Woodlands families reunion, 1951

Shared History honors the centuries-old connection between the black and white families of Woodlands Plantation whose relationship has survived slavery and its aftermath.  We celebrate the continuing reconstruction of our connection through acknowledging  and accepting the past by maintaining contact through our website and emails, gatherings and reunions, and through updates about the Woodlands Families Scholarship Fund.

Woodlands families 50th Anniversary Gathering
Midway, SC | November 24, 2001

Location of Woodlands

Listed below are some of the surnames of our contemporary families who can trace a connection to Woodlands Plantation through ancestors who have been identified through oral history and document research as living on the property at the time of the Civil War.

Please note that within the text of many of the families’ linked pages above, there are references to information provided by author and historian Mary C. Simms Oliphant, a granddaughter of William Gilmore Simms.  In her work on The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, she collected information about some of the African American families from Llewellyn “Mudd” Manigault, the granddaughter of Jim Rumph, which she used in writing sections of the six volumes.  Mrs. Manigault was considered the historian of the plantation families and her community.

Pilgrim Baptist Church

The historic Pilgrim Baptist Church was founded in the Midway community of Bamberg, South Carolina in 1883 by Deacon Bill Simpson. It originated as a bush arbor by the population of African Americans who were enslaved on the plantations in the surrounding community including Woodlands. Many of its current members are descended from these families and are featured in Shared History. In 1926, a board-structured building was built. In 1958, the third church was built. The cornerstone reveals the following officers: Deacon Frank Richvine, Chairman, Deacon James Rumph, Deacon Dave Thomas, Deacon Willie Dickerson, Deacon John Varn, Deacon Willie Glover, and honorary member, Tom Toomer. Wilbert Davis is currently Pastor. Pilgrim Baptist Church has served as a nexus for community building throughout its existence.

As a documentary, Shared History produced hours and hours of footage that could not be included in the final film.  (This footage is located in the Shared History Collection at the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, South Carolina.) However, a number of videos were created from this footage that give the viewer more information about the making of Shared History and feature interviews with many of the Woodlands families and others that do not appear in the final film but nonetheless are important for historical record and interesting storytelling:

At the Beginning is about how and why Shared History was made and the significant role Mr. Earthlee Rumph (1907–1993) had in making the film, although he died on the day I met him.  He was nearly a folk hero in his community and family—perhaps playing the role of the mythological trickster.  At a young age, he went to New York and worked in the construction business and bought a car. He returned often to Bamberg and on his return trip to New York he would carry young people from the Bamberg community to New York to settle with aunts or Bamberg neighbors who had already made their way there for better opportunity. You might say that Earthlee had his own private underground railroad, taking his people to a better life. He was an admitted rogue and storyteller. He “ran” cigarettes from South Carolina to New York where he could sell them for a cheaper price. Using his business “sharps” he made a life for himself and helped others break out of the cycle of picking cotton. One of the men in the Simms family who wanted Mr. Rumph to sharecrop for him said “Earthlee thinks he’s smarter than I am.” He was. It clearly irked the Simms family that he wouldn’t farm for them, and they considered him lazy. Despite all of his notoriety, Earthlee replied that, “I was the ‘workin’ist’[sic] one.

Scholars at Woodlands—The morning of the 2001 50 Anniversary Woodlands Family Gathering, three of the academic scholars for the project, Jualynne Dodson (Michigan State University), Karen Fields (independent scholar) and Walter Edgar (historian), whose work was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, came together to reflect on the major themes revealed in the research they were undertaking for the project. They were there to witness the coming together of the black and white families of Woodlands Plantation 50 years since my grandmother had assembled the ancestors of the people who had been enslaved by the Simms family. Many attending had been children during the first event. Although reunions of this sort were rare before Shared History, the black and white families didn’t seem to think it was unusual but wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner. The scholars meeting on the side porch of the old house consider what had made it attractive for almost 200 people, many who had traveled great distances, to be there.

SCETV 1967 Television interview of Mary C. Simms Oliphant (1891 –1988).  For many years, Mrs. Oliphant, my grandmother, wrote the history and civics books taught in the public schools of South Carolina, which left out the role slavery and African Americans had had in the history of South Carolina. Although she was beloved by many children in the state, African Americans were brought up believing they had no history and many continue to feel the negative impact of her books today. (23:09)

Tribute to Llewellyn Rowe Hopkins (1902 – 1987). Llewellyn Rowe Hopkins was a member of the Rowe family of Woodlands. We can speculate that her people were probably in South Carolina before the Revolutionary War because her last name is the same as my white pre-revolutionary ancestor, Michael Christopher Rowe, who owned land near Woodlands. Llewellyn lived at Woodlands plantation with her parents until she was a teenager. Her father share cropped for my grandmother. Llewellyn’s daughter told me that her mother didn’t want a life of picking cotton. So at some point my great grandmother trained Llewellyn to be a maid and to everyone’s astonishment would proudly explain that, “I gave Llewellyn to my daughter as a wedding present—a preposterous statement that defied the demise of slavery. Llewellyn was then sent up to Greenville, SC, to work for my grandmother, Mary C. Simms Oliphant. The young Llewellyn married Mr. Hopkins in Greenville and raised several generations of Simms children. She sent her own children back to the plantation for her parents to raise. She was a petit dark woman who would explain to my grandmother’s house guests, that she had been with the Simms family since before slavery. She told fantastical stories based on Brer Rabbit that could challenge the drama of movies of today like Game of Thrones and the many Star Wars films. However, she could not read or write despite efforts by my grandmother to have her tutored. Llewellyn worked for my grandmother until she died. She is buried in the Simms Cemetery on the plantation.

