys; and as to hog-stealing and cow-killing, "Why, we won't have any critters left ef this carpet-bag government lasts much longer!" they feelingly exclaimed.
"We does nothing to nobody. We lets the niggers alone; but niggers will steal -- they can't help it, the poor devils; it's in 'em. Now, ef they eats us out of house and home, what can a poor man do? They puts 'em up for justices of peace, and sends 'em to the legislature, when they can't read more'n us; and they do say it's 'cause we fit in the Confederate sarvice that they razes the nigger over our heads. Now, does the folkes up north like to see white people tyrannized over by niggers? Jes tell 'em when you go back, stranger, that we's got soulds like yours up north, and we's got feelings too, by thunder! jes like other white men. This was a white man's country once -- now it's all niggers and dogs. Why, them niggers in the legislature has spitboxes lined with gold to spit in! What's this country a-coming to? We wish the niggers no harm if they lets our hogs and chickens alone."
After this tirade it was amusing to see how friendly the whites and blacks were. The Crackers conversed with these children of Ham, who had been stealing their hams for so long a time, in the most kindly way, realizing, perhaps, that they had various peculiar traits of their own, and must, after all, endure their neighbors.
A traveller should place facts before his readers, and leave to them the drawing of the moral. Northern men and women who go to the southern states and reside for even the short space of a year or two, invariably change their life-long views and principles regarding the negro as a moral and social creature. When these people return to their homes in Maine or Massachusetts (as did the representatives of the Granges of the northern states after they had visited South Carolina in 1875) a new light, derived from contact with facts, dawns upon them, while their surprised and untravelled neighbors say: "So you have become Southern in your views. I never would have thought that of you."
The railroad has become one of the great mediums of enlightenment to mankind, and joins in a social fraternity the disunited elements of a country. God grant that the resources of the great South may soon be developed by the capital and free labor of the North. Our sister states of the South, exhausted by the struggles of the late war which resulted in consolidating more firmly than ever the great Union, are now ready to receive every honest effort to develop their wealth or cultivate their territory. Let every national patriot give up narrowness of views and sectional selfishness and become acquainted with (not the politicians) the people of the New South, and a harmony of feeling will soon possess the hearts of all true lovers of a government of the people.
The swamp tributaries were swelling the river into a very rapid torrent as I paddled away from the ferry on Monday, January 18. A warmer latitude having been reached, I could dispense with one blanket, and this I had presented to my kind host, who had refused to accept payment for his hospitality. He was very proud of his present, and said, feelingly, "No one shall touch this but me." His good wife had baked some of a rich and very nice variety of sweet-potatoes, unlike those we get in New Jersey or the other Middle States-which potatoes she kindly added to my stores. They are not dry or mealy when cooked, but seem saturated with honey. The poor woman's gift now occupied the space formerly taken up by the blanket I had given her husband.
From this day, as latitude after latitude was crossed on my way southward, I distributed every article I could spare, among these poor, kind-hearted people. Mr. McGreggor went in his Rob Roy canoe over the rivers of Europe, "diffusing cheerfulness and distributing Evangelical tracts." I had no room for tracts, and if I had followed the example of my well- intentioned predecessor in canoeing, it would have served the cause of truth or creed but little. The Crackers could not read, and but few of the grown negroes had been taught letters. They did not want books, but tobacco. Men and women hailed me from the banks as I glided along in my canoe, with, "Say, captain, hab you eny 'bacca or snuff for dis chile?" Poor humanity! The Cracker and the freedman fill alike their places according to the light they possess. Do we, who have been taught from our youth sacred things, do more than this? Do we love our neighbor as ourself?
For twenty miles (local authority) I journeyed down the stream, without seeing a human being or a dwelling-place, to Stanley's house and the bridge; from which I urged the canoe thirty-five miles further, passing an old field on a bluff, when darkness settled on the swamps, and a heavy mist rose from the waters and enveloped the forests in its folds. With not a trace of land above water I groped about, running into what appeared to be openings in the submerged land, only to find my canoe tangled in thickets. It was useless to go further, and I prepared to ascend to the forks of a giant tree, with a light rope, to be used for lashing my body into a safe position, when a long, low cry engaged my attention.
