In the city of Charleston, slave labor was used to built many of the houses, schools, government buildings, and churches, to do factory work, and to perform domestic duties in the homes of the wealthy. In Charleston, we recommend visiting the Old Slave Mart Museum which is a museum dedicated to sharing information about slavery. The museum is in a building which was part of a slave auction house from to The corridor runs along the coast from southern North Carolina to northern Florida. You may also want to check out the Slave Dwelling Project , which was started by Joseph McGill who began sleeping in former slave cabins in South Carolina.
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The group now organizes living history programs, education, and sleepovers in slavery-associated sites across the country. There are usually several sleepovers scheduled at Magnolia each year.
Of course the best way to learn more about slavery is to read accounts by former slaves. One large source of narratives comes from the interviews from the Slave Narrative Project that were collected by writers from hundreds of former slaves by the Works Progress Administration from to You can find many of the transcripts online for free , or can buy them as a printed book online some plantation gift shops also sell copies. We would recommend Magnolia Plantation for those who are interested in seeing nature and wildlife.
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In addition to the Romantic gardens, there is a nature tram tour, a boat tour, and the Audubon Swamp Garden. They also offer a specialized bird walk on Sundays led by a local ornithologist. We personally saw several species of birds, squirrels, turtles, and alligators during our visit at Magnolia. The plantation has a number of ponds and lakes, swampland, and is next to the Ashley River so changes of seeing waterfowl and other water critters are very high.
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Many of the other plantations do offer self-guided nature trails, including Middleton Place and Drayton Hall. The best plantations for those interested in seeing period furnishings, antiques, and family heirlooms from the antebellum period would be Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation. Almost all the objects had been owned by the Middleton family, and include family portraits, Charleston rice beds, and an extensive collection of English silver.
Magnolia Plantation includes furniture, household objects, art, and antiques from the Drayton family who have owned the plantation since These objects are displayed across 10 different rooms and include portraits, quilts, and early American antiques. For anyone interested in antiques, Drayton Hall also deserves a mention here.
Although the house itself is largely unfurnished, there is a collection of furnishings and artifacts from the Drayton family on display in the new Gates Gallery. This includes a c. However, only 4 rooms on the main floor are open to the public to tour as the top two floors are being used as a private residence. Plantations tours are not always a great fit for children, especially younger children, who can have a hard time standing still or paying attention during longer tours about history, slavery, architecture, and antiques.
The two plantations with the more kid-friendly offerings are Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place. Both also offer sandwiches and snacks on site. Middleton Place offers lots of space for kids to wander around in the gardens, farm animals, carriage rides, and craftspeople doing different crafts demonstrations such as candle making and pottery. Charleston Tea Plantation offers a short video-guided factory tour and a trolley tour to see the tea plantation.
Boone Hall Plantation has gardens, a tractor tour, outdoor Gullah theater talks, and a seasonal butterfly pavilion. Charleston Tea Plantation is a real working plantation outside Charleston. The trolley tour takes you around the fields and you get to see how tea is grown, picked, processed, and brewed. Boone Hall is one of the oldest continuously working farms in the country, and has been producing crops for over years. They no longer commercially grow indigo or cotton, but they raise a number of fruits and vegetables including strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, and asparagus.
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Visitors can take a tractor tour to explore the farm at Boone Hall and learn both about the historical workings of the plantation as well as the current farming operations. Fresh produce is available to purchase at the Boone Hall Farms Market near the plantation. At certain times of the year, visitors can even pick their own basket of fruit as part of the U-Pick-Em business.
Although no longer a working plantation, McLeod Plantation offers tours about Sea Island cotton cultivation and processing. They also started growing a small amount of Sea Island cotton on the property in for educational purposes.
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Four of the plantations offer food on site. Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall both have casual on-site cafes where you can get sandwiches and hot food. Boone Hall has a small cafe with sandwiches, snacks, ice cream, and drinks. There is also a cafe at Boone Farms Market located a 5 minute drive away which has more hot food and meal options.
Middleton Place Plantation has both a casual cafe and more formal sit-down restaurant.
The casual garden cafe offers sandwiches, snacks, and ice cream. The Middleton Place restaurant serves seasonal, local Lowcountry cuisine. Reservations are recommended for dinner. Neither McLeod Plantation or Charleston Tea Plantation offer food, although Charleston offers free tea tastings and both sell snacks in their respective gift shops.
Only one of the plantations, Middleton Place, offers on site accommodation. Despite having 55 rooms, it can book up quickly so plan ahead and book online. Charleston has many options ranging from budget hotels to 5-star ones. We will break up the choices into options in central Charleston, and ones that are a little further out near some of the plantations. You can save some money by staying outside of central Charleston, such as in Mount Pleasant, near the airport, or in Summerville.
This is only recommended for those with cars as it can be difficult getting around without a car outside of the city. Each plantation has its own website that will offer all you need to know about admission prices, tour times, whether tickets can be booked in advance, closure dates, restaurant openings, contact information, etc. For more trip planning information check out our suggested 2 day Charleston itinerary and the local Charleston official tourism website.
If you are traveling elsewhere in the Southeast, you might also want to take a look at our suggested Deep South road trip itinerary. Charleston is full of interesting historical and cultural attractions. A few possibilities include:. To help you start planning your time in Charleston, take a look at our suggested 2 day Charleston itinerary. We have the full run down on the six major plantations near Charleston. We focus on those that are open year-round to the public, offer regular tours and other tourist services, and are of greatest interest to visitors. Do note that there are other plantations in and around Charleston.
Many of these are either private residences or being used as private hire wedding and event spaces such as Lowndes Grove Plantation.
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But there are other plantation houses and plantation historic sites worth visiting that are open to the public and most are run by state, federal, or city government entities. These sites offer fewer tourist services but are recommended for those with greater interest and more time to explore plantations in the area. Below is a map of the Charleston plantations.
You can click here or click on the map photo below to see or interact with the detailed map.
Charleston’s Best Tour Guides
Now, we take a detailed look at each of the six Charleston plantations, listed in no particular order:. Magnolia Plantation is one of the most visited plantations near Charleston. It was founded in by the Drayton Family, making it one of the oldest plantations in the country. Rice was the primary crop grown here and it was one of the first rice plantations along the Ashley River.
The plantation is still owned by the Drayton family who have maintained the plantation through wars and natural disasters. The original house was ransacked by the British but survived the Revolutionary War.
During the Civil War, Union troops set fire to the second house here in , burning it to the ground. He created a series of romantic gardens while recovering from tuberculosis to help his new wife Julia from Philadelphia feel more at home.
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