Junior Manigault (1925–2008)—Making Syrup.  Every year near Thanksgiving, the Rumph family would gather to kill hogs and make syrup. They were one of the few families that still grew a little cane and had a mule drawn cane crusher. Days would go by as the dark syrup bubbled in the pan in the little house. If invited, you might find yourself led to the roiling pot from the light of the embers. This video takes you through the process and shows neighbors black and white coming by with their mason jars to test the largess of Junior’s generosity. It would be the last year of the event and many people wanted a jar.

Junior Manigault (1925–2008)—Planting by the phases of the moon.  Mr. Manigault used traditional methods of farming passed onto him by his mother Llewellyn “Mudd” Manigault. In addition to being on the county highway construction team and a Deacon at Pilgrim Baptist Church, Junior raised pigs on land across the road from the Simms plantation—land his grandfather had bought i1917.  (See film for a decades-long misunderstanding about how the Rumph’s secured the land where Junior grew his pigs.)  The day of the interview it was hot and thick but he was almost finished with planting his feed corn and I waited on the side porch. He had come over to Woodlands to check on his corn crop. My male cousins were hunters and Junior had a deal with them. Junior would plant corn on their land and the leavenings would “seed” the field for their corporate clients to ensure a good hunt. So here was a cooperative relationship between the descendants of the enslaved and slave owner that seemed to work for them both—a new kind of business deal around land.

I had promised Junior a glass of lemonade (real lemonade) if he would let me interview him about planting by the signs of the moon. Junior’s accent is mellifluous—somewhere between Charleston drawl and a Gullah tune. He would use a phrase I grew up to describe a waning moon—it was a lee little moon,  “When the moon would become a new moon,” he said, it’s “a lee little moon” and  it would be time to rest. See what else Mr. Manigault has to say about this traditional way of planting the next time you plant a garden.

Thomas Rumph is a tall man and a dapper dresser. He had worn a fine suit for our interview. It was in the fall so the oppressive heat had somewhat lifted. I had gotten to know Thomas through his half-sister Dorothy Manigault.  Dorothy had told me that his father was in his seventies when he married Thomas’s mother, she being only 14 or 15. That was Maizie Rumph. When children came along, there were lots of confusions about who the uncle was and who the nephew was, etc. because the age difference was so great. Eventually, Thomas and his brother struck out for Augusta, GA and got jobs in the new nuclear weapons plant.

The interview went well, and we were relieved it did not require multiple takes, because the buzzing black flies had found us in the woods. There were a few times though that I thought Mr. Rumph was a bit too generous to my family—the slave owners. We were on property that Mr. Rumph’s family had farmed during and after slavery and it was killing me that Thomas didn’t denounce my ancestor and his role as master. But I suspect if you look and listen closely there are a few masterful verbal gestures and a flick of the eye that might indicate what he was really thinking.

We were at a Woodlands house party. My sisters came down to help and we had members of the Rumph family staying for the weekend. Boy, was that a first. The only time their ancestors had been in that house was to cook and clean so we were all a little nervous. But the first evening proceeded as any festive night should with stories about our lives and how we got here today.

WOODLANDS: PEOPLE AND PLACE


Woodlands Plantation is located in Bamberg County, South Carolina, near the south fork of the Edisto River between Charleston and Columbia.

In the 19th century, Woodlands was the home of William Gilmore Simms, a noted American literary figure, his large family, and an enslaved population of African Americans.

The plantation was actually owned by William Gilmore Simms‘ father-in-law, Nash Roach, a wealthy planter from Charleston. Starting in 1821, Roach began buying property in the Barnwell District.  This land would become Woodlands Plantation. By 1830, the Barnwell federal population census shows that Roach owned 23 male and 23 female slaves—46 total—presumably living at Woodlands.

Bill of Sale of Polydore to A. R. Govan

There are three documents recording the purchase or sale of slaves by Nash Roach—people who may have been part of the Woodlands population.   On October 27, 1817, Nash Roach bought three slaves,Henry, Lizzie and Sylvia, from Mary Cameron of Charleston. On February 10, 1832, he bought a “negro boy Polydore, son of my woman Branch” for $350 from A.R. Govan, the uncle of Chevillette Eliza Roach Simms (see document below). On July 30, 1839, Roach sold three slaves, Tolbit, Conjdon, and Cynces, to  A.R. Govan. These three people had been part of the estate of Roach’s wife that she had inherited from her mother, Louisa Robinson Govan Chevillette.

