Mitchelville - Page 8
unthinkable to them that the land on which Mitchelville was situated would ever be returned to its white owners.
In spite of these changes, it appears that Mitchelville was still an active village. An AMA teacher described Mitchelville in 1867:
there are several large plantations upon which are small settlements, but
the greater part of the colored population of the island are located a
short distance from Hilton Head [meaning the old military base] at a
place called Mitchelville.... It is an incorporated town, regularly laid
out in streets and squares. About 1500 inhabitants, not a single white
person. There are three churches - two Baptist, one Methodist, two
schools which are taught by A.MA. teachers.
There were no whites living in Mitchelville since "The Home," where AMA teachers had previously lived, had blown down during a storm in November 1867! What remained of the building, however, was still being used as a school.
Although the military had left, taking jobs with them, many blacks turned to
subsistence farming. Some formed "collectives," joining together to rent large plantations from the government. Many of the freedmen were able to save their wages until they had the money to purchase land. However, there was a gathering storm in Washington. Congress passed laws providing for the restoration of confiscated lands to Southern owners with the payment of taxes, costs, and interests. Many of the lands being planted by the freedmen were no longer available. Worse, many lands purchased by freedmen in good faith, were returned to their Southern owners, with the blacks divested of their interest.
The Drayton Plantation (on which Mitchelville was located) was returned to the heirs of its former owner in April 1875, with the federal government deed failing to provide any protection for Mitchelville. The Drayton heirs, however, were not interested in planting the lands and began to sell it off to anyone interested in making purchases - including many freedmen. It was during the last quarter of the nineteenth century that most, if not all, of MitchelvilIe was purchased by a black man, March Gardner. March, while illiterate, was very successful - and apparently well respected. He placed his son, Gabriel, in charge of Mitchelville, which at this time also included a store, cotton gin, and grist mill. March also trusted Gabriel to have a proper deed made out. Instead, Gabriel took advantage of his father, eventually obtaining a deed in his own name and then transferring the property to his wife and daughter.
In the early twentieth century, the heirs of March Gardner took the heirs of Gabriel Gardner's wife to court, claiming they owned what was left of Mitchelville and that Gabriel Gardner had stolen the property. Although this is a sad end to what was the birthplace of freedom for many Sea Island blacks, the court case does help us understand the village better during this period, since the court took extensive statements from people living in the village.
The daughter of March Gardner, Emmeline Washington, testified that a number of families were living at Mitchelville and farming three or four acre plots adjacent to their houses. The money that was collected for rent went to pay the taxes on the property. March Gardner, who was by trade a carpenter, had ·built a cotton gin, cotton house ( for storing the