"Waugh! ho! ho! ho! peig -- peig - pe-ig - pe-ig," came through the still; thick air. It was not an owl, nor a catamount that cried thus; nor was it the bark of a fox. It was the voice of a Cracker calling in his hogs from the forest. This sound was indeed pleasant to my ears, for I knew the upland was near, and that a warm fire awaited my benumbed limbs in the cabin of this unknown man. Pushing the canoe towards the sound, and feeling the submerged border of the swamp with my paddle, I struck the upland where it touched the water, and disembarking, felt my way along a well-trodden path to a little clearing. Here a drove of hogs were crowding around their owner, who was scattering kernels of corn about him as he vociferated, "pe-ig -- pe-ig - pe-ig - pig - pig - pig." We stood face to face, yet neither could see the face of the other in the darkness. I told my tale, and asked where I could find a sheltered spot to camp.
"Stranger," slowly replied the Cracker, "my cabin's close at hand. Come home with me. It's a bad night for a man to lay out in; and the niggers would steal your traps if they knew you had anything worth taking. Come with me."
In the tall pines near at hand was a cabin of peeled rails, the chinks between them being stuffed with moss. A roof of cypress shingles kept the rain out. The log chimney, which was plastered with mud, was built outside of the walls and against an end of the rustic-looking structure. The wide-mouthed fireplace sent forth a blaze of light as we entered the poor man's home. I saw in the nicely swept floor, the clean bed-spreads, and the general neatness of the place, the character of Wilson Edge's wife.
"Hog and hominy's our food here in the piny woods," said Mr. Edge, as his wife invited us to the little table; "and we've a few eggs now and then to eat with sweet potatoes, but it's up-hill work to keep the niggers from killing every fowl and animal we have. The carpet-bag politicians promised them every one, for his vote, forty acres of land and a mule. They sed as how the northern government was a-going to give it to um; but the poor devils never got any thanks even for their votes. They had been stuffed with all sorts of notions by the carpet-baggers, and I don't blame um for putting on airs and trying to rule us. It's human natur, that's all. We don't blame the niggers half so much as those who puts it in their heads to do so; but it's hard times we've had, we poor woods folks. They took our children for the cussed war, to fight fur niggers and rich people as owned um.
"We never could find out what all the fuss was about; but when Jeff Davis made a law to exempt every man from the army who owned fifteen niggers, then our blood riz right up, and we sez to our neighbors, 'This ere thing's a-getting to be a rich man's quarrel and a poor man's fight.' After all they dragged off my boy to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and killed him a fighting for what? Why, for rich nigger owners. Our young men hid in the swamps, but they were hunted up and forced into the army. Niggers has been our ruin. Ef a white man takes a case before a nigger justice, he gives the nigger everything, and the white man has to stand one side. Now, would you folks up north like to have a nigger justice who can't read nor count ten figgurs?"
I tried to comfort the poor man, by assuring him that outside of the political enemies of our peace, the masses in the north were honestly inclined towards the south now that slavery was at an end; and that wrong could not long prevail, with the cheerful prospect of a new administration, and the removal of all unconstitutional forces that preyed upon the south.
The two beds in the single room of the cabin were occupied by the family; while I slept upon the floor by the fire, with my blankets for a couch and a roll of homespun for a pillow, which the women called "heading." They often said, "Let me give you some heading for your bed." We waited until eight o'clock the next day for the mists to rise from the swamps. My daily trouble was now upon me. How could I remunerate a southerner for his cost of keeping me, when not, in the true sense of the word, an invited guest to his hospitality?
Wilson Edge sat by the fire, while his wife and little ones were preparing to accompany me to see the paper boat. "Mr. Edge," I stammered, "you have treated me with great kindness, your wife has been put to some inconvenience as I came in so unexpected a manner, and you will really oblige me if you will accept a little money for all this; though money cannot pay for your hospitality. Grant my wish, and you will send me away with a light heart." The poor Cracker lowered his head and slowly ran his fingers through his coal black hair. For a moment he seemed studying a reply, and then he spoke as though HE represented the whole generous heart of the south.
"Stranger," he slowly articulated, "Stranger, I have known white men to be niggers enough to take a stranger's money for lodgings and vittles, but I am not that man."
