Mitchelville - Page 10
cotton), and steam powered grist mill on the property while it was still a village. He also built a shop on one of the Mitchelville roads, apparently near his own house, where he planted peas and cotton.
"The court papers also name a number of the Mitchelville residents during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - John Nesbit, Bob Washington, Caesar White, Charles Robins, Charles Perry, Robert Wiley, Scapio Drayton, Jack Screven, Charles Pinckney, Billy Reed, Peter Flowers, Joe Williams, Hannah Williams, Stephen Singleton, Linda Perry, Renty Miller, and Clara Wigfall. One resident, Hannah Williams, explained how she had purchased a house in Mitchelville for $5.
A number of individuals saw in Mitchelville an opportunity to make money. With the federal government leaving Hilton Head, and the blacks relatively illiterate, it was perhaps easy enough for Drayton's heirs to sell Mitchelville twice - first to March Gardner, and then, again, to his son, Gabriel Gardner. Mitchelville was not situated on prime agricultural land and the Draytons probably felt (correctly, it seems) that few planters would want to purchase a black town. March, and later his son Gabriel, however, began collecting rents on (and selling) property other blacks had been using for years. The town functioned, essentially, as a collective, tying all of the parties together. It is likely that many of those living in Mitchelville had done so for several decades.
The court directed that a survey be made and the property of Mitchelville be divided among the heirs upon each paying their share of the costs associated with the case. Eugenia Heyward redeemed her tract of 35 acres on June 7, 1923. Celia and Gabriel Boston obtain the adjacent tract on September 2, 1921. Linda Perry, Emmeline Washington, and Clara Wigfall also obtained their respective parcels in 1921.
By 1930 the 35-acre Eugenia Heyward tract was sold for $31.00 by the Sheriff to pay a defaulted tax bill of $15.00. The purchaser was Roy A. Rainey of New York, who was purchasing much of the island for exclusive hunting. As more and more of Hilton Head Island was sold, the black population was reduced from the nearly 3,000 on the island in 1890 to only about 300 in the late 1930s.
Archaeological Study of Mitchelville
In 1986 the Hilton Head Museum funded Chicora Foundation archaeologists to examine a portion of the Mitchelville site that was in danger of being destroyed by development. That study provides the best archaeological account of the village we have and helps supplement the historical record.
The archaeologists explored four different houses on the property, finding not only evidence of fancy artifacts, probably looted from plantation houses, but also ample evidence of the consumer power of the freedmen. The blacks at Mitchelville turned their backs on many of the artifacts of slavery. They abandoned the use of annular ware bowls in favor of whiteware plates. The archaeologists also saw the increased use of decorative objects like blue beads and copper bracelets. At one level the Mitchelville blacks may have been mimicking the "master class," adopting and exaggerating traits they observed among plantation whites in the effort to distance themselves from slavery. But the use of these jewelry items also likely represents a retention of an earlier African tradition, similar to the survivals of basket making and naming practices.