Our trip was an amazing adventure. Despite a few losses (which you may have read here), I've returned absolutely brimming with ideas for the upcoming book. Beaufort, South Carolina, has been one of the settings in both A Scratch with the Rebels and Beyond All Price, so I should know it pretty well by now. However, it still holds secrets about its history, and each time I discover one, my appreciation for the area grows deeper.
This time I wanted to walk in the footsteps of the missionary-teachers who arrived in Beaufort in 1862. That path took me to the oldest part of town -- The Point -- when early 18th-century mansions still stand in the midst of old oak trees so huge that even the largest houses seem to shrink in comparison.
I hadn't seen these places before. The streets are incredibly narrow and the foliage and undergrowth hide them from the view of casual passers-by. Still, it is possible to catch a glimpse here and there and imagine what they must have looked like to Bostonians and New Yorkers who arrived as aliens in this strange land.
The paths also took me out to St. Helena Island, where history is even more a part of the present. We visited the Penn Center, which commemorates the school founded by Laura Town and her friend Ellen Murray.
We drove the back roads past the shell of an old church and marveled at the overhanging oak trees, one of which is still known as "The Hanging Tree" because it was used to hang runaway slaves as a warning to their fellows.
We bumped down dirt paths leading to old plantation houses, ignored all warning signs about private roads, felt the light shimmer along a path the slaves thought was haunted, and then turned around quickly and fled back to civilization when a distant figure turned to stare at our car approaching on a posted road.
In more formal research in the town archives, I delved into old accounts of slave experiences, while my research assistant (aka trusty husband) sought plantation pictures and biographical details of the planters. All along the way we met incredibly gracious people who were interested in what I was doing and eager to help my efforts. I left copies of my books strewn across the city and came home with valuable contacts that will be even more helpful in the future.
In the next few days, I'll be posting detailed discussions of some of the sights, both to organize my thoughts about them and to let you share in some of the excitement I feel every time I return to South Carolina. In the meantime, I invite you to visit a new page of trip photos elsewhere on this website. Take a look, and then I'll tell you the stories behind the pictures.