Saturday, May 05, 2007

Magnolia Plantation Foundation & Digital Slave Records

Across My Desk:

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: The following was just received from founding director Toni Carrier. All inquiries should be addressed to:

Thursday, May 3, 2007 - The Magnolia Plantation Foundation, the not-for-profit affiliate of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens near Charleston, S.C., has agreed to sponsor an online archive of plantation records that documents the family lineages of enslaved Africans and free African-Americans who worked at Magnolia before and after emancipation.

Lowcountry Africana will be a precedent-setting website dedicated entirely to records that tell the family genealogy, history and daily lives of free and enslaved people at Magnolia. The workers were Gullah people who had retained more of their African way of life than any other black community in the United States.

Toni Carrier, the website’s creator, said with the plantation records "we will reconstruct the lineages of enslaved Africans and African Americans on Drayton family plantations, so that descendants might connect with ancestors and learn more about their lives. When you delve into the plantation records, stories begin to emerge of the courage, struggles, resilience and life experiences of those who lived through the experience of slavery."

Lowcountry Africana is expected to be launched in March 2008 at the same time that Magnolia is scheduled to debut its “From Slavery to Freedom” project, an archaeological study and restoration of the plantation’s original slave “street” that will tell the story of the enslaved and free workers at Magnolia. The workers lived in four 1850s cabins and one turn-of-the-century dwelling that still stand today.

Meanwhile, Magnolia Plantation’s slave cabin project has received support from a prestigious foundation. The Annenberg Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to the Magnolia Plantation Foundation to support “From Slavery to Freedom: The Magnolia Plantation Slave Cabin Project.”

Taylor Drayton Nelson, director of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, said the Magnolia Plantation Foundation’s sponsorship of the Lowcountry Africana website is a unique and fresh way of looking at the subject of slavery, genealogy and African-American history.

“We see this as a critical addition to what we are doing with the cabin project,” Nelson said. “Our project, by giving a tangible interpretation of African-American life over the last 200 years, will hopefully inspire public interest in this facet of American history. We feel strongly that Lowcountry Africana will broaden this interest in history by making it applicable to individuals’ own lives today.”

The Lowcountry Africana website is affiliated with the Africana Heritage Project, based at the University of South Florida, which offers a free online archive of 4,000 documents, transcriptions and pictures. The USF Africana Heritage Project is an all-volunteer research project of the Africana Studies department at the University of South Florida, dedicated to rediscovering records that document the names and lives of enslaved people, freed persons and their descendants, and sharing those records on their free Internet site at

Carrier, the founder of the USF project, is quick to praise the small handful of dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to rediscover and share records of African American genealogy and history. "Our volunteers, as well as our reader-contributors, are the life’s breath of our organization,” she said. “Their dedication is simply amazing."

Nelson said he is impressed with Carrier’s effervescent enthusiasm for the work she plans to do with Magnolia. “This subject comes alive for her each times she gives a presentation,” Nelson said. “The generosity of spirit and effort she has brought to the project as a whole is what will make it a success.
“I am amazed she has been able to build such a broad organization with limited funds. It speaks volumes for her spirit and the passion of others for the subject,” he said. “Passion is precisely what makes things like this work.”

Carrier said the Magnolia Foundation’s support of the website sets “an example for progressive stewardship of records that name enslaved people, freed persons and their descendants and illuminate their lives.
“The Magnolia Foundation is taking an unflinching look at its African-American history,” she said. “They not only are opening their family records for our research but in fact funding an entire website that will serve as an enduring digital archive for plantation records of the Lowcountry.

“There are many, many legacies of slavery in our country that will take a long time to reverse and to heal. Not being able to trace enslaved ancestors does not have to be one of those legacies,” she said. “The foundation is taking significant steps to fill the information gap of the role that Africans and African Americans have played in shaping American history.

“Charleston was a major point of entry for enslaved Africans who were brought to America,” Carrier said. “Scholars have estimated that some 60 percent of African Americans alive today had at least one ancestor who came from or through Charleston. These records are therefore important pieces of the puzzle for African Americans tracing their family's heritage.”

Magnolia was owned by the Drayton family. The family owned as many as half a dozen plantations. At Magnolia, there were about 40 enslaved individuals at the time of the Civil War.

“We are going to look at the Drayton family records as a whole,” Carrier said. “We are finding that this approach is essential in the Lowcountry, because so often when individuals and communities were sold away they were purchased by members of the same family.”

Lowcountry Africana will contain more than the Magnolia plantation records. It will include:

  • A searchable database of primary historical documents of the Lowcountry that would be of interest to genealogists, historians and other scholars.
  • A place where archives with major holdings on Lowcountry plantations can share birth, death and other records of enslaved people and communities.
  • A place where key Lowcountry researchers can share content of their choosing with readers.
  • Teachers’ resources and lesson plans for using the primary documents on Lowcountry Africana in the classroom.

Family tree files containing information on family lineages constructed from plantation records with associated documents, photographs and multimedia. Readers will be able to download family files and print custom reports to build books on their family’s history.

Nelson said the Africana Heritage Project is “rediscovering these forgotten documents and heretofore neglected history. Through modern techniques of research, they are able to bring the pieces of the puzzle together so anyone interested in his or her own history or African American history in general will be able to benefit from the project's expert research.”

For more information about Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and the "From Slavery to Freedom" interpretive center, please contact Jane Taylor Knight at 843-571-1266 or visit the Magnolia Plantation website at

For more information about the USF Africana Heritage Project, please contact:

Toni Carrier
Founding Director
USF Africana Heritage Project

Mailing Address:

4202 E. Fowler Avenue
FAO 270
Tampa, FL 33620

or visit the Africana Heritage Project website at .

Related Articles:
Magnolia Plantation to Sponsor AH Sister Site Lowcountry Africana

USF Africana Heritage Project Press Kit

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