Introduction

There is nothing like history when it comes alive. Too often tossed aside in unread books, or overlooked in cavernous museums, our shared history is needed more than ever as we collectively work to build a more inclusive, compassionate, and tolerant community.  The Hutchinson House, constructed around 1885, is one of the oldest surviving houses built by African Americans during the Reconstruction Era on Edisto Island.

Henry began building the home on Point of Pines road after his marriage to Rosa Swinton and completed it after his father’s death. To get the full picture of the structure’s significance, we need to start with the life of Henry’s father, James Hutchinson.

James “Jim” Hutchinson

Jim was born enslaved circa 1836 and was brought up at Peter’s Point Plantation. He was mulatto and oral tradition has always claimed him to be the son of the Plantation owner, Isaac Jenkins Mikell. Jim married his first wife Nancy and had 3 children, Lewis, Henry, & Maria. On December 20th 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union and, on April 12th 1861, Fort Moultrie fired upon Fort Sumter, starting the American Civil War. In the fall of 1861, Port Royal was captured by the Union Navy and the Confederacy ordered the evacuation of all whites on Edisto Island. Many plantation owners took slaves with them but few, if any, evacuated with all of them. This left many slaves, Jim and his family included, without masters on Edisto. For all intents and purposes they were free for the first time. The Union soon came and occupied the coast, now referring to the former slaves as “contrabands.” In 1863, ten planters’ sons volunteered for a scouting mission to Edisto Island. They left Adam’s Run and crossed over at Jehossee to set up camp at Tom Seabrook Plantation on Milton Creek. There they monitored the movements of the Union Navy and reported back to the mainland. Their presence was soon known to the contrabands. In April of 1863, a few contrabands, among them Jim, hailed the Kingfisher, a Union patrol boat, and informed the crew of the location of the Confederate Scouts. Soon, the Union Navy had surrounded and captured nine of the ten scouts including Townsend Mikell, the son of Jim’s former master. The following winter, Jim joined the Union Navy and served aboard the Kingfisher before being transferred to the Vermont and then the McDonough. He was discharged in April of 1865 and returned home to Edisto Island a free man.

After the war, the Union Navy was replaced by the Freedman’s Bureau as the governing body on the island. However, it wasn’t long before the plantation owners began to return and they began to reclaim their lands. The Bureau had issued freedmen land grants for homesteads on former plantation lands. At first, the Bureau required the plantation owners to honor the land grants in full but the power of the Bureau quickly began to erode. Before long the grants were devalued and in only a few years they were barely worth anything. The Freedman’s Bureau also negotiated work contracts between the freedmen and plantation owners in an effort to ensure fairness for the freedmen but their authority there withered away as well. This left the freedmen in a terrible position, their options were either to leave the Island in search of work or sharecrop for their former masters on terms they could hardly negotiate. Jim held a land grant at Bayview after the war but his title was eventually revoked by presidential order in 1868 and the plantation owner repossessed Jim’s land.

The freedmen were acutely aware of their circumstances and not at all happy with their position. Jim Hutchinson was especially upset and he set about trying to fight for a better living for the freedmen of the Sea Islands. Jim set himself to political activism in his community, ran for election in local politics, partnered in the creation of a black-owned ferry company, and organized land purchase cooperatives among freedmen. All in an effort to get titles to land in the hands of the people that needed it.

In 1870, Jim chaired the committee that sent a letter to the Governor petitioning for the purchase of a plantation to divide among the freedmen of Edisto. In 1872, he organized a land purchase cooperative for him and twelve other freedmen to purchase 234 acres of Seaside Plantation. In a land purchase coop, each member pays a share of the purchase price and receives a proportional amount of land in return. This allows buyers with limited funds to work together to purchase large tracts of land to subdivide amongst themselves. Jim purchased approximately 30 acres of Seaside and moved his family there. He planted the land to make a living. In 1874, Jim was appointed the Trial Judge for Edisto Island for a short period but was not cut out for the position. In 1874, Jim entered into a partnership with several other investors to start the Toglio Ferry Company. Given that there were no bridges on or off Edisto Island at the time, having a black-owned ferry company would be a great boon to the freedmen community. They could now rest easy knowing that they would receive fair treatment and prices from the ferry when shipping crops to market or heading into town for business. In 1875, Jim organized a second land coop with 21 other freedmen and was successful in purchasing 404 acres of the Clark’s Shell House Plantation. From this coop, Jim received 74 acres of high ground and 90 acres of marsh, including the old Clark Manor and all its outbuildings. In 1878 and 1880, Jim was elected as a delegate to the Charleston County Republican Party Convention and, in 1882 and 1884, he was elected as Precinct Chairman for Edisto Island in the Convention.