From 1830 to 1865, there were between 45 and 80 enslaved people at Woodlands.  Some traveled back and forth with the Simms family to the house on Smith Street in Charleston where the Simmses lived during the summer.  This house was left in the care of a few slaves who may have lived there throughout the year.

At Woodlands, the enslaved people lived in some of the 12 small outbuildings built in a crescent behind the plantation house as well as two parallel rows of 16 cabins, each with a garden, located across the road from the plantation house.

In 1862, Woodlands was burned to the ground but was quickly rebuilt with the help of the friends and neighbors and the enslaved people of Woodlands, many of who were craftsmen and carpenters.  In 1865, at the close of the Civil War, the house was burned again.  The mystery of this fire remains to this day; was Woodlands set ablaze by Simms’ “beloved coachman,” Isaac Nimmons, as neighbors reported, or did stragglers from Sherman’s army, moving toward Columbia, loot and burn it?

Woodlands after the Civil War

Surviving outbuilding at Woodlands

“Births of Negroes” from Woodlands Plantation Book

45 people at Woodlands who received shoes and cloth, 1846


Aaron
Abbey
Abraham
Albert
Albert (big)
Amelia
Antony
Betty
BillyBob
Bourdeau
Cassandra
Champion
Charlotte
Cynthia
Delia
Diana
Doll
Emily
Emma
Flora
Harriet
Jacob

Jenny O.
Jenny S.
Jim
Jim (Young)
John
Landy
Laurence
Maria
Mary
Moses
Ned
Oliver
Peggy
Robert
Sancho
Stewart
Sylvia
Tom
Tyrah (little)
Tyrah O
William Carpenter
Willm. (fat)

Shortly after the war, with the help of some of the remaining former slaves, a four-room house was fashioned from the ruins of the burned structure; the Simms family lived here on and off for a few years.  Two of the original outbuildings are still on the property; there are also a few tenant houses built after the Civil War and into the 20th century where some members of the African American families lived into the 1980s.

The last fire at Woodlands destroyed most of the plantation records, except parts of the Woodlands Plantation Book.  The book provides sketchy information about the operations of the plantation and the activities of the enslaved population.  The book has two sections.  The first dates from 1845 to 1851 and appears to have been recorded by Nash Roach.  A transcribed copy is published in The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, Volume II, pages 585 – 598.  The earlier part of the book provides information about the cultivation of crops including rice, wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, corn, and cotton; the care of livestock; churning butter; making candles; weaving cloth and weather reports.  In 1845, Roach wrote that he has 62 “Barnwell Negroes” [at Woodlands] for which he paid tax of 55 cents each.  In 1846, Roach provides a list of 45 people who received shoes and cloth.  Other than those on this list, he identifies only two other people by name and their specific tasks that day: Isaac, presumably Isaac Nimmons, who tended and sheared sheep, and Antony, who hunted for lost sheep.  The second section includes the year 1867 and 1868 then skips to 1874 and contains a section entitled “Births of Negroes,” listing a total of 46 people by first name only but grouped by family or under their mother’s name and sometimes their mother’s and father’s names.

“BIRTHS OF NEGROES” FROM WOODLANDS PLANTATION BOOK


Doll:
George 1842

Jim and Doll:
Caesar 1848
Abbie 1849
Garrick 1851
Glover 1856

Betty:
Eliza 1848

Charlotte:
Golphin 1849
Sarah 1851
Rachel 1853
Caroline 1854
Matilda 1856

Tyrah:
Mary 1849

Emily:
Rose 1852
Susan 1854
Ben 1856
Wesket 1858
George 1850
Harriet 1863

Emma:
Elizabeth 1853
Charles
Lucinda 1862

Cinthia and Albert:
Eugene 1856
Alice 1859

Cinthia:
Martha 1861
Sam 1862

Clarissa:
Jennette 1857
John 1860
Nelson 1862

Diana and Larence:
Centry

Diana
George?
Harriet
Darrell 1858
Eadie 1862

Shortly after the Civil War, James C. Beecher, Sub-Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (and the brother of Harriett Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), surveyed conditions at the plantation and recorded the names of the freedmen who were living there at at that time.

James C. Beecher’s list of freedmen from Woodlands, 1865

Current day Woodlands

According to letters written by William Gilmore Simms, some of the former slaves of Woodlands followed the federal army to Columbia.  Others “sailed to Liberia.”  Many stayed in the surrounding community, and several families remained at Woodlands, most prominently the Rumphs, Rowes, and Laboards.

