As Hurricane Matthew moves up the coast of South Carolina,
more of my favorite locations become targets. Just across the bridge from
Beaufort lies Lady’s Island. In “The Road to Frogmore,” It was the real-life
home of Frederick Eustis, a Harvard-educated abolitionist, who had inherited
the huge Eustis Plantation from his step-mother. In “Yankee Reconstructed,” the
fictional young horse-enthusiasts, Eli Moreau and Mary Sue Grenville, purchase
the plantation from him to turn it into a stable dedicated to raising the local
wild marsh ponies.
The next bridge leads to St. Helena island, scene of most of
the action in “The Road to Frogmore.” Today it is the home of the Penn Center,
dedicated to preserving the Gullah culture of the Low Country. Among its
landmarks dating to the Civil War are the ruins of the White Chapel, where the
early abolitionists held patriotic celebrations to teach the former slaves
about citizenship, The Brick Church (shown above), where Miss Laura Towne started her first
school for slave children, the general store at the crossroads, and Frogmore
Plantation, which became Miss Towne’s home for 40 years.
A few miles north of Beaufort lie the ruins of the Old
Sheldon Church, featured on the cover of “Yankee Reconstructed” and used in
that book as a symbol of the Old South. With luck, the Old Sheldon Church will
escape the direct wrath of the hurricane, but it will still be vulnerable to
winds and torrential rain.
The hurricane’s path will take it over Edisto Island, where
ex-slaves once built an island community all their own and where Jonathan and
Susan Grenville’s old plantation house once stood. Then it will pass over James
island, site of the Battle of Secessionville, where the Confederate forces
soundly defeated the Union invaders, and where my Uncle James was killed in the
battle and buried in a mass grave in front of the fort at Secessionville.
Then, of course, there’s Charleston, center of most of my
books. In “A Scratch with the Rebels, it is the real-life home of Gus Smythe,
Confederate soldier, and his family's house still stands on Meeting street just a
block or so from Charleston Harbor. And Charleston is the family home of the fictional
Grenville family of the “Yankee Trilogy.” Landmarks that appear in my books
stand on nearly every street—the hotels, the churches, the meeting halls of
life in the 19-century city. As i write this, the floodwaters are
rising in those streets.
I’m hoping to make a trip to this storm-ravaged region
before the end of the year to do some research for my next book. The new story
requires some familiarity with the dock and warehouse area of Charleston, the
section of the old city now called “The French Quarter,” and the safe harbors
of northern South Carolina and the southern coast of North Carolina. I’m hoping
they will be accessible by then.