Crossing the Combahee: Mitigation of the Combahee Ferry Historic District


Archival research focused on the role of ferries in the development of the colony and state of South Carolina, and the particular role of the Combahee Ferry in the region. This included the development of infrastructure within the region and state, military operations during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and the development of rice plantations along this portion of the Combahee River. Particular attention was given to the June 1-2, 1863, Combahee River Raid, conducted by the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (African Descent- later the 34th US Colored Troops) and guided by Harriet Tubman. This raid freed over 700 people who were enslaved on the neighboring Combahee River plantations. Many of the men freed on this night enlisted in the regiment and served in US Army until the end of the Civil War. Two of these veterans are buried in an African American cemetery that lies within the CFHD, reflecting a return of these individuals to the area where they had lived and worked before the war.

Archaeological investigation of 38BU1216, the site which contains the remnants of the ferry keeper’s residence and tavern, recovered materials associated with the occupation of the ferry site from the early eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. Archival and archaeological information demonstrate that the building(s) itself likely lies beneath US Highway 17. However, refuse pits and a privy associated with this building were encountered in the highway right-of-way (ROW) that contain artifacts from the 1830s-1860s. Several of these features contained military artifacts that may be associated with the Confederate pickets who manned the nearby fortifications (also elements of the CFHD) or Federal troops who later bivouacked here in 1865. Interpretations of the artifacts associated with the site suggest that the tavern here likely served primarily as a way station for travelers rather than a place for social gatherings by the local community.

Investigation of the intertidal areas adjacent to 38BU1216 revealed the remnants of a wharf complex that likely served the local plantations. Based on the location of the wharf and archival information, we believe that the ferry crossed the river beneath the 1927 and 1956 highway bridges (now replaced by the twin-span Harriet Tubman Memorial Bridge). Further documentation of a sunken vessel in the Combahee River upstream from the highway crossing indicates that this vessel likely was a pontoon that supported a floating bridge over the river during the Civil War. Confederate forces installed a bridge here by 1862, which was destroyed during the 1863 Combahee River Raid. It was likely replaced and then destroyed again in 1865 as Federal troops advanced up the Charleston to Port Royal Road toward Charleston. Federal troops crossed the river, possibly on a third hastily built bridge, and engaged Confederate troops before withdrawing and following the remainder of the Federal Army as it marched toward Columbia. The sunken vessel could be an element of either of these bridges.

Cite this Record

Crossing the Combahee: Mitigation of the Combahee Ferry Historic District. Brockington and Associates Inc., Tidewater Atlantic Research, Inc., Eric C. Poplin, Gordon Watts, Edward Salo, Kristrina A. Shuler, Dave Baluha, Emily Jateff, Nicole Isenbarger, Charles F. Philips. 2017 ( tDAR id: 439872) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8H70JGD

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -80.698; min lat: 32.64 ; max long: -80.661; max lat: 32.665 ;

Record Identifiers

South Carolina Department of Transportation(s): PIN Number 29997

Federal Highway Administration(s): F.A. No. BR-88(039)

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
Crossing-the-Combahee-Reduced-Size.pdf 43.15mb Dec 1, 2017 6:47:04 AM Public