After the Civil War, the Simms family tried to farm the property but had little success.  In 1883, William Gilmore Simms, Jr. becamse Clerk of Court for Barnwell County and Jim Rumph, formerly a slave at Woodlands became the on-site manager of the property.  At the end of the 19th century, Woodlands was rented to the Hunter family.  It was not until 1925 that members of the Simms family lived at Woodlands again to try their hand at farming but—once more—were not successful; however, they did build a wood-shingle second story onto the house, which completed the house as it is seen today.

In 1917, this Jim Rumph bought the land he had been living on from the Simms family, which had been part of the old plantation tract.  Prior to buying this land, he sharecropped for J. D. Copeland, a cousin of the Simmes.  After Jim Rumph died in 1922, his son, also named Jim Rumph, took over as manager. In 1930, Woodlands was rented to the Ridge family as a hunting retreat, but it continued to be cared for by Jim Rumph. In 1940 the Simmses reclaimed Woodlands.  Jim Rumph’s grandson, who like his father was also named Jim Rumph, continued as manager of the property.

In the 1930s, members of the Rowe and Laboard families worked on shares or as tenants at Woodlands and at other ante-bellum plantations in the community and continued to maintain contact with the Simms family.

Jim Rumph with wagon

Woodlands families

In 1952, Mary C. Simms Oliphant wrote, as part of the introduction to the published letters of William Gilmore Simms, a section entitled “The Negroes of Woodlands.” She states that there were “16 house and yard Negroes.” Those especially noted were Isaac Nimmons, coachman of Woodlands; Edmund [Laboard], the butler; Maum Abbey, Mrs. Simms’ personal maid; Isom Glover, the torch tender; and Cinthia Curry, the head cook. Jim Rumph is described as a “general factotum” who “held a high place at Woodlands with both blacks and whites, as did his son Jim….” Maum Sallie [Laboard] was the head nurse. At the end of this section, referring to the contemporary Woodlands families, she wrote, “Woodlands is their home, and they are a part of the very fibre of the place.”

At the time Mrs. Oliphant wrote this passage, many of the descendants of the people she identified had moved north to York, Pennsylvania; Brooklyn; and New Jersey. But many of these descendants chose to remain in Bamberg County and served as community, business, and church leaders.  Many families still bury in the plantation cemetery, which was deeded to the Woodlands Families Cemetery Association in 2001.

Contemporary members of the Simms family now use the property for hunting parties, family retreats, and community events, joining with the descendants of the enslaved families in family reunions and special occasions.Members of these families and others with information about those associated with this plantation or about the property itself are invited to submit remembrances, stories, oral histories, genealogical materials, and historical data as well as photographs and film and video recordings for inclusion in this site. To submit information or general comments, contact Felicia Furman at ffurman@ecentral.com.

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The Smalls Family

The Smalls family is connected to Woodlands Plantation through the Laboards. Henry Smalls married Mary Anne Laboard, one of the youngest children of Wilson and Sallie LaBorde. According to the brochure of the second annual Smalls-Laboard family reunion, Henry Smalls–probably the father of the Henry that married Mary Anne LaBorde–was “the son of Ben Felder and Annie Smalls. Ben and Annie came over from England on a boat that docked in Charleston, S.C…. Ben Felder was a white Englishman, and Annie was a mulatto.” A Ben Smalls, 21, black, is listed in the 1870 Midway census with Ann, 20. In the 1880 census, he is listed as age 32 and living with wife Ann and children Willie, George, Henry, Eugenia, and Rebecca. All are listed as mulatto. In the 1900 census, there is listed a Binn Smalls with wife Ann, and children Rebecker and Edmon. In that same census, there is listed a Henry Smalls, age 25, living with his wife (name illegible) and daughter, Dottie.

The Singleton Family

Harry, Ely, and Becky Singleton also remained in the Midway area after the war and are listed in the group of freedmen identified in the contract between Isaac Nimmons and Charles Carroll in July of 1865 as working at “the Pinckney Place.” The Singleton name is also connected to Woodlands through William Gilmore Simms, whose mother was named Harriet Ann Augusta Singleton. At the time of her death in 1808, Simms inherited 25 slaves, and there is a possibility that the African American Singletons may be descended from them.

The 1870 Bamberg census lists a Harry Singleton, a 38-year-old black farmhand as head of a household consisting of Rebecca, age 37, and children Hura (sp?), 16, Elizabeth, 14, Christina, 12, Sylvia, 10, Eugenia, 6, and Harry, 2. In 1880, Harry, age 50, is recorded as head of a household that includes his wife Rebecca, 50, and children Hattie, Rebecca, Eugenia, Inae, and a nephew, Robert Olin. Also in that year, a Rebecca Singleton purchased 80 acres of land from Francis Fishburne Carroll just north of and adjacent to Woodlands. (Francis Fishburne Carroll was the son of Charles Carroll, who was a close friend, neighbor, and kinsman of William Gilmore Simms.) Harry Singleton, age 70, appears again in the 1900 Midway census with his wife Emma, 55.

The Rowe Family

As with the Rumphs, it is likely that the Rowe family has been associated with the Simms family since the 18th century through their earliest South Carolina ancestor, Michael Christopher Rowe.

