Monday, April 22, 2013

Zooming in on Slave Quarters - Hilton Head, SC

Located in the Gladstone Collection of the Library of Congress is an intriguing photograph titled "Drayton's Negro Quarters, Hilton Head, SC." The image becomes even more fascinating when details are exposed, however, some speculation is needed.

In the right foreground of the image are five African American children. Two of the boys wear Union army caps, while one is bareheaded. The young girl on the left is holding an infant in her arms. They all appear to be barefoot. I can't help but wonder if these are brothers and sisters. Cousins? Or, are they just neighbors? 

To the far left of the photograph is a woman with a her head wrapped and holding an infant. The woman has on an apron and a young man stands next to her. Is the boy is her son?  Maybe her younger brother?

This particular detail allows a closer look at the slave quarters. They appear to be frame, clapboard sided structures with a doorway and window on the front elevation. Likely there is a rear entrance/exit door too. Also shown in this detail is an improvised stick fence to the left side of the quarter. This barrier may have been for a garden plot that they wanted to keep protected from animals. But, possibly it could have been used to keep poultry or other small animals caged in.  

Standing next to the five children in the right foreground is a man in what appears to be a military frock coat. But, the coat seems to be light colored. As this photograph was probably taken after Union troops had captured the South Carolina sea islands, it may be that this is a Northern civilian official that served as an overseer.

To the left of this man and in the background is an African American man wearing an apron.  Maybe he is a blacksmith or possibly a butcher. Directly behind the white man is an African American man sitting the quarter's doorway.

In front of a couple of the slave quarters on the left side of the photograph are undetermined piles of something.  What ever it is, it seems to be light colored. Are these piles of oyster shells? Sweet potatoes?

Another detail shows the brick chimney of the quarters, which seem to be whitewashed. Nearby an African American man stands with his back to a tree staring at the photographer.

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