The Port Royal Experiment was a bold Federal government – private initiative to ready the former enslaved abandoned by their owners after the Battle of Port Royal Sound in November 1861 for life as freed individuals. In early 1862, Edward L. Pierce and Rev. Mansfield French arrived to survey local conditions and circumstances and determine what should be done. Soon representatives of the American Missionary Association, Educational Commission of Boston, the National Freedman’s Relief Association, and the Port Royal Relief Committee began schools to educate the freedmen, dispensed medical services, and other relief as needed.  Many of these so-called “Gideonites” later worked with the Freedman’s Bureau from 1865 – 1872. A few stayed many years, among them Laura M. Towne whose Penn School became one of the first institutions to educate the former enslaved.

Compiled by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Beaufort District Collection Manager, Beaufort County Library (SC). Latest revision: 30 November 2020. All links active on 5 May 2020. Created: 21 February 2011.0530004267437_Teachers

“Teachers” (Reed Collection, Beaufort District Collection)

Online Resources:

“Port Royal Experiment”  by Lawrence S. Rowland, South Carolina Encyclopedia, last updated 24 October 2016.
First Days Amongst the Contrabands by Elizabeth Hyde Botume, Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1893.
Beaufort SC and Surrounding Sea Islands Women’s History Sites by Peggy Thompson includes links to original documents and short essays about Laura Towne, Ellen Murray, Charlotte Forten, Frances Gage, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Susie King Taylor, Esther Hill Hawks, Eliza McGuffin Potter, Rachel Mather, Elizabeth Botume and Harriet Ware.

The Lifestyle of Freedmen at Mitchelville, Hilton Head Island: Evidence of a Changing Pattern of Afro-American Archaeological Visibility by Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, 2001.

Of Freedom Unto All: An Archaeological Examination of the Port Royal Experiment by Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, 2001.

Archaeological Manifestations of the “Port Royal Experiment” at Mitchelville, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina by Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, 2001.

The Port Royal Experiment” by Ben Parton in the Essential Civil War Curriculum web series at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, 2010 – present.

New South newspaper (March 15, 1861 – September 29, 1866) is also available on microfilm in our Research Room.

Beaufort Republican newspaper (October 12, 1871 – October 16, 1873) is also available on microfilm in our Research Room.

For a visual treat in case you are unaware of some of the treasures about Smith’s Plantation in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs catalog.  Insert the keywords “Smith’s Plantation Beaufort” in the search box for 14 highly relevant results (as of this revision).

The Beaufort District Collection has two mid-19th century stereoscopic photograph collections posted online through our long partnership with the Lowcountry Digital Library that contain images of the Port Royal area:

Civil War and Reconstruction Era Stereoscope Photographs of the Port Royal Region 

L.A. Hall Collection of Civil War and Reconstruction Era Stereoscope Photographs

Check out these materials from a SCLENDS Library:

After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861 – 1877 by Joel Williamson, University Press of New England, 1990.

Bury Me Not in a Land of Slaves: African-Americans in the Time of Reconstruction by Joyce Hansen, F. Watts, 2000.

Cultivating a New South: Abbie Holmes Christensen and the Politics of Race and Gender, 1852-1938 by Monica Maria Tetzlaff, University of South Carolina, 2002.
Carse Dept of the South

Department of the South: Hilton Head Island in the Civil War by Robert Carse, State Print Co., 1961. Photographic image on p. 58 of Department of the South by Carse has this caption: “The tents and arbors put up by General Stevens’ men by the Smith plantation house were still in use when this picture was taken, in 1864.” The “Illustrations Credits” on p. x, state that “Photographs in this book are from the United States War Department General Staff and from the private collection of Charles E. Fraser.”

Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: Written from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862 – 1884, edited by Rupert Sargent Holland, Reprint ed., Higginson Book Co., 1996.

The Northern Teacher in the South, 1862-1870 by Henry Lee Swint, Octagon Books, 1967.

Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861 – 1893, volume 2: The History of Beaufort County South Carolina by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland, University of South Carolina Press, 2015. 7484

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863 – 1877 by Eric Foner, HarperPerennial, 2014.

Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment by Willie Lee Rose, Oxford University Press, 1976. This remains the most important book about the era as it played out on the Sea Islands in Beaufort District.

A Sea Island Diary: A History of St. Helena Island by Edith Dabbs, Reprint Co., 1983.

Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861 – 1876 by Ronald E. Cutchart, University of North Carolina, 2010.

The Story of Sea Island Cotton by Richard Porcher and Sarah Fick, Gibbs Smith, 2010.

Yankee-ScholarYankee Missionaries in the South: The Penn School Experiment by Elizabeth Jacoway, Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina: William Francis Allen’s Civil War Journals edited by James Robert Hester, University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

Come to the Beaufort District Collection Research Room to view these materials:

A careful search of the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine indexes, 1900-1999 is always recommended. We have a complete run of this magazine inside our Research Room.
SC B FORTEN  A Tribute to Charlotte Forten by Roberta Hughes Wright, Charro Book Co., 1993.
SC B WALKER Journal of Miss Susan Walker, March 3d to June 6th, 1862; edited by Henry Nobel Sherwood, Press of Jennings and Graham, 1912.
SC 306.3621 CON Constitution of the Educational Commission by the New-England Educational Commission for Freedmen, Educational Commission, 1862.
SC 306.3621 EDU Educational Commission: Boston, Feb. 20, 1862 by Henry I. Bowditch et al., Educational Commission, 1862.
SC 306.3621 EXT Extracts from Letters of Teachers and Superintendents of the New-England Educational Commission for Freedmen, D. Clapp, 1864
SC 306.3621 PEA Three Years Among the Freedmen: William C. Gannett and the Port Royal Experiment by William H. Pease, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1957. 51AzKparJHL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_
SC 306.3621 WIL After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861 – 1877 by Joel Williamson, University Press of New England, 1990.
SC 370 SWI The Northern Teacher in the South, 1862-1870 by Henry Lee Swint, Octagon Books, 1967.
SC 371.82996 BUT Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876 by Ronald E. Butchart, University of North Carolina, 2010.
SC 372.757 UNI University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.  The Penn School papers in the Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill.  Finding aid and guide.
SC 378.75799 VIR 2016 Virtue, Liberty, Science : A Legacy of Education in Beaufort County History and Reflections on the Occasion of the Investiture of Dr. Al M. Panu as the second Chancellor of the University of South Carolina Beaufort edited by J. Brent Morris, Lowcountry Scholars Press, 2016.
SC 929.2 HOW In Charles Howard Family Domestic History by Thomas D. Howard, Privately Printed, 1956, pp. 105-106 discussion of Emancipation Day ceremony at Smith’s Plantation; his experiences as Sea islands teacher for the newly freedmen, pp. 83-112.

SC 973 HAN 2000 Bury me not in a land of slaves: African-Americans in the Time of Reconstruction by Joyce Hansen, F. Watts, 2000.

SC 973.715 BOT First Days Amongst the Contrabands by Elizabeth Hyde Botume, Lee and Shepard, 1893.

SC 973.77579 ALL 2015 A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina: William Francis Allen’s Civil War Journals edited by James Robert Hester, University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

41XJWZ93J2L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_ SC 973.8 TEL  Cultivating a New South: Abbie Holmes Christensen and the Politics of Race and Gender, 1852-1938 by Monica Maria Tetzlaff, University of South Carolina Press, 2002.

SC 973.8175 TRO 1866 The South: A Tour of its Battle-fields and ruined cities … and embracing special notes on the free labor system, education and moral elevation of the freedmen …. by J. T. Trowbridge, L. Stebbins, 1866.
SC 975.7 TRI The Lifestyle of Freedmen at Mitchelville, Hilton Head Island: Evidence of a Changing Pattern of Afro-American Archaeological Visibility by Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, 2001.
SC 975.704 TRI Of Freedom Unto All: An Archaeological Examination of the Port Royal Experiment by Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, 2001.
 
SC 975.704 VIG  The Port Royal Experiment: Forty Acres and a Mule?: A Unit of Study for Grades 8-12 by David Vigilante, National Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los Angeles, 1991.
SC 975.799 DAB Sea Island Diary: A History of St. Helena Island by Edith Dabbs, Reprint Co., 1983.
SC 975.799 FIR First Annual Report of the Port Royal Relief Committee in Concert Hall, Chestnut St., Philadelphia, March 26th, 1863, printed by Merrihew A. Thompson, 1863.
SC 975.799 FOR The Forgotten History: A Photographic Essay on Civil War Hilton Head Island by Charles C. McCracken, Time Again, 1993.
SC 975.799 MCG GettingTheir Hands on the Land by Mary Jennie McGuire, University of South Caorlina, 1985.
Yankee Missionaries Penn School
SC 975.799 JAC Yankee Missionaries in the South: The Penn School Experiment by Elizabeth Jacoway, Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
SC 975.799 POR The Story of Sea Island Cotton by Richard Dwight Porcher and Sarah Fick, Gibbs Smith, 2010 has a very useful appendix about the history of individual cotton plantations on St. Helena and Edisto Islands.