We found the canoe as it had been left the night before, and I was soon pulling down the river. The great wilderness was traversed thirty miles to the county town of Conwayborough, where the negroes roared with laughter at the working of the double paddle, as I shot past the landing-place where cotton and naval stores were piled, waiting to be lightered nine miles to Pot Bluff, -- so called from the fact of a pot being lost from a vessel near it, -- which place is reached by vessels from New York drawing twelve feet of water. Though still a long distance from the ocean, I was beginning to feel its tidal influences. At Pot Bluff, the landing and comfortable home of its owner, Mr. Z. W. Dusenberry, presented a pleasant relief after the monotony of the great pine forests. This enterprising business man made my short stay a very pleasant one.
Wednesday, January 20th, was cold for this latitude, and ice formed in thin sheets in the water-pails. Twenty-two miles below Pot Bluff, Bull Creek enters the Waccamaw from the Peedee River. At the mouth of this connecting watercourse is Tip Top, the first rice plantation of the Waccamaw. The Peedee and its sister stream run an almost parallel course from Bull Creek to Winyah Bay, making their debouchure close to the city of Georgetown. Steam sawmills and rice plantations take the place of the forests from a few miles below Tip Top to the vicinity of Georgetown.
Mr. M. L. Blakely, of New York, one of the largest shingle manufacturers of the south, occupied as his headquarters the Bates Hill Plantation, on the Peedee. This gentleman had invited me, through the medium of the post-office, to visit him in the rice-growing regions of South Carolina. To reach his home I took the short "cut-off" which Bull Creek offered, and entered upon the strongest of head-currents. The thick yellow, muddy torrent of the Peedee rushed through Bull Creek with such volume, that I wondered if it left much water on the other side to give character to the river, as it followed its own channel to Winyah Bay.
One and a half miles of vigorous paddling brought me to a branch of the watercourse, which is much narrower than the main one, and is consequently called Little Bull Creek. This also comes from the Peedee River, and its source is nearer to the Bates Hill plantation than the main Bull Creek. To urge the canoe up this narrow stream three miles and a half to the parent river Peedee, was a most trying ordeal. At times the boat would not move a hundred feet in five minutes, and often, as my strength seemed failing me, I caught the friendly branches of trees, and held on to keep the canoe from being whirled down the current towards the Waccamaw. After long and persistent efforts had exhausted my strength, I was about to seek for a resting-place in the swamp, when a view of the broad Peedee opened before me, and with vigorous strokes of the paddle the canoe slowly approached the mighty current. A moment more and it was within its grasp, and went flying down the turbulent stream at the rate of ten miles an hour.
A loud halloo greeted me from the swamp, where a party of negro shingle-makers were at work. They manned their boat, a long cypress dug-out, and followed me. Their employer, who proved to be the gentleman whose abiding-place I was now rapidly approaching, sat in the stern. We landed together before the old plantation house, which had been occupied a few years before by members of the wealthy and powerful rice-planting aristocracy of the Peedee, but was now the temporary home of a northern man, who was busily employed in guiding the labors of his four hundred freedmen in the swamps of North and South Carolina.
The paper canoe had now entered the regions of the rice-planter. Along the low banks of the Peedee were diked marshes where, before the civil war, each estate produced from five thousand to forty thousand bushels of rice annually, and the lords of rice were more powerful than those of cotton, though cotton was king. The rich lands here produced as high as fifty-five bushels of rice to the acre, under forced slave labor; now the free blacks cannot wrest from nature more than twenty-five or thirty bushels.
Fine old mansions lined the river's banks, but the families had been so reduced by the ravages of war, that I saw refined ladies, who had been educated in the schools of Edinburgh, Scotland, overseeing the negroes as they worked in the yards of the rice-mills. The undaunted spirit of these southern ladies, as they worked in their homes now so desolate, roused my admiration.
A light, graceful figure, enveloped in an old shawl, and mounted on an old horse, flitted about one plantation like a restless spirit.
"That lady's father," said a gentleman to me, "owned three plantations, worth three millions of dollars, before the war. There is a rice-mill on one of the plantations which cost thirty thousand dollars. She now fights against misfortune, and will not give up. The Confederate war would not have lasted six months if it had not been for our women. They drove thousands of us young men into the fight; and now, having lost all, they go bravely to work, even taking the places of their old servants in their grand old homes. It's hard for them, though, I assure you."