Mrs. Oliphant also made several statements indicating the Rowe family was originally part of Oak Grove Plantation, and was part of the group of bondsmen who were brought to Woodlands when Simms married Chevillette Eliza and established residence there in 1836. In a tribute she delivered at the funeral of Mary Anne Rowe, she said, “For more than 200 years, the Rowe family have been associated with our family. They lived first with the Simmses on the Orangeburg side of the Edisto and in 1836 moved with us to the Bamberg side of the river. They have been with us here for more than 100 years.”

According to Beecher’s list of freedmen, at least three members of the Rowe family stayed on at Woodlands during the years after the end of the Civil War including Bundo, Berubo, and Caesar Rowe. However, the Woodlands Plantation Book does

George Rowe sharecropped Mary C. Simms Oliphant’s portion of Woodlands between 1921 and 1930’s. His daughter, Llewelyn Rowe Hopkins, was “sent up” by her father to Greenville—about 300 miles away—to work for Mrs. Oliphant. She stayed there for over fifty years.

Mrs. Hopkins daughter, Bertha Mae Harrison remembers her grandfather, George Rowe, telling them that his father was named Jim Redford and that he changed his name to Rowe when he married into the Rowe family—presumably to Clancia Rowe.

*Names are spelled as found in the historical record.

The Simms Family

The Simms family is descended from William Gilmore Simms (1806 – 1870), noted 19th-century literary figure and Chevillette Eliza Roach Simms, the daughter of Nash Roach. They had 16 children, but only six survived childhood including William Gilmore, Jr., Mary Lawson, Chevillette Eliza, Govan Singleton, and Charles Carroll. Simms also had a daughter, Anna Augusta Singleton, from his first wife, Anna Malcolm Giles.

By virtue of Simms’ literary achievements, Woodlands is designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is currently used by the Simms descendants for family retreats, hunting parties, and community gatherings.

William Gilmore Simms was a native South Carolinian who gained far-ranging literary acclaim in his day as the most prolific southern antebellum writer. Hailed as the man of letters of the Old South, Simms garnered the respect of readers in the North and South, including such contemporaries as Edgar Allan Poe and James Fenimore Cooper. Simms’ versatility and talent were evidenced in some 72 book-length works, including novels, short story collections, poetry, drama, literary criticism, essays, history, and biography. Among his better known works are The Yemassee, his most popular Indian novel; The Partisan, the first of seven Revolutionary War romances; Richard Hurdis, one of his eight Border Romances; and The Wigwam and the Cabin, A Collection of Short Stories. Following the Civil War and after his death, Simms’ works fell out of favor.

His biographer, John C. Guilds, writes: “Alone among American novelists of the 19th century, Simms perceived a national literary need, sensed his capability to fulfill it, developed a plan to attain it, and lived to complete it. Simms had vision, commitment, intensity, and perseverance—ingredients without which sustained literary accomplishment of the first magnitude is impossible. Relatively early in his career, in 1845, Simms articulated his mission for artistic fulfillment with precision and comprehensiveness, and throughout his life he remained constant to that mission, neither altering its formulation nor wavering in his commitment. Simms’ vision of America depicted in his fiction extends from 16th-century Florida (Vasconselos and The Lily and the Totem); colonial South Carolina (The Cassique of Kiawah and The Yemassee); the Revolutionary War (Joscelyn, The Partisan, Mellichampe, Katherine Walton, The Scout, The Forayers, Eutaw, and Woodcraft); through the trans-Mississippi migration in the early 19th century (Guy Rivers, Richard Hurdis, Border Beagles, Confession, Beauchampe, Charlemont, Helen Halsey, The Wigwam and the Cabin, the Cub of the Panther, Voltmeier). To Simms, his writings about ante-colonial America, the English colonies, the Revolutionary War, and the rampaging frontier were part of a sustained, interconnected literary saga. He traced the development of American national consciousness through four centuries in two dozen books which, taken together, form a powerful, intense, highly readable epic and constitute a unique national literary treasure. Though Simms’ achievements are various and varied—his poetry [see “Among the Ruins”], in particular, is important for both historical and aesthetic reasons—his vision of an American literature by Americans found its fullest expression in the novel; and it is here that his immortality is assured.”

Recent research by a core of southern scholars has revived interest in and appreciation of the writings of Simms. Since 1952, there have been a number of publications that support Simms’ prominence as a nationally significant author including six volumes of his letters, The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, a collection of his poems, the Guilds biography, and a series of critical publications about his work including Long Years of Neglect and William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier also by John C. Guilds and The Poetry and the Practical by James E. Kibler, among other related works.

William Gilmore Simms’ granddaughter, Mary C. Simms Oliphant (1891 – 1988), was also an historian In 1916, the state superintendent of education asked her to update her grandfather’s 1860 history of South Carolina for use as a texbook. In 1932, Oliphant wrote an entirely new South Carolina history textbook. The Simms History of South Carolina went through 9 editions and was used by South Carolina junior high school students.She later wrote a reader to introduce third-grade children to their state.Oliphant’s most ambitions project, and the one for which she is most widely known, was her work to collect, edit, and publish Simms’s letters.

