“The silence of landscape conceals vast presence.” – John O’Donohue
Waves rolling ashore on Edingsville Beach sing me to sleep at night. I am blessed. Two inlets separate the small island, now called Jeremy Cay: Frampton to the north and Jeremy inlet to the south. The beach is quiet and pristine. Remnants of pottery and glass still wash up on the beach. And land with much history always tells her tale. This one, about how loved Edisto was, still survives.
Edingsville was the summer resort of the Sea Island cotton planter families on Edisto in the mid 1800’s, until the hurricanes of 1874 and the more devastating one of 1893 pretty much washed it away. Houses by the sea provided relief from the diseases that plagued those who stayed at the inland plantations, particularly from mosquito-borne malaria, to which the slaves seemed more immune. Planter families spent summers, until the first frost, at the beach.
The houses were beautiful and chimneyed, double storied, with verandas, they say. The dunes were high, and the road over crossed the marsh from Sunnyside on Peters Point Road, over the island to the causeway that still exists, past a spit of land called Cowpens, which I am sure at one time held cows. At Edingsville in her prime, there were 60 finely built houses, an Episcopal and a Presbyterian Church, a school for boys, and even a billiards hall and a hotel, called The Atlantic.
Recently I stumbled upon a beautifully written description of Edingsville, from a journal, written in 1864 by a woman named Charlotte Forten. She was the first black teacher to join the American Civil War’s Sea Island mission, and she taught freed slaves for two years on St. Helena Island. She was born in 1837 in Philadelphia to an affluent and influential family, and her journal, “Life on the Sea Islands” was published in The Atlantic Monthly, May and June, 1864. She died in 1914. The following is what I will rename, “Ah! Edisto a beautiful city!”…
“Early in June, before the summer heat had become unendurable, we made a pleasant excursion to Edisto Island. We left St. Helena village in the morning, dined on one of the gun-boats stationed near our island, and in the afternoon proceeded to Edisto in two row-boats. There were six of us, besides an officer and the boats’ crews, who were armed with guns and cutlasses. There was no actual danger; but as we were going into the enemy’s country, we thought it wisest to guard against surprises.
After a delightful row, we reached the island near sunset, landing at a place called Eddingsville, which was a favorite summer resort with the aristocracy of Edisto. It has a fine beach several miles in length. Along the beach there is a row of houses, which must once have been very desirable dwellings, but have now a desolate, dismantled look. The sailors explored the beach for some distance, and returned, reporting “all quiet, and nobody to be seen”; so we walked on, feeling quite safe, stopping here and there to gather the beautiful tiny shells which were buried deep in the sands.We took supper in a room of one of the deserted houses, using for seats some old bureau-drawers turned edgewise. Afterward we sat on the piazza, watching the lightning playing from a low, black cloud over a sky flushed with sunset, and listening to the merry songs of the sailors who occupied the next house. They had built a large fire, the cheerful glow of which shone through the windows, and we could see them dancing, evidently in great glee. Later, we had another walk on the beach, in the lovely moonlight. It was very quiet then. The deep stillness was broken only by the low, musical murmur of the waves. The moon shone bright and clear over the deserted houses and gardens, and gave them a still wilder and more desolate look. We went within-doors for the night very unwillingly.
Having, of course, no beds, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could on the floor, with boat-cushions, blankets, and shawls. No fear of Rebels disturbed us. There was but one road by which they could get to us, and on that a watch was kept, and in case of their approach, we knew we should have ample time to get to the boats and make our escape. So, despite the mosquitoes, we had a sound night’s sleep.
The next morning we took the boats again, and followed the course of the most winding of little creeks. In and out, in and out, the boats went. Sometimes it seemed as if we were going into the very heart of the woods; and through the deep silence we half expected to hear the sound of a Rebel rifle; The banks were over-hung with a thick tangle of shrubs and bushes, which threatened to catch our boats, as we passed close beneath their branches. In some places the stream was so narrow that we ran aground, and then the men had to get out, and drag and pull with all their might before we could be got clear again.
After a row full of excitement and pleasure, we reached our place of destination, —the Eddings Plantation, whither some of the freedmen had preceded us in their search for corn. It must once have been a beautiful place. The grounds were laid out with great taste, and filled with fine trees, among which we noticed particularly the oleander, laden with deep rose-hued and deliciously fragrant flowers, and the magnolia, with its wonderful, large blossoms, which shone dazzlingly white among the dark leaves. We explored the house, — after it had first been examined by our guard, to see that no foes lurked there, — but found nothing but heaps of rubbish, an old bedstead, and a bathing-tub, of which we afterward made good use.
When we returned to the shore, we found that the tide had gone out, and between us and the boats lay a tract of marsh-land, which it would have been impossible to cross without a wetting. The gentlemen determined on wading. But what were we to do? In this dilemma somebody suggested the bathing-tub, a suggestion which was eagerly seized upon. We were placed in it, one at a time, borne aloft in triumph on the shoulders of four stout sailors, and safely deposited in the boat. But, through a mistake, the tub was not sent back for two of the ladies, and they were brought over on the crossed hands of two of the sailors, in the “carry a-lady-to-London” style.
Again we rowed through the windings of the creek, then out into the open sea, among the white, exhilarating breakers,—reached the gun-boat, dined again with its hospitable officers, and then returned to our island, which we reached after nightfall, feeling thoroughly tired, but well pleased with our excursion.
From what we saw of Edisto, however, we did not like it better than our own island, (St. Helena) except, of course, the beach; but we are told that farther in the interior it is much more beautiful. The freed people, who left it at the time of its evacuation, think it the loveliest place in the world, and long to return. When we were going, Miss T.—the much-loved and untiring friend and physician of the people—asked some whom we met if we should give their love to Edisto. Oh, yes, yes, Miss!” they said. “Ah, Edisto a beautiful city!” And when we came back, they inquired, eagerly, — “How you like Edisto? How Edisto stan’?” Only the fear of again falling into the hands of the “Secesh” prevents them from returning to their much-loved home.”
Ah! Edisto a beautiful city! Yes, indeed, she is!