Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Yankees on Tour

People from the Northern parts of these United States (ie Yankees) never cease to amaze me. And, they are most entertaining when they venture down South. 

I recently was visiting Middleton Place Plantation down by Charleston with my camera. This unbelievably beautiful place dates back to 1741 and has some of the most famous gardens in the country that date back to 1755. Middleton Place was originally a rice plantation (and later on Indigo) located on the Ashley river. It was home to four generations of Middletons, not only a very prosperous group of gentleman, but also a family of distinguished members of government including president of the First Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Ambassador to Russia, and a signer of the Ordinance of Secession.

There is not much left of the grand home. Originally it was a unique style with a main 3 story house in the middle with separate buildings on either side called "flankers". Only the South Flanker survived. However, it is the gardens most folks come to see. 

Usually when I am on some photographic expedition, I avoid any tour. Although, I am always very interested in the history and other facts about the location, I find the guides tedious and often I do not want to invest that much time. However, Middleton offered a 30 minute docent guided tour of the gardens that seemed reasonable to me, so I joined up.

It was a small group made up of a an older couple, a younger couple, a family, several miscellaneous souls, and me. The docent was this most pleasant grandmotherly type about 5 feet tall with a strong Charlestonian  accent. She started with the history of the house.

She described the house, with the North Flanker containing the ballroom, an extensive art collection, and large library, the main house being where the family lived , and the South Flanker being the guest house. "At the end of the Wah," she continued, "General Sherman made sure that his troops captured Middleton Place  in retaliation  for Williams Middleton signing the Ordinance of Secession. The result was the burning of the North Flanker, the Main House, and part of the South Flanker Therefore all those works of art and that library were lost."

The young boy with the family politely asked the docent, "Who was General Sherman?" "Why he was in charge of all the Union Troops during the Wah." He looked perplexed. Another gentleman on the tour added, "He was a Yankee." Then the boy turned to his father,"Why did the Yankee manager want to burn a house? Did they lose the game?" The docent politely moved us on through the garden gate.

As we walked by the reflection pool, someone asked with in a tone of trepidation, "We will see an alligator today?" The docent answered, "I doubt it. But we do have some here on the plantation." Given the temperatures that day was going to be in the high 40s, I think that guy was safe from a 'gator attack. 

When we got down to the water front, the docent explained that it was a tidal river and that boats carrying supplies and guests could only navigate the waters during high tides. That being the case, when guests arrived, their stay had to last at least until the next high tide. One lady on the tour exclaimed, "I just cannot imagine." The docent answered, "Well, that was part of life on a tidewater plantation." "But, then you had to entertain those people." The docent laughed, "Well,  the Middletons, like most of the planters here, were known for their hospitality and enjoyed having guests". 

Then the little boy piped up, "If they got bored, they could always play baseball with the Yankees."

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