Other grandchildren of William Gilmore Simms include Zaidee Aldrich Simms Cole (1882 – 1968), William Gilmore Simms IV (1883 – 1953), Harold Algernon Simms (1888 – 1965) and Anne Lee Simms Buck1893 – 1969).

The Nimmons Family

Although the Simms and Nimmons families did not maintain close ties after the Civil War, Isaac Nimmons was a key figure at Woodlands and a significant presence in the Midway community through the end of the 19th century. William Gilmore Simms, Jr. describes him as follows:

Isaac Nimmons was our father’s body servant and coachman, and a great favorite with all the children. He had been a stable boy of my grand uncle A. R. Govan, who imported the great race horse Bosters from England, and as a partner of Col. William Johnson of Virginia ran a number of horses on the Washington Race trace at Charleston. Isaac was a born sport and knew the history of all the great races by heart, and being a good raconteur, endeared himself to the children of his many track anecdotes….

A.R. Govan, the uncle of the wife of William Gilmore Simms, Chevillette Eliza Simms, was a planter in the Orangeburg District who moved to Mississippi in 1828, indicating that Nimmons might have come to Woodlands at that time or in 1847 when Roach moved to Woodlands permanently.

Nimmons played a critical role in the lives of the Simms family at the end of the Civil War when he helped evacuate the family from Woodlands. He delivered food and other provisions to them in Columbia where they moved to escape Sherman’s destructive march through South Carolina.

In February 1865, after Woodlands was burned by Sherman’s stragglers, the neighbors in the community accused Isaac Nimmons of setting the fire. William Gilmore Simms, Jr. describes the incident as follows:

Sometime after the army had passed, a jury of citizens in the neighborhood arrested my father’s coachman and body servant Isaac Nimmons and tried him for the burning [of Woodlands].  The weight of the evidence exonerated Isaac, although there was a good deal of feeling against him, but general opinion was that the dwelling was burnt by some of the bands of bummers that hung on to the outskirts of the army.

The Laboard Family

In a tribute Mrs. Oliphant delivered at the funeral of Arthur Laboard who helped her restore the gardens at Woodlands in the 1950s, she wrote: “The family of the LaBordes [sic] came to Woodlands from Beaufort in 1861 when the Northern Army occupied that part of the coast. The LaBordes have been with us ever since. Arthur LaBorde’s grandmother, Sallie LaBorde, was beloved by every member of the Simms family and I have a picture of her which I shall always cherish.”

According to Mrs. Oliphant, the LaBorde family had been part of a group of 40 or 50 slaves from the plantation of Dr. Fuller located near Pocotaligo in Prince Williams Parish, Beaufort County. However, the LaBordes (who now spell their name Laboard) may have already been at Woodlands prior to the Civil War. Bessie Laboard Brown has said that her grandmother, Sallie LaBorde, who Mrs. Oliphant referred to as “Maum Sallie,” told her that she was “sold to the Simms in Midway.” She said, “Grandmamma’s father was a rice farmer in Beaufort.” Sallie, who married Wilson LaBoard (possibly the same person called Vincent) who was already at Woodlands, may have been one of this group from the Fuller plantation.

According to Beecher’s list of freedmen who remained at the plantation after the Civil War, Vincent, Sally, Tina, and Edmund LaBorde stayed on at Woodlands. The 1867 tax return book for Barnwell Parish also lists a Wilson Labboard [sic], who owed $1 in “capitation” tax. Also in that year, Wilson LaBorde filed a complaint with the Freedmen’s Bureau against Daniel Rowell, a Midway farmer with whom he had contracted for one-third of the crop. When the harvest was completed, he and Sallie were ordered off the plantation, apparently in an attempt by Rowell to renege on their deal. He and Sallie are back at Woodlands in 1868 according to the Woodlands Plantation Book, which lists work completed by, items purchased from, or accounts with Vincent LaBorde in the years 1868 and 1874.

Edmund LaBorde, 42, is listed in the 1870 Midway census with his household composed of Eugenia (possibly the Tina mentioned above), 43, Dorcas, 69, and George, age 20. Edmund is also listed as owning land valued at $250 and other property valued at $200. The 1870 Federal Census of South Carolina Agriculture, Midway, lists an Edward Labord owning 25 acres of land although no deed is listed in the Barnwell County Courthouse records. The population census of that year also lists a Weston Laborde (probably Wilson LaBorde), 29, Sarah Anne (probably Sallie), 23, and children Jeffry, Nancy, Sandie or Landie, and Dolly.

The 1880 census lists an Edmon Labord, 65, and his wife, Eugenia, 60 as living in Midway. There is also a Vincent Labord, 45, with wife Sallie, 38, and children Nancy, James, Dolly, George, Cornelia, and Richard.