On Tuesday, January 25th, I paddled down the Peedee, stopping at the plantations of Dr. Weston and Colonel Benjamin Allston. The latter gentleman was a son of one of the governors of South Carolina. He kindly gave me a letter of introduction to Commodore Richard Lowndes, who lived near the coast. From the Peedee I passed through a cut in the marshes into the broad Waccamaw, and descended it to Winyah Bay.
Georgetown is located between the mouths of the Peedee and Sampit rivers. Cautiously approaching the city, I landed at Mr. David Risley's steam saw-mills, and that gentleman kindly secreted my boat in a back counting-room, while I went up town to visit the post-office. By some, to me, unaccountable means, the people had heard of the arrival of the paper boat, and three elaborately dressed negro women accosted me with, "Please show wees tree ladies de little paper boat."
Before I had reached my destination, the post-office, a body of men met me, on their way to the steam-mill. The crowd forced me back to the canoe, and asked so many questions that I was sorely taxed to find answers for these gentlemen. There were three editors in the crowd: two were white men, one a negro. The young men, who claimed the position of representatives of the spirit of the place and of the times, published "The Comet," while the negro, as though influenced by a spirit of sarcasm, conducted "The Planet." The third newspaper represented at the canoe reception was the " Georgetown Times," which courteously noticed the little boat that had come so far. "The Planet" prudently kept in the dark, and said nothing, but "The Comet," representing the culture of the young men of the city, published the following notice of my arrival:
"Tom Collins has at last arrived in his wonderful paper boat. He has it hitched to Mr. Risley's new saw-mill, where every one can have a view. He intends shooting off his six-pounder before weighing anchor in the morning. Hurrah for Collins."
I left Mr. Risley's comfortable home before noon the next day, and followed the shores of Winyah Bay towards the sea. Near Battery White, on the right shore, in the pine forests, was the birth-place of Marion, the brave patriot of the American revolution, whose bugle's call summoned the youth of those days to arms.
When near the inlet, the rice-plantation marshes skirted the shore for some distance. Out of these wet lands flowed a little stream, called Mosquito Creek, which once connected the North Santee River with Winyah Bay, and served as a boundary to South Island. The creek was very crooked, and the ebb-tide strong. When more than halfway to Santee River I was forced to leave the stream, as it had become closed by tidal deposits and rank vegetation.
The ditches of rice plantations emptied their drainage of the lowlands into Mosquito Creek. Following a wide ditch to the right, through fields of rich alluvial soil, which had been wrested by severe toil from nature, the boat soon reached the rice-mill of Commodore Richard Lowndes. A little further on, and situated in a noble grove of live-oaks, which were draped in the weird festoons of Spanish moss, on the upland arose the stately home of the planter, who still kept his plantation in cultivation, though on a scale of less magnitude than formerly. It was, indeed, a pleasant evening that I passed in the company of the refined members of the old commodore's household, and with a pang of regret the next day I paddled along the main canal of the lowlands, casting backward glances at the old house, with its grand old trees. The canal ended at North Santee Bay.
While I was preparing to ascend the river a tempest arose, which kept me a weary prisoner among the reeds of the rice marsh. The hollow reeds made poor fuel for cooking, and when the dark, stormy night shut down upon me, the damp soil grew damper as the tide arose, until it threatened to overflow the land. For hours I lay in my narrow canoe waiting for the tidal flood to do its worst, but it receded, and left me without any means of building a fire, as the reeds were wet by the storm. The next afternoon, being tired of this sort of prison-life, and cramped for lack of exercise, I launched the canoe into the rough water, and crossing to Crow Island found a lee under its shores, which permitted me to ascend the river to the mouth of Atchison Creek, through which I passed, two miles, to the South Santee River.
All these rivers are bordered by rice plantations, many of them having been abandoned to the care of the freedmen. I saw no white men upon them. Buildings and dikes are falling into ruins, and the river freshets frequently inundate the land. Many of the owners of these once valuable estates are too much reduced in wealth to attempt their proper cultivation. It is in any case difficult to get the freedmen to work through an entire season, even when well paid for their services, and they flock to the towns whenever opportunity permits.
The North and South Santee rivers empty into the Atlantic, but their entrances are so shallow that Georgetown Entrance is the inlet through which most of the produce of the country - pitch, tar, turpentine, rice, and lumber -- finds exit to the sea. As I left the canal, which, with the creek, makes a complete thoroughfare for lighters and small coasters from one Santee River to the other, a renewal of the tempest made me seek shelter in an old cabin in a negro settlement, each house of which was built upon piles driven into the marshes. The old negro overseer of the plantation hinted to me that his "hands were berry spicious of ebbry stranger," and advised me to row to some other locality. I told him I was from the north, and would not hurt even one of the fleas which in multitudes infested his negroes' quarters; but the old fellow shook his head, and would not be responsible for me if I staid there all night. A tall darkey, who had listened to the conversation, broke in with, "Now, uncle, ye knows dat if dis gemmum is from de norf he is one of wees, and ye must du fur him jis dis time." But "Uncle Overseer" kept repeating, "Some niggers here is mity spicious. Du not no who white man is anyhow." "Well, uncle," replied the tall black, "ef dis man is a Yankeemans, Ise will see him froo."
Then he questioned me, while the fleas, having telegraphed to each other that a stranger had arrived, made sad havoc of me and my patience.
"My name's Jacob Gilleu; what's yourn?" I gave it. "Whar's your home?" came next. "I am a citizen of the United States," I replied. "De 'Nited States -- whar's dat? neber hurd him afore," said Jacob Gilleu. Having informed him it was the land which General Grant governed, he exclaimed: "O, you's a Grant man; all rite den; you is one of wees -- all de same as wees. Den look a-here, boss. I send you to one good place on Alligator Creek, whar Seba Gillings libs. He black man, but he treat you jes like white man."
Jacob helped me launch my boat through the soft mud, which nearly stalled us; and following his directions I paddled across the South Santee and coasted down to Alligator Creek, where extensive marshes, covered by tall reeds, hid the landscape from my view. About half a mile from the mouth of the creek, which watercourse was on my direct route to Bull's Bay, a large tide-gate was found at the mouth of a canal. This being wide open, I pushed up the canal to a low point of land which rose like an island out of the rushes. Here was a negro hamlet of a dozen houses, or shanties, and the ruins of a rice-mill. The majority of the negroes were absent working within the diked enclosures of this large estate, which before the war had produced forty thousand bushels of rice annually. Now the place was leased by a former slave, and but little work was accomplished under the present management.
Seba Gillings, a powerfully built negro, came to the dike upon which I had landed the canoe. I quickly told him my story, and how I had been forced to leave the last negro quarters. I used Jacob Gilleu's name as authority for seeking shelter with him from the damps of the half-submerged lands. The dignified black man bade me "fear nuffing, stay here all de night, long's you please; treat you like white man. I'se mity poor, but gib you de berry best I hab." He locked my boat in a rickety old storehouse, and gave me to understand "dat niggers will steal de berry breff from a man's mouff."
He took me to his home, and soon showed me how he managed "de niggers." His wife sat silently by the fire. He ordered her to "pound de rice;" and she threw a quantity of unhulled rice into a wooden mortar three feet high planted in the ground in front of the shanty. Then, with an enormous pestle, the black woman pounded the grains until the hulls were removed, when, seating herself upon the floor of the dark, smoky cabin, she winnowed the rice with her breath, while her long, slim fingers caught and removed all the specks of dirt from the mass. It was cooked as the Chinese cook it -- not to a glutinous mass, as we of the north prepare it- but each grain was dry and entire. Then eggs and bacon were prepared; not by the woman, but by the son, a lad of fourteen years.
All these movements were superintended by old Seba, who sat looking as dark and as solemn and as learned as an associate judge on the bench of a New Jersey county court. On the blackest of tables, minus a cloth, the well-cooked food was placed for the stranger. As soon as my meal was finished, every member of the family made a dash for the fragments, and the board was cleared in a wonderfully short space of time.
Then we gathered round the great, black-mouthed fireplace, and while the bright coals of live-oak spread a streak of light through the darkness, black men and black women stole into the room until everything from floor to ceiling, from door to chimney-place, seemed to be growing blacker and blacker, and I felt as black as my surroundings. The scant clothing of the men only half covered their shiny, ebony skins. The whole company preserved a dignified silence, which was occasionally broken by deep sighs coming from the women in reply to a half-whispered "All de way from de norf in a paper canno -- bless de Lord! bless de Lord!"
This dull monotony was broken by the entrance of a young negro who, having made a passage in a sloop to Charleston through Bull's Bay, was looked upon as a great traveller, and to him were referred disputes upon nautical matters. He had not yet seen the boat, but he proceeded to tell the negroes present all about it. He first bowed to me with a "How'dy, how'dy, cap'n," and then struck an attitude in the middle of the floor. Upon this natural orator Seba Gillings' dignity had no effect -- was he not a travelled man?
His exordium was: "How fur you cum, sar?" I replied, about fourteen hundred miles. " Fourteen hundred miles!" he roared; "duz you knows how much dat is, honnies? it's jes one thousand four hundred miles." All the women groaned out, "Bless de Lord! bless de Lord!" and clapped their shrivelled hands in ecstasy.
The little black tried to run his fingers through his short, woolly hair as he continued: "What is dis yere world a-coming to? Now, yous ere folks, did ye's eber hear de likes o' dis -- a paper boat?" To which the crones replied, clapping their hands, "Bless de Lord! bless de Lord! Only the Yankee-mens up norf can make de paper boats. Bless de Lord!"
"And what," continued the orator, "and what will the Yankee-mens do next? Dey duz ebery ting. Can dey bring a man back agen? Can dey bring a man back to bref?" "No! no!" howled the women; "only de Lord can bring a man back agen -- no Yankee-mens can do dat. Bless de Lord! bless de Lord!" "And what sent dis Yankee-man one tousand four hundred miles in his paper boat?" "De Lord! de Lord! bless de Lord!" shouted the now highly excited women, violently striking the palms of their hands together.
"And why," went on this categorical negro, "did de Lord send him down souf in de paper boat?" "Kase he couldn't hab cum in de paper boat ef de Lord hadn't a-sent him. O, bless de Lord! bless de Lord!" "And what duz he call his paper boat?" "Maria Theresa," I replied. "Maria Truss Her," cried the orator. "He calls her Maria Truss Her. Berry good, berry good name; kase he truss his life in her ebry day, and dat's why he calls his little boat Truss Her. Yes, de Yankee-mans makes de gunboats and de paper boats. Has de gemmin from de norf any bacca for dis yere chile?"
As the women had become very piously inclined, and were in just the state of nervous excitement to commence "de shoutings," old Uncle Seba rudely informed them that "de Yankee-mans wants sleep," and cleared the room of the crowd, to my great relief, for the state of the atmosphere was beyond description. Seba had a closet where he kept onions, muskrat skins, and other pieces of personal property. He now set his wife to sweeping it out, and I spread my clean blankets with a sigh upon the black floor, knowing I should carry away in the morning more than I had brought into Seba's dwelling.
I will not now expatiate upon the small annoyances of travel; but to the canoeist who may follow the southern watercourses traversed by the paper canoe, I would quietly say, "Keep away from cabins of all kinds, and you will by so doing travel with a light heart and even temper."
When I cast up my account with old Seba the next morning, he said that by trading the rice he raised he could obtain "bout ebbry ting he wanted, 'cept rum." Rum was his medicine. So long as he kept a little stowed away, he admitted he was often sick. Having been destitute of cash, and consequently of rum for some time, he acknowledged his state of health remarkable; and he was a model of strength and manly development. All the other negroes were dwarfish-looking specimens, while their hair was so very short that it gave them the appearance of being bald.
When the canoe was taken out of the storehouse to be put into the canal, these half-naked, ebony-skinned creatures swarmed about it like bees. Not a trace of white blood could be detected in them. Each tried to put a finger upon the boat. They seemed to regard it as a Fetich; and, I believe, had it been placed upon an end they would have bowed down and paid their African devotions to it. Only the oldest ones could speak English well enough to be understood. The youths chattered in African tongue, and wore talismans about their necks. They were, to say the least, verging on barbarism. The experience gathered among the blacks of other lands impressed me with the well-founded belief, that in more than one place in the south would the African Fetich be set up and worshipped before long, unless the church bestirs herself to look well to her home missions.
In all my travels, outside of the cities, in the south it has not been my good fortune to find an educated white man preaching to negroes, yet everywhere the poor blacks gather in the log-cabin, or rudely constructed church, to listen to ignorant preachers of their own color. The blind leading the blind.
A few men of negro extraction, with white blood in their veins, not any more negro than white man, consequently not negroes in the true sense of the word, are sent from the negro colleges of the south to lecture northern congregations upon the needs of their race; and these one-quarter, or perhaps three-quarters, white men are, with their intelligence, and sometimes brilliant oratory, held up as true types of the negro race by northerners; while there is, in fact, as much difference between the pureblooded negro of the rice-field and this false representative of "his needs," as can well be imagined.
An Irishman, just from the old country, listened one evening to the fascinating eloquence of a mulatto freedman. The good Irishman had never seen a pure-blooded black man. The orator said, "I am only half a black man. My mother was a slave, my father a white planter." "Be jabbers," shouted the excited Irishman, who was charmed with the lecturer, "if you are only half a nigger, what must a whole one be like!"
The blacks were kind and civil, as they usually are when fairly treated. They stood upon the dike and shouted unintelligible farewells as I descended the canal to Alligator Creek. This thoroughfare soon carried me on its salt-water current to the sea; for I missed a narrow entrance to the marshes, called the Eye of the Needle (a steamboat thoroughfare), and found myself upon the calm sea, which pulsated in long swells. To the south was the low island of Cape Roman, which, like a protecting arm, guarded the quiet bay behind it. The marshes extended from the main almost to the cape, while upon the edge of the rushy meadows, upon an island just inside of the cape, rose the tower of Roman Light.
This was the first time my tiny shell had floated upon the ocean. I coasted the sandy beach of the muddy lowlands, towards the lighthouse, until I found a creek debouching from the marsh, which I entered, and from one watercourse to another, without a chart, found my way at dusk into Bull's Bay. The sea was rolling in and breaking upon the ashore, which I was forced to hug closely, as the old disturbers of my peace, the porpoises were visible; fishing in numbers. To escape the dangerous raccoon oyster reefs of the shoal water the canoe was forced into a deeper channel, when the lively porpoises chased the boat and drove me back again on to the sharp-lipped shells. It was fast growing dark, and no place of refuge nearer than the upland, a long distance across the soft marsh, which was even now wet with them.
The rough water of the sound, the oyster reefs which threatened to pierce my boat, and a coast which would be submerged by the next floodtide, all seemed to conspire against me. Suddenly my anxiety was relieved, and gratitude filled my heart, as the tall masts of a schooner rose out of the marshes not far from the upland, telling me that a friendly creek was near at hand. Its wide mouth soon opened invitingly before me, and I rowed towards the beautiful craft anchored in its current, the trim rig of which plainly said -- the property of the United States. An officer stood on the quarterdeck watching my approach through his glass; and, as I was passing the vessel, a sailor remarked to his mates, "That is the paper canoe. I was in Norfolk, last December, when it reached the Elizabeth River."
The officer kindly hailed me, and offered me the hospitality of the Coast-Survey schooner "Caswell." In the cosiest of cabins, Mr. W. H. Dennis, with his co-laborers Messrs. Ogden and Bond, with their interesting conversation soon made me forget the discomforts of the last three days spent in the muddy flats among the lowland negroes. From poor, kind Seba Gillings' black cabin-floor, to the neat state-room, with its snowy sheets and clean towels, where fresh, pure water could be used without stint, was indeed a transition. The party expected to complete their work as far as Charleston harbor before the season closed.
The Sunday spent on the "Caswell" greatly refreshed me. On Saturday evening Mr. Dennis traced upon a sheet of paper my route through the interior coast watercourses to Charleston harbor; and I left the pretty schooner on Monday, fully posted for my voyage. The tide commenced flooding at eleven A. M., and the flats soon afforded me water for their passage in the vicinity of the shore. Heavy forests covered the uplands, where a few houses were visible. Bull's Island, with pines and a few cabbage palms, was on my left as I reached the entrance of the southern thoroughfare at the end of the bay. Here, in the intricacies of creeks and passages through the islands, and made careless by the possession of Mr. Dennis' chart, I several times blundered into the wrong course; and got no further that afternoon than Price's Inlet, though I rowed more than twenty miles. Some eight miles of the distance rowed was lost by ascending and descending creeks by mistake.
