Around 1696, 50+ Congregationalists from Ipswich, Massachusetts arrived in present-day Charleston. They settled 15 miles north in a community they called Wappetaw, the local Native American word meaning "sweet water." The reason for this big move may never be known for sure, but one theory suggests they were disaffected from New England society because of the Salem Witch Trials, since Ipswich is adjacent to Salem. Though certainly a sensational story, the fact is that there are many reasons why New Englanders might have headed south. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had grown, and the search for more land was common. Also, simply spreading the church is also a consideration. Whether one or all of these reasons are at play, here's a factual timeline of the Wappetaw settlers, their church, and the mark they made on our cultural and historical landscape here in South Carolina.
Men do not like stopping for directions. I am a man. I have stopped twice in 2014.
The first time I stopped this year, my wife, Janis, and I were dreadfully lost in Oconee County. I sighed, spotted a ramshackle store with two missing gas pumps, a huge dumpster, a brown butt-sprung sofa, and a yellow dog with puppies. I eased my Toyota into the gravel parking area, a maneuver that shocked my wife.
In the fading pastel light of a Sierra Nevada winter afternoon, I park my car, grab my jacket and walk toward a distant visitor’s center. It is quiet, so still, so beautiful, so deathly quiet.
“Hi. How are you?” I say to the young woman behind the desk. “I’d like to visit the park.”
“The winter rate is two dollars,” she says. “We don’t get many visitors in the winter, so please give me a few minutes to rewind the movie. If you wish to visit the site of the Donner cabin, there is a path with guided signs behind this building.”
I sit and watch the movie. I already know much about the Donner Expedition, how in 1846 a large group of settlers left Missouri for California way too late in the season, how they made a series of mistakes in their westward journey, how they could have stayed in Reno for the winter but they decided to cross the Sierras in the hopes of reaching California, only to get stuck, right here. Some of the party lived, many died, and a few resorted to cannibalism. Some were selfish, but many were heroic and died so others could live.
The movie ends. I walk out of the building and make my way to where the Donner party hunkered down. It is early December and only a couple of inches of snow are on the ground, so much different from 1846 when the snows began in October, and did not quit. Today, weather experts believe that 1846 was one of the worst winters in California history.
I find the area where the makeshift cabin once stood. I see the huge boulder that served as a back wall, so I remove my glove, run my fingers over the cold stone, and in the twilight of a Sierra Nevada afternoon, I hear the voices.
I walked back to my car that afternoon, thinking that I would never again find such an evocative, deserted historic landmark, but I was wrong.
Brookgreen Gardens is famous for its expansive gardens and impressive sculpture collection (it is America’s first sculpture garden after all). But looking at Brookgreen as an outdoor classroom opens up a whole new world of possibilities. This place beats any textbook out there when it comes to the nature and history unique to this region of South Carolina. Here are a few excursions that offer a deeper look into the whole story of Brookgreen Gardens: