Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Redcliffe Plantation - Home of James Henry Hammond

 "If you think that political ambitions, passions, intrigues, subterfuges, out-right lies by public figures are worse now than ever, they are not. Believe James Henry Hammond and me."

Redcliffe Plantation House

I was interested to learn more about James Henry Hammond when visiting one of his former plantations near Aiken, SC. Redcliffe is now a S.C. State Historical Site. I was returning from a funeral. It was a dry, hazy, scorching day. The only respite was on the front porch overlooking the Savannah River valley.
Front porch, Redcliffe Plantation

Hammond (Nov. 15, 1807 - Nov. 13, 1864) - Governor, Senator and Statesman of SC, Democrat Party (1842-1864), ardent slave-holder - did not reveal everything about himself in his diaries. Who would? Even though he professed his diaries were only for himself, he must've known others would read them. One can't scurry about the house moments before death to eliminate secrets. Indeed, many pages referring to another - possibly a son - were torn out after his death.

He was a tormented man, morose, always feeling ill, expecting his death to be near even in his 40s. He didn't say "I think my liver is diseased. However, I don't know beans about my disease, and I am not sure what is bothering me", but that was the gist of it. Yes, Hammond was a Scorpio as was Dostoevsky.

His wife's family widely advertised his sins. He acknowledged his peccadilloes - especially liaisons with his tempting young nieces - but complained that other great men with more notorious histories were not so reviled. His wife separated from him for five years, but returned. (Her family had warned her about him, but she married anyway at the age of 17.) His indiscretions haunted him for the rest of his life because others begrudged him.

Hammond had political ambitions but refused to advance himself, refused to allow others to advance him, only allowing himself to be dragged into office by universal acclaim. In fact, many of his speeches and writings were widely applauded...according to him. Maybe they were.

Hammond had a love/hate relationship with his Maker. They were never close.

Nothing ever worked out to his satisfaction. Others wouldn't follow his advice. Most politicians were deplorable; a few were misguided. Family, friends, acquaintances were foolish, naive, duplicitous. None loved him entirely. His crops never flourished. His dams broke. Loans made in good faith to others were not repaid. Hundreds of souls depended upon his providence, but he couldn't make ends meet. Slaves got sick and died. During the War for Southern Independence, desperate Confederates took his stores and never paid enough. He expected his slaves to bolt when they got the chance.

Near the end, his diaries referred to the deaths of friends, family and acquaintances in far-away battles. Union troops were advancing.

The Epilogue tell us that knowing his death was near, he wanted more than anything to hear music, so children were gathered around his bed to sing. Apparently, the performance didn't go well, for he complained about it.

He directed that he be buried near a couple of magnificent trees known to his family, with the proviso that if his property was taken by Union forces his grave would be plowed.

If Southern history and politics - especially obscure and ancient details about South Carolina and neighboring Georgia - interest you, Redcliffe Plantation and Hammond's diaries might. The collection is titled Secret and Sacred. If you expect nothing to go exactly right; if you think that political ambitions, passions, intrigues, subterfuges, out-right lies by public figures are worse now than ever, they are not. Believe James Henry Hammond and me.

There's not much left at Redcliffe that's horticulturally notable. Its long tree-lined avenue no longer exists. A few beautiful specimens are worth taking time to enjoy.

Though not remarkable, the house itself exhibits many of the interesting handcrafted elements that were common at the time. 

Most poignant are the slave quarters and displays of plantation life.


Redcliffe Plantation stands as a stark reminder:

For all flesh is as grass, 
and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
 The grass withereth, 
and the flower thereof falleth away...

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