SC 975.799 PEN The Nomination of the “Emancipation Proclamation Site” to the National Register, 1993-1995 by the Michigan Support Group of Penn Center of the Sea Islands, no date given. 20 pages. Annotation: On January 1, 1863, Brigadier General Rufus Saxton told the contraband slaves who had assembled at the John Joiner Smith Plantation that they were formally free. One hundred thirty years later, a re-enactment of that momentous event was staged on the site involving local and state government officials, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers Reenactment group, the Penn Center organization, and interested citizens. This brief but meaty booklet details the nomination of the site for the National Register of Historic Places, supplying copies of the original submission for inclusion and supporting documentation. (gmc)

SC 975.799 ROW V. 2 Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861 – 1893, volume 2: The History of Beaufort County South Carolina by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland, University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

SC 975.799 TOW Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: Written from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862 – 1884, edited by Rupert Sargent Holland, Reprint ed., Higginson Book Co., 1996.

SC 975.799 TRI The Archaeological Manifestations of the “Port Royal Experiment” at Mitchelville, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina by Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, 2001.

Beaufort County Historical Society Papers

BCHS Paper, #45. “The Great Port Royal Experiment Following the War Between the States,” by W. Brantley Harvey, Jr., unpublished paper presented before the Beaufort County Historical Society, no date.

BCHS Paper, #53. “Occupation of the Beaufort Area by Northern Forces During the War,” by Roger Pinckney, 10th. , unpublished paper presented before the Beaufort County Historical Society, 1975.

BCHS Paper, #62. “William Henry Brisbane: South Carolina Slaveholder and Abolitionist,” by Blake McNulty, unpublished paper presented before the Beaufort County Historical Society, 1984.

SC MM 5 “Connecticut Yankee in a Praise House School” by Dr. Josephine W. Martin, 40th Annual Meeting Address South Caroliniana Society, 21 April 1976.

BDC Vertical Files

  • Port Royal Experiment
  • Reconstruction Heritage Partnership
  • History—Reconstruction, 1865-1898
  • Emancipation Oak
    1. See Oaks (tree)
    2. See also Emancipation Proclamation – Commemoration
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Emancipation Proclamation – Commemoration
  • Gannett, William Channing (1840-1923)
  • Towne, Laura Matilda (1825-1901)
  • Grimke, Charlotte Lottie Forten (1837-1914)
  • Schools – Mather School
BDC-Map106ex_Gray Hill School Farm_600dip
Extract of Tax Commissioners Map, BDC Map 106

Maps

Map #283  Smiths Plantation, 26 May 1864

Maps #102 -117, 274, 629 and 804 relate to the Tax Sale of properties 1863 – 1876

Microfilm

Penn Center, Inc. Penn School Papers, 1862-1976 [33 Microfilm reels, BDC only]

The Penn School, 1862-1948 [Microfilm] :  A Look at Negro Education in South Carolina :  Master’s Thesis, UNC-Chapel Hill, 1968.

New South newspaper (March 15, 1861 – September 29, 1866)

Free South newspaper (January 17, 1863 – November 19, 1864)

Palmetto Herald newspaper (March 17, 1864 – December 29, 1864)

Beaufort Republican newspaper (October 12, 1871 – October 16, 1873) – also online at

April 1874)

Palmetto Post newspaper (January 5, 1882 – December 27, 1906)

See also guides to selective materials and links about Penn School, Laura Towne, Charlotte Forten and Rachel Mather.

Note: The Beaufort District Collection (BDC) exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of the South Carolina lowcountry wedged between the Combahee (pronounced “kum-bee”) and Savannah Rivers.

Contact the Beaufort District Collection at 843-255-6468 or e-mail bdc@bcgov.net for additional information about local history and archives relating to the people, places, and themes of the history, culture, and natural environment of Beaufort County, Jasper County and Hampton County, South Carolina.

Please check the Beaufort County Library (SC) system’s homepage for current hours of operation and locations.

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