Other differences between slavery and freedom were also found by the archaeologists. Medicine vials are not as common at Mitchelville as they are on plantations, suggesting that freedom brought better living conditions. And while tobacco pipes are very common at slave sites, they were rare at Mitchelville, suggesting again that freedom brought changes in the lifestyle of the Sea Island blacks.
Curiously, freedom was not equated with bigger houses. In fact, given the opportunity to build any size house they wanted (the wood was being provided free), Mitchelville's freedmen typically built houses substantially smaller than they had in slavery.
This may also be related to their African roots and the importance of the yard area for family activities.
Can Mitchelville Be Preserved?
Mitchelville is one of the most significant African-American archaeological sites in the Southeast. It is one of the few that is nearly intact and' offers the potential to learn even more about the lives of the early freedmen. It provides another perspective to previous studies of the "Port Royal Experiment." The presence of Mitchelville also provides evidence of the ability of blacks to govern, educate, and care for themselves absent the bonds of slavery. A Freedman's Bureau officer in the South noted that the black people "love to congregate in families, in groups, in villages." This strong social bond, in part, may explain the cohesiveness of Mitchelville over its history as a town of nearly two decades. It may also help explain its continued existence into the twentieth century as a kin based community.
A portion of the site has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A historical marker for the village has been approved by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and funded by the Town of Hilton Head Island and Chicora Foundation.
But neither the significance of Mitchelville, nor the efforts taken to recognize that importance, ensure its survival. Mitchelville will be preserved only if the public believes that it is important to recognize - and save for future generations - the place where freedom began for South Carolina's plantation slaves during the Civil War.
For More Information
If you would like more information about the history of the Civil War, Hilton Head, Mitchelville, African-American slavery, or the "Port Royal Experiment," look for these books and articles at your local library or ask your librarian to get them for you through Inter-library Loan.
Carse, Robert. 1981. Department of the South: Hilton Head Island in the Civil War. State Printing Company, Columbia.
Everett, Susanne. 1991. History of Slavery. Chartwell Books, Secaucus, New Jersey.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. 1984. Army Life in a Black Regiment. (with an introduction by Howard N. Meyer). W.W. Norton, New York.
Holmgren, Virginia C. 1959. Hilton Head Island: A Sea Island Chronicle. Hilton Head Island Publishing Company, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Hurmence, Belinda. 1989; Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty -Seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves. John F. Blair, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Martin, Josephine W., editor. 1977. "Dear Sister": Letters Written on Hilton Head Island, 1867. Beaufort Book Company, Beaufort, South Carolina.
Myers, Walter Dean. 1991. Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom. Harper Trophy, New York.
Rose, Willie Lee. 1964. Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment. Oxford University Press, New York.
Trinkley, Michael, editor. 1986. Indian and Freedman Occupation at the Fish Haul Site (38BU805), Beaufort County, South Carolina . Research Series 7. Chicora Foundation, Inc., Columbia.
These books, about slavery and freedom, are especially good for younger readers:
Hansen, Joyce. 1988. Out From This Place. Avon Books, New York.
Lester, Julius. 1968. To Be A Slave. Scholastic, New York.
McCurdy, Michael, editor. 1994. Escape from Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglas in His Own Words. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
McKissack, Patricia C. and Frederick McKissack. 1992. Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman? Scholastic, New York.