Additionally, one of the youngest children of Wilson and Sallie LaBoard, Mary Anne LaBoard, married Henry Smalls, forming the Smalls family link to Woodlands.

The Roach Family

Nash Roach was the father of Chevillette Eliza Roach, who married William Gilmore Simms in 1836. He also owned a plantation across the Edisto River in Orangeburg County called Oak Grove that he acquired through his marriage to Eliza Ann Govan (1791 – 1822), the daughter of Daniel Govan (? – 1797) and Louisa Robinson. This was Roach’s principal residence and primary income property until 1846 when he sold Oak Grove and moved to Woodlands to live with his daughter and son-in-law. In colonial days, Oak Grove was called “St. George”; during the Revolution, it was referred to as “Chevillette’s” after Eliza Ann Govan’s stepfather, John Chevillette. “St. George,” not to be confused with the town or district of St. George in adjacent Dorchester County, was a land grant consisting of many acres just below the town of Orangeburg. This land grant was given to Daniel Govan’s father, Andrew Govan (? – 1771) in 1757. In 1758, Andrew Govan married Rachel Rowe (1740 – ?), daughter of Michael Christopher Rowe (1715 – 1787) by his first marriage.

Along with his two brothers Samuel and Henry, Michael Christopher Rowe, a Scotsman, was a landowner in the Orangeburg District. In 1757, he received two land grants near the town Orangeburg – one for 150 acres and the other for 250 acres – and in 1758 he received another grant for 700 acres. He also bought other lands in the same area for a total of over 3,000 acres.

On June 4, 1759, Rowe transferred 100 acres of land in the Orangeburg District to his daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Andrew Govan. Daniel Govan, Andrew’s son, was to inherit the “St. George” property – 1,300 acres – at the time of his mother’s death, although it appears that Daniel died before his mother. Andrew Govan’s will stipulated that his personal property, presumably including his slaves, would be split equally between his widow, Rachel, his son, Daniel, and daughter, Rachel, although other evidence suggests that Rachel inherited all of the slaves. The first federal census reveals that Daniel Govan owned at least eight slaves in 1790. His daughter, Eliza Ann Govan, who probably inherited Oak Grove at the time of her grandmother’s death and also presumably her slaves, married Nash Roach in 1813. It is assumed that Roach became the proprietor of Oak Grove at that time.

The Glover Family

Isom Glover was known as the torch-tender and had charge of the firewood for the estate. According to Mrs. Oliphant, “It was he who, as a young man, at great personal risk saved the [Benjamin] West portrait of Simms when the house was burned [by Sherman’s troops] in 1865.” He does not appear in Beecher’s list of freedmen at Woodlands in June of 1865. However, he is listed as having a sharecropper’s account at Woodlands in January of 1868. An Isom Glover shows up in the 1870s census in Midway, at age 24, living with wife Sarah, 20, and son Robert, 2. There is an Isham Glover, age 35, in the 1880 Midway census with wife Martha, and children Mariah, Paul, Laura and Gabriel.

An Isham Glover from Bamberg is also recorded in the 1890s Special Schedule of Surviving Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Widows of the US during the War of the Rebellion. Although not identified in federal military records as having enlisted or served in the US Army, he apparently provided some service or support to federal troops during the Civil War, despite saving the West portrait of his master, perhaps when Sherman’s troops as they passed through Midway. He was the only African American listed in the Special Schedule from the Bamberg area.

The Rumph Family

The earliest remembered ancestor of the Rumph family is Jim Rumph (1810 – 1922). His granddaughter Llewellyn “Mudd” Manigault (1901 – 1986) spoke of his own father. He was 112 when he died, having lived through 57 years of enslavement, the Civil War, Sherman’s destruction of Woodlands and most of Midway, the famine after the war, the failure of Reconstruction, the difficulties of sharecropping, and the boom in farming that resulted from the exigencies of World War I. Jim Rumph fathered a son named Jim Rumph (1875 – 1937), who also had a son named Jim Rumph (1900 – 1985). All three farmed property that was once part of the original plantation and which the Rumph family has owned since 1917. All were the managers of Woodlands, on behalf of the Simms family, and all are buried in the cemetery on the plantation property. Earthlee Rumph (1907 – 1993), one of the grandchildren of the old Jim Rumph, reported that Jim Rumph came “direct from Africa” as a young man and was “auctioned off” in Charleston. According to Mr. Rumph, Jim Rumph was about 18 when he was put on a slave ship in Africa bound for Charleston. “He was auctioned in Charleston and [they] sent him from Charleston to Beaufort, where he started his home.”

The only mention of a Jim in the plantation book after the Civil War is in the section entitled, “Births of Negroes.” The first entries at the top of the page list the births of George, 1842, Ceasar, 1848, Abbie, 1849, Garrick, 1851, and Glover, 1856, all children of Jim and Doll. The Simms family presumes that this “Jim” was the old Jim Rumph and that this family was one of at least two families of which Jim Rumph was the father.

