BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - Did you know that during the Civil War, some plantation owners ran off and left their slaves alone on their land? Some of those slaves actually formed their own communities. Mitchelville, SC in Beaufort County was one of those communities.
It was the first settlement in the U.S. governed by freed slaves. Cora Miller explains how the special place was founded through the eyes of Harriett Tubman.
"I am Harriet Tubman," Miller says, deep into the character of Harriet Tubman. "I came to spy for the Union army and check on my people. When the South Carolina plantation owners heard about the soldiers coming, they ran off to the mainland and left their slaves to fend for themselves and perhaps perish and die."
When Union General Ormsby Mitchel and his troops arrived in Beaufort County, he heard about those people. Miller continues, "He didn't believe it when they saw it. They were a people that would and people that could. He told the government to send down some lumber so they can build homes and give them some land to plant crops for they could feed their families properly."
Before President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, with these words: "Good colored people, you have a great work to do, and you are in a position of responsibility. This experiment is to give you freedom, position, homes, your families, property, your own soil. It seems to me a better time is coming…a better day is dawning."
General Mitchel proclaimed the people of Mitchelville who once worked the land as slaves, now owned that land. This action officially made Mitchelville the first settlement in the US governed by freed slaves. Those former slaves turned that land into a very successful town with homes, praise houses, and businesses.
"Mitchelville was the template and first glimpse at what the American dream can be like for newly freed black people if only reconstruction had been able to finish its course. It shows when people are given the opportunity, they actually can prosper. These folks went from being property to owning property," explained Ahmad Ward, the executive director of the Mitchelville Preservation Project.
These days, only a replica of a home, a tool shed and the facade of a praise house remain on the land, but a group of dedicated volunteers, known as the Mitchelville Preservation Project, is on a mission to change that.
"One of the goals of our group is to recreate some of the houses and make it look like 1862 Mitchelville from a 20th-century standpoint," said Ward.
General Mitchel also brought four teachers to the community to teach the children. Mitchelville became one of the first areas in the southeast to pass a law that children between the ages of 6 and 15 were required to go to school. Click here to learn more about Mitchelville.