Best of Gerhard: Forgotten Dixonville home to freed slaves

April 26, 2010 

Originally published March 10, 1997 An invitation to speak before a meeting of a Beaufort Garden Club led this writer to go through an accumulation of notes and clippings, as well as search for additional information on old Beaufort gardens, the subject which I had chosen for my talk. The Smith Plantation, located between the present town of Port Royal and Beaufort, came to mind. It drew the attention of Northern occupation troops in the early months of 1862.

Confiscated by the government, the plantation was chosen as the site for Camp Saxton, as well as a school for black soldiers. Esther Hill Hawks, a Northern female doctor, mentioned in her diary "the beautiful grove near Camp Saxton," where the festivities for the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation took place Jan. 1, 1863.

Some weeks later, Dr. Hawks wrote about the Smith Plantation, where she had established her residence for a while: "Seen from the river our house made a pretty picture, and was christened the 'Pagoda.' It was one our show places, for the many visitors who came to Camp Saxton -- Smith's Plantation, on which our camp is built has quite a history. It has one of the most magnificent groves of live oaks in the country, covering several acres, and every tree a monarch." There was also a more utilitarian garden aspect on the Smith Plantation:

"A large vegetable garden, enclosed by an impenetrable fence of Spanish bayonets (yucca grande flora) is now used as a court-yard -- not even a dog can get through this fence.''

Dr. Esther Hill Hawks lived in the Smith Plantation house while the regiment of black soldiers, the 1st Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, was away on an expedition to the coastal areas of Georgia and Florida. She wrote:

"On a little knoll by the river's bank stands the rude plantation chapel, dumb witness of many a scene of agony where master and slave used to worship. The building, one of the rudest, being nearly of rough boards without finish of any kind -- only a little porch over the door and surmounted by a copula in which once hung a bell, gives it a quaint not unlovely picture strangely in harmony with its surroundings, and adds much to the picturesqueness of the view as seen from the river." It is possible that with the establishment of the Beaufort National Cemetery, the bodies of those soldiers were removed to that resting place after the war ended.

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