- A New Plantation World: Sporting Estates in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1900–1940 by Daniel J. Vivian
In A New Plantation World: Sporting Estates in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1900–1940 Daniel J. Vivian undertakes the study of hunting estates and uses them as a wedge to analyze romantic ideas about plantation life in the South. His narrative of wealthy northerners who moved to the Lowcountry of South Carolina in pursuit of sport takes a fascinating turn when his analysis moves to the importance of the myth of the Old South as a place for leisure and gracious living. The removal of all evidence of the agricultural economy—its working landscapes, buildings, and enslaved people—obscures the history of the region. The twentieth-century owners who commissioned these physical transformations made claims of presenting a historically accurate world, but instead presented one that underscored and perpetuated myths about the Lowcountry.
Vivian studies seventy-six estates located in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, which he defines as the territory ranging from "the northern reaches of Georgetown County south to the Savannah River and as far west as Williamsburg, Berkley, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper Counties" (25). The estates varied in their physical appearances and purposes, but they shared the following characteristics: evidence of significant material refinement; spaces for upper-class recreation, including hunting, fishing, boating, and horseback riding, among other pursuits; and an evocative architecture without a fixed date, one that combined colonial and antebellum structures with new buildings and landscapes. Each of these characteristics "figured in discourses about the resurgence of the Lowcountry and the role of plantations in its history and present-day landscape" (27).
Vivian's book includes seven chapters. The first three examine the settlement of the Lowcountry by northerners in search of plentiful hunting grounds, warm weather, and a respite from their daily routines. In chapters 4 and 5, Vivian writes the architectural histories of two noted plantations, Mulberry and Medway, each having histories that begin in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the final chapters, Vivian analyzes the transformation of the plantation in the popular imagination of journalists and historians in the twentieth century.
Vivian's first chapter begins in post- Reconstruction South Carolina, when hunters from the north began traveling to the Lowcountry in search of wild birds, small game, and deer. South Carolina was in the migratory path of North American birds and proved to be an ideal spot for shooting. As the popularity of the Lowcountry increased, upper-class hunters begin to purchase land and establish hunt clubs. In securing fallow agricultural lands they maintained habitat for the animals and conserved hunting grounds. The clubs' members were predominantly male and the houses and hunting-related facilities used by them were rustic—only having the bare necessities for sport. Although these sportsmen were aware of the region's colonial and antebellum history, particularly that of its slave-owning, agricultural past, this history was not a concern for them. They were interested in the mild climate and bountiful game. At this point in time, the hunt clubs [End Page 121] were leisure spaces for sport and retreat without ideological or romantic associations.
In his second and third chapters, Vivian writes that after 1915 the hunt-focused visitor to the Lowcountry began to change from the male sportsman to a more heterogeneous group that was interested in other social pursuits. As travel to warm destinations during the winter months became more popular among the upper class, the Lowcountry was positioned as a destination that attracted a certain type of person—one who was interested in socializing with others of their class for both business and pleasure. The Low-country estates purchased by this group were no longer hunting camps exclusively for the use of men, but rather country estates, similar to those found in England or other areas of the United States...