Traditions in Rice and Clay: Understanding an Eighteenth-Nineteenth Century Rice Plantation, Dean Hall Plantation (38BK2132), Berkeley County, South Carolina


Data recovery investigations of 38BK2132 examined archaeological artifacts and deposits associated with the circa 1790s-1900 Dean Hall Plantation slave settlement. Archival and archaeological research identified this portion of Dean Hall as the location that Alexander Nisbett, grandson of original settler Alexander Nisbett, moved the settlement to from its original location first established around 1725. This move occurred in the 1790s, and after Alexander’s death, the property was sold to merchant turned rice planter William Carson in 1821. Carson lived at Dean Hall until his death in 1857, and after legal issues over the purchase by Elias Ball before the Civil War, Carson’s heirs retained the property. They eventually sold Dean Hall to the Kittredge family from New York, who used the old plantation as a hunting ground and southern retreat. Benjamin Rufus Kittredge eventually made the black water reservoir, which was used for almost 150 years as the primary reservoir for inland rice fields, and surrounding grounds into Cypress Gardens. African American tenants of Carson’s son Jim lived at Dean Hall throughout the late nineteenth century, and remained there until the 1930s.

Archaeological investigations identified the layout of the settlement, including several cabin footprints. The original layout consisted of 21 single pen cabins from the late Nisbett period. Carson quickly converted these into 16 duplexes with end chimneys. Roughly twenty years later, after 1837, he constructed a new road perpendicular to the original Quarters Road, complete with 12 additional duplexes. Archaeology revealed that four of these were two-story residences, possibly resembling dormitory style housing. Coinciding with the construction of this new road and houses, Carson had an embankment built surrounding the village. This acted to aid in draining the settlement, which raised the level of hygiene and cleanliness—two things that William Carson was intent on promoting. This embankment, in turn, tightly defined the usable space of the yards for the cabins, which allowed us to utilize archaeology to understand more clearly how the enslaved used their yards. Some of the yards studied revealed sets of features that were pivotal in our understanding of the site.

Colonoware was the largest class of artifacts recovered from our investigations of Dean Hall. This handmade, low-fired, earthenware comprised 47 percent of the 125,000 artifacts recovered, making it the largest known assemblage of this pottery to date. What is most notable about this assemblage is that every sherd recovered belonged to a vessel made by the enslaved Africans there. This collection is a testament to their struggles to create a sense of place at Dean Hall—a place they knew as the reason for their bondage and a place they attempted to call home. Several features we identified are interpreted to be a potter’s shed where a large amount of the Colonoware vessels were crafted. A large part of this report deals with this assemblage of Colonoware, and the qualities of it that make it one of the most unique collections ever seen.

What makes the artifacts so unique is that they reflect a very personal side of the enslaved. A large number of sherds are decorated, but not decorated with an X as usually expected on Colonowares. These markings are rarely identified, and help to present a new, fresh look and interpretation of a ceramic type we have been finding for almost 30 years in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Along with these ceramics, we recovered a diverse array of faunal material that reveals the foods the enslaved were given as rations, but mostly, the animals they raised themselves, hunted, and fished. The highly intact nature of the site allows us to see some change through time concerning these facets of culture. One of the most remarkable features of our excavations is the uncovering of proof that the enslaved produced and used Colonoware beyond the 1850s, and possibly, as freedmen, used the ceramic until almost the turn of the twentieth century. Some houses at Dean Hall represent the tenant period, and represent a vibrant, active, and rich community. Historical data and historical archaeology of Dean Hall provide us with a clear picture of how strong the slave families were, and how they persisted unbroken and intact through 125 years of bondage.

Cite this Record

Traditions in Rice and Clay: Understanding an Eighteenth-Nineteenth Century Rice Plantation, Dean Hall Plantation (38BK2132), Berkeley County, South Carolina. Andrew Agha, Nicole Isenbarger, Charles Philips, Kandice Hollenbach, Eleanora A. Reber, Jessica Allgood. Brockington & Associates, Inc. 2012 ( tDAR id: 391016) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8ST7QP4

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1790 to 1900 (Dean Hall Plantation slave settlement)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -80.097; min lat: 32.942 ; max long: -79.766; max lat: 33.179 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contributor(s): Charles Philips; Kandice Hollenbach; Eleanora A. Reber; Jessica Allgood

Lab Director(s): Nicole Isenbarger

Principal Investigator(s): Andrew Agha

Landowner(s): E.I. Nemours DuPont

Submitted To(s): South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)

Record Identifiers

Brockington and Associates, Inc., report number(s): 3292


General Note: Curation facility: South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
3292-dean-hall-volume-one.pdf 289.51mb Apr 29, 2013 11:28:58 AM Public
3292-dean-hall-volume-two.pdf 5.68mb Apr 29, 2013 11:29:42 AM Public