The Rumph name does not appear in the Midway District 1870 census, the first federal census in which former slaves were accounted. However, there is a listing for a James Easterling, age 38, a farmhand living alone and it is remembered that Llewellyn “Mudd” Manigault spoke of the Easterlings. Other grandchildren, Earthlee Rumph—Mrs. Manigault’s brother—and Bessie Laboard Brown, recounted that Jim Rumph “ran away” and changed his name to Easterling; one could assume this man was the old Jim before he changed his name to Rumph or back to Rumph.

A James Rumff [sic] * is listed in the 1880 Midway census as a laborer, age 40, with wife, Mary, age 28, and children Ella, 8, Augusta, 7, Webster, 6, Martha, 4, and Sandy, 6 months. (Augusta may be Bessie Laboard Brown’s mother Eliza Rumph who she said was originally named Augusta—also the name of William Gilmore Simms’s oldest daughter—but she did not like the name and changed it at some point to Elizabeth.) This record would suggest that this James Rumff, listed as age 40 in 1880, is not the same person as James Easterling, listed as age 38 in 1870, however, census enumerators often just guessed at the age of those interviewed and sometimes simply made mistakes.

The Rumphs are related or associated with several other families in the Midway community. The 1900 Midway census lists Eugene (Moss) Rump as a “nephew,” aged 13, living with the McCormick family including B. McCormick, age 53, Margaret, his wife, age 60, and their three children ages 16 to 22. Since Eugene Rumph is listed as a nephew, Margaret may have been a sister of the old Jim Rumph, Moss Rumph’s father. The Rumph family remembers that Moss Rumph’s mother (listed as Mary Black in his obituary) died when he was an infant and that he lived with cousins for a number of years.

The Rumphs may also be related to the Richburgs. According to William D. Howard, a descendant of the Hightower and Nimmons families in Bamberg and Barnwell Counties, his great great grandmother, Masouri Richberg, lived at Woodlands prior to the Civil War. Mr. Howard wrote an unpublished historical narrative, My Wealth Has Come, about his family’s connections to West Africa and their early life in the United States. A copy is located in the Bamberg County Public Library. He reported that his grand uncle, Bequert Richburg, told him that Masouri had been a slave on the Simms place and that she also had a daughter named Masouri, but that she became a McCormick. She married Daniel Richburg and later settled in Bamberg. Madrew Ramsey Stuart, a great granddaughter of Abbey Ramsey, also remembered that she had an ancestor named Masouri. She said that Abbey was related to the Nimmons from the Orange Grove community. She was told by her cousin Annie Lou (nicknamed Plum) that Nimmons people used to visit Aunt Rachel, Abbey’s daughter, in the hospital. Mrs. Oliphant wrote that Jim Rumph’s wife, Birdie (Stokes) Rumph, told her “Jim’s mother’s people were Nimmons.” If she was referring to her husband Jim (as opposed to his father or grandfather) his mother was Eliza Wright, daughter of Abbey Ramsey.

Earthlee Rumph said that the Richburgs were only indirectly related to the Rumphs. He offered that the Richburgs and Rumphs “came over on the same ship” and that one family was sold to the Simms and the other sold to the Richburgs. In a 1994 interview, a cousin of the Rumph family, Reverend Daniel Richberg, stated that his family, like the Rumphs, were from “George’s.” A white Richburg or de Richebourg family owned property near Summerton. William Howard stated that “Until about 1835, my ancestors [his mother’s father’s family, the Richburgs] actually were enslaved to the David and Hope Pearson family who lived on what is today Highway 21 which runs between Branchville and Orangeburg.”

A number of the descendants of the Rumph still live near Woodlands Plantation today including the Manigaults, Currys, Warrens, Georges, Ryants, Hayneses and Kearse. Rhonda Kearse, one of the three narrators of the Shared History documentary, is the daughter of Margaret Kearse. Margaret’s mother was Edith George. Mrs. George and her siblings including Elliott “Junior” Manigault, Dorothy Manigault, Sadie Ryant, Lottie Curry, and Eugenia Haynes, are the children of Llewellyn “Mudd” Manigault, the granddaughter of the first Jim Rumph.

*Names are spelled as found in the historical record.

The Curry Family

Mrs. Oliphant identifies Cynthia Curry as the head cook at Woodlands. Cynthia, Albert, and Billy Curry are listed in the group of 47 freedmen identified by James Beecher as remaining at Woodlands after Sherman’s destruction of Midway. Beecher named Billy Curry foreman of the group who had planted a corn crop on the property, presumably after the Simms family moved to Columbia.

Cinthia and Albert are listed in the section of the Woodlands Plantation Book entitled “Births of Negroes” as being the parents of Sam, born 1862, Eugene, born 1856, and Alice, born 1859. Martha, born 1861, is listed as a “child of Cinthia.” Apparently, Albert Curry, the father or brother of Billy, stayed at Woodlands at least until 1868.