After a weary day's work shelter was found in a house close by the sea, on the shores of Price's Inlet; where, in company with a young fisherman, who was in the employ of Mr. Magwood, of Charleston, I slept upon the floor in my blankets. Charles Hucks, the fisherman, asserted that three albino deer were killed on Caper's Island the previous winter. Two were shot by a negro while he killed the third. Messrs. Magwood, Terry, and Noland, of Charleston, one summer penned beside the water one thousand old terrapin, to hold them over for the winter season. These "diamond-backs" would consume five bushels of shrimps in one hour when fed. A tide of unusual height washed out the terrapins from their "crawl," and with them disappeared all anticipated results of the experiment.
The next day, Caper's Island and Inlet, Dewees' Inlet, Long Island, and Breach Inlet were successively passed, on strong tidal currents. Sullivan's Island is separated from Long Island by Breach Inlet. While following the creeks in the marshes back of Sullivan's Island, the compact mass of buildings of Moultrieville, at its western end, at the entrance of Charleston harbor, rose imposingly to view.
The gloomy mantle of darkness was settling over the harbor as the paper canoe stole quietly into its historic waters. Before me lay the quiet bay, with old Fort Sumter rising from the watery plain like a spectral giant, as though to remind one that this had been the scene of mighty struggles. The tranquil waters softly rippled a response to the touch of my oars; all was peace and quiet here, where, only a few short years before, the thunder of cannon woke a thousand echoes, and the waves were stained with the lifeblood of America, -- where war, with her iron throat, poured out destruction, and God's creatures, men, made after his own image, destroyed each other ruthlessly, having never, in all that civilization had done for them, discovered any other way of settling their difficulties than by this wholesale murder.
The actors In this scene were scattered now; they had returned to the farm, the workshop, the desk, and the pulpit. The old flag again floated upon the ramparts of Sumter, and a government was trying to reconstruct itself, so that the Great Republic should become more thoroughly a government of the people, founded upon equal rights to all men.
A sharp, scraping sound under my boat roused me from my revery, for I had leaned upon my oars while the tide had carried me slowly but surely upon the oyster-reefs, from which I escaped with some slight damage to my paper shell. Newspaper reading had impressed upon me a belief that the citizens of the city which played so important a part in the late civil war might not treat kindly a Massachusetts man. I therefore decided to go up to the city upon the ferry-boat for the large mail which awaited my arrival at the Charleston post-office, after receiving which I intended to return to Mount Pleasant, and cross the bay to the entrance of the southern watercourses, leaving the city as quietly as I entered it.
My curiosity was, however, aroused to see how, under the new reconstruction rule, things were conducted in the once proud city of Charleston. As I stood at the window of the post-office delivery, and inquired through the narrow window for my letters, a heavy shadow seemed to fall upon me as the head of a negro appeared. The black post-office official's features underwent a sudden change as I pronounced my name, and, while a warm glow of affection lighted up his dark face, he thrust his whole arm through the window, and grasped my hand with a vigorous shake in the most friendly manner, as though upon his shoulders rested the good name of the people.
"Welcome to Charleston, Mr. B____, welcome to our beautiful city," he exclaimed. So this was Charleston under reconstruction.
After handing me my mail, the postmaster graciously remarked, "Our rule is to close the office at five o'clock P. M., but if you are belated any day, tap at the door, and I will attend you."
This was my first welcome to Charleston; but before I could return to my quarters at Mount Pleasant, members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Carolina Club, and others, pressed upon me kind attentions and hospitalities, while Mr. James L. Frazer, of the South Carolina Regatta Association, sent for the Maria Theresa, and placed it in charge of the wharfinger of the Southern Wharf, where many ladies and gentlemen visited it.
When I left the old city, a few days later, I blushed to think how I had doubted these people, whose reputation for hospitality to strangers had been world-wide for more than half a century.
While here I was the guest of Rev. G. R. Brackett, the well-loved pastor of one of Charleston's churches. It was with feelings of regret I turned my tiny craft towards untried waters, leaving behind me the beautiful city of Charleston, and the friends who had so kindly cared for the lonely canoeist.