First up in our quest to visit all of the SC State Parks, is Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site located in Summerville, South Carolina.
This isn’t our first time visiting this SC State Park, but I will say it was the first time I’ve walked the historic grounds with a sense of calm peace.
In the several times, we’ve visited this place, it always felt haunted; ominous to me. This last time though was different. I’ll get back to that a little later. First let’s discuss how the colonial town of Dorchester, nestled on the Ashley River in the South Carolina Lowcountry, came to be the chosen home of a colony of Puritans from Massachusetts.
Why Did the Puritans Leave England
At the beginning of the 17th century, the religious and political climate in England was intense. The Puritans were not having King Charles I brand of royal policy.
They took offense to him dissolving parliament and decided to leave England to settle in the Americas to develop their own communities based upon their own beliefs.
Eighty-thousand Puritans left England and Europe for the “New” World between 1630 and 1640 in a time period known as the “The Great Puritan Migration”
In 1630, a second group stepped off the ship Mary and John and arrived in Hull, Massachusetts where they formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
They renamed this land Dorchester in honor of their pastor, John White.
White was the one that helped them prepare for their journey and new life. Previously the Native Americans had actually named the area where the Massachusetts Bay Colony arrived, Mattapan. Both Mattapan and Dorchester in Massachusetts still exist today.
The Puritans were hard-core; they demanded that a complete unity of thought and behavior from their members and would excommunicate anyone that dared challenge them.
Puritans on the Move Toward South Carolina and Georgia
Later, the Puritans broke off into separate groups, moving toward Connecticut and Virginia. Another group from neighboring towns branched off to form their own colony and left Dorchester, Massachusetts to South Carolina in 1696.
The trading town of Dorchester flourished along the Ashley River from 1697 until just the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Because the area was The just inland from colonial Charleston, the river provided the access they needed.
The biggest challenge however, was the fact that authorities in South Carolina built the Church of Saint George in the center of Dorchester colony. This was the Church of England, which the colonists were required to support via taxation.
Much like their European counterparts that settled at Charles Town Landing, the Puritans used enslaved Africans to build rice, tobacco and indigo plantations.
Soon, challenges due to inadequate land for farming, and illness and death resulting from the elements (swamp fever) took hold and the Puritans began investigating new possibilities and ultimately moved further South to found the towns of Sunbury and Midway in Georgia.
Puritans and Plantations In Georgia
Originally Georgia was established as a slavery-free colony but when laws changed in 1750 to allow slavery, the area became attractive to plantation owners. Around 70 families from SC received royal land grants in the District of Midway and began moving and setting there by 1752.
To learn more about what happened next in the Puritan saga, consider visiting the Midway Museum in Midway Georgia. It tells the story of how the Puritans from South Carolina came to the area with about 1500 enslaved Africans to work on rice plantations.
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site Today
Today, Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site offers a peek into the time period with its preserved archaeological remains.
While only a few of the original structures remain, the information that is now provided on the SC State Parks website provides significant insight into the life, times and people of Colonial Dorchester.
When we first began visiting the site, the website offered limited information.
In the last four years, however, as archaeologists have unearthed the history and worked with historical records, the park is beginning to piece together an interesting and glimpse into life at Colonial Dorchester.
I remember visiting when we first started homeschooling in 2011, with just the plaques around the site to guide us.
I’d visit a few times after that both with the kids and alone and just couldn’t quite shake the dark and ominous feeling that hung over the area. I always felt uncomfortable walking the grounds; just a heavy, dark presence.
As soon as I’d arrive, I wanted to leave.
Resources and Remembrances of Colonial Dorchester
Last week though, armed with printouts of the Cemetery Self Guided Tour and Colonial Dorchester State Historic Park Walking Tour, coupled with the renovated walking path and our Ultimate Outsider Book, I confidently read the story of each plot and said each name aloud in the cemetery.
I told my kids of wealthy planter, James Postell who during the Revolution, British soldiers likely scarred his tombstone by using it as a butcher block.
We learned the names of enslaved men and women like Carolina and Prince, shoemakers in town and tanner Simon, Jemmy the cooper as well as plantation slaves named Mingo, Ishmael and Tom who came to town to trade.
Boatmen like Manuel, Dick and Little Toney who plied the Ashley River on Schooners transporting goods and people.
Their names may have been unknown before, now saying their names aloud, seeing their hard work in the walls of the oyster-shell concrete tabby fort and bell tower bricks, these are the people who built South Carolina and I’m grateful to know their names.
I truly believe that reading their names out loud, knowing their work and their sacrifice and telling their stories, gave me peace; gave them peace to let me roam the grounds freely, without a sense of fear and dread as I’d previously felt.
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site is a place I’ll return to on a regular basis. (granted it is very close to home for us) but aside from that, I want to return to feel their presence again; to hear the stories they want to tell.
Talking with younger children about the events that took place at Colonial Dorchester based upon maturity and age-appropriateness is always one that we as homeschooling parents take into consideration.
Much like many of my homeschooling friends, our children are of varied ages. If you’d like to delve further into the history of Puritans and the idea that yes, they indeed did force enslaved Africans to work as early as 1630 vs when we normally think of the context of the enslaved, NPR has an insightful transcript, Forgotten History: How the New England Colonists Embraced the Slave Trade. It’s an interview with Wendy Warren, author of New England Bound: Slavery And Colonization In Early America. A great read for parents or older students.
Visiting Colonial Dorchester State Park
Once you turn off of Dorchester Road in Summerville, South Carolina and pull into the path to the parking lot that leads to Colonial Dorchester, be sure to stop at the center kiosk to pay. It is $2 for adults, $1.25 for South Carolina seniors and Free for ages 15 and under.
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during Daylight Savings Time and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. the rest of the year.
The park office is open daily from 11 a.m. to noon.
SC State Park Ultimate Outsiders
I mentioned that one of our goals is to visit every state park in South Carolina over the course of the next year.
There are 47 SC State Parks. SC is a fairly big state but I think we can make it work! One fun part of visiting all of the South Carolina State Parks is that by ordering an Ultimate Outsider Guide online, you can collect a stamp at each state park you visit.
Once you get your 47th stamp, have a park ranger verify your stamp book, complete the verification form in the office and the park ranger will submit your name. You’ll then be the proud owner of an Ultimate Outsider t-shirt, which will come in the mail!
Ok, so it’s a t-shirt, I get it. Big deal. But much like the National Park Service Junior Ranger Badge Program, the idea of exploring South Carolina via hands-on history and immersion is one that everyone, not just homeschoolers, can enjoy!
Visit the South Carolina Parks website to order your Ultimate Outsider Guide and get started!
I’m a little bummed that I hadn’t thought of getting the guide last fall when I visited Atalaya Castle for the Annual Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival, but that just gives me an excuse to go again this year!
Which SC State Parks have you visited, please comment below and let me know which one is your favorite!