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
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
Jim and Doll:
Cinthia and Albert:
Diana and Larence:
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.