As a child, Herbert Freeman Sr. played on the riverbank as he watched his father and grandfather transport ferry riders to and from St. Helena Island.
"They would pick up people from the ferry, and row them to shore, then drive them in a horse and buggy all over the island about once or twice a week," Freeman, 72, said at his home on Tombee Plantation.
Freeman grew up on the Lands End Woodland beachfront property overlooking the Port Royal Sound. He is among the oldest members of the Lands End Woodland organization, which owns waterfront and wooded property that was purchased by former slaves in the 1920s. The group will celebrate its Gullah heritage during its annual fundraiser Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
"I remember around the Fourth of July people would take the train from New York, then the 100-or-so-foot ferry Cleveland to St. Helena for a celebration," he said.
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The Lands End Woodland property has offered a lifetime of memories for Freeman and his family. As a teen, he would accompany his father, Richard Freeman Jr., and grandfather, Richard Freeman Sr., as well as his brothers to what was then called the Lands End Woodland Club to hunt deer, raccoons, quail and squirrels.
"And we did a lot of fishing, crabbing and shrimping," Freeman said.
The property would leave a legacy of which Freeman's great-grandfather, Dennis Freeman, would be proud. Dennis was born a slave on Tombee Plantation in 1850. After being emancipated, he joined the Navy in 1866, and in the 1920s, he and 46 other men pooled their money to purchase 328 acres of waterfront and hunting property that formed the Lands End Woodland Club.
Today, Herbert Freeman said it is more important than ever to hold on to the property for his heirs, which include six children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
"I'll try to keep all of it, I know that is for sure," he said. "It is important to me because my great-grandfather was a part of it, and we should grab hold of it. Dennis told the family to hold on to this land and to never let it go."
Freeman, a retired cook at Parris Island, helped to raise money to maintain the property by cooking at fundraisers.
Today, Lands End Woodland President Francis Coaxum continues that tradition by frying fish and chicken dinners and oyster roasts about twice a year to raise money for the taxes, insurance and property maintenance. Coaxum's grandfather Clarence Coaxum was also one of the original club founders.
"I remember when I was the youngest one in the crew," said Coaxum, now 62.
Over the years, members have used various resources to sustain their property, which contains a 3-acre cemetery. For the eighth year, the River Festival is being held to celebrate their Gullah culture and to raise money for the organization.
"I enjoyed it because I like to cook," Coaxum said. "The men would go out in the boats to catch the fish and crab to cook for the fundraiser."
Coaxum said one year the dinner sales weren't enough to pay the bills, so members sold canned oysters they had harvested from their beach.
For a time, the group's forestry program in which they sold pine trees helped maintain the property as well.
Adam Street Baptist continues to use the waterfront access for river baptisms.
Four couples have recently rented the property for their weddings. Rentals are $175 to $375 a day depending on the size of the group.
Coaxum and Freeman urge heirs to join. Voting members must be a verifiable descendant of one of the original 47 founding members and pay annual membership dues of $75.
"In past years, the organization allowed non-heir members; however, we presently only accept members who are heirs," said Rosalyn Browne, Woodland executive board member and a great-great granddaughter of Dennis Freeman.
Coaxum said the property was a teaching tool for the community on how to keep their property as well as offering fond memories for him.
"I grew up learning how to swim right there on that beach, as did most people in this community," Coaxum said. "It is an important time just for me to go there and walk on that beach and to think of the original members. It always fills my heart to see what God had put in their hearts."
"If people were to let that land get away, those ancestors would turn over in their graves," he said.
The 328-acre Lands End Woodland property on St. Helena Island where the River Festival is being held Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 was once known as Riverside Plantation.
Riverside was operated by the owners of Tombee Plantation. Workers were loaned between the two plantations.
Herbert Freeman Sr. of St. Helena has many ties to Tombee Plantation and to Riverside. Freeman still lives on property that was formerly part of the plantation. He has hunted and fished on Riverside his entire life.
His great-grandfather Dennis Freeman was among the founders of the Lands End Woodland Club and his grandfather and father were caretakers of the Tombee Plantation home.
Freeman and other members of the Woodland organization also share ties with Riverside. Those ties are what Rosalyn Browne, Woodland executive board member and also a great-granddaughter of Dennis Freeman, hopes to find at the River Festival.
"We want to help folks identify ancestors who are a part of Tombee Plantation," she said. "We want people to bring photographs so we can compile the family history that went along with African-Americans on Riverside and Tombee plantations.
Some of the history of slaves from Tombee can be found in the book by Thomas B. Chaplin, author of "Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter: With the Journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (1822-1890)."
Chaplin's mother, Isabelle Field, inherited Riverside Plantation from one of her husbands, said Browne, who hopes to compile Riverside's history and identify the African-American families connected to it.