On July 4th 1885, James Hutchinson was shot dead at the home of his son Lewis. As the story goes, Frederick Barth, a white man from Wadmalaw, broke an oar rowing over to Edisto. He finished his business at Bailey’s Store and hitched a ride on a horse with Mr. Bailey back to his boat. When he passed Lewis’ house, they stopped to ask Lewis about borrowing an oar. The Fourth of July was a major holiday for freedmen and the Hutchinson family was holding their celebration at Lewis’ home. Jim came out to meet the men and ordered them to leave. An argument is inferred to have happened and Jim reportedly tried to pull Barth off the horse. Jim was known for having a short-temper, confrontational nature, and deep-seated distrust of whites. So this chain of events would not be entirely out of character for him. Barth then drew his pistol and shot Jim, hitting him in the groin, before he and Mr. Bailey fled on horseback. Jim passed away in Lewis’ home shortly thereafter. Barth was arrested, tried, and convicted of manslaughter. He appealed and the ruling was overturned on new witness testimony. Barth walked free a year later.

Jim was a man full of conviction, fiery passion, and persistence. He did much to better the lives of his friends, family, and neighbors on Edisto Island and he fought viciously for what he felt was right and just. He put his whole effort into his goals and was not afraid to have at it with anyone he felt was in his way. Jim clawed his way up from slave, to sailor, to planter, and all the way to investor, broker, politician, and community leader.

Henry Hutchinson

Henry was born enslaved in 1860 on Peter’s Point Plantation. Yet, he was not enslaved for long and by the time he was five years old, he was truly free. We don’t know much about Henry’s early years but we can suspect growing up on an isolated island in a war torn country wrought with political turmoil and economic depression would have been hard for any young man. By the time he was twelve years old, his father, Jim Hutchinson, had purchased 30 acres at Seaside Plantation. Jim moved his family here and they soon made it their home. By 1879, nineteen year old Henry had become a farmer and was working 10 acres of his father’s land. In 1885, he married a Ms. Rosa Swinton from Georgia and his father was killed on the Fourth of July.

Newly married and without a father, Henry started out on his own. On his inheritance he built the Hutchinson House beside the old Clark Manor. Two stories high and elevated above the ground atop of a shallow ridge, Henry’s House commanded attention within his neighborhood. With this strategic location came easy access to Point of Pines Road and use of the well, stable, barn, and cotton house from the old Shell House Plantation. Henry then set about working his land and starting his family. Henry and Rosa had eight children and took in many more children who weren’t their own. Henry raised livestock, grew subsistence crops, and planted Sea Island Cotton on the bulk of his land.

Henry made the bulk of his living off Sea Island Cotton. Freedmen typically grew vegetables and raised livestock for their families but they also planted whatever spare land they had in Sea Island Cotton. Sea Island Cotton was a cash crop that stored well and grew strongly on the Sea Islands. It could reliably be sold for cash, which was necessary to purchase supplies that could not be easily made or grown on the farm. Cash was needed for things like sugar, tools, lumber, and clothing. Henry eventually set to refurbishing the old cotton house and purchased his own steam-powered cotton gin. After the turn of the century, his gin was up and running and he was processing and shipping cotton to market for his neighbors. Henry acted as a middleman between his neighbors and his factor, Dill, Ball, & Company. A factor is like a sponsor for a planter. They loan the planter funds to purchase cottonseed, fertilizer, and supplies and the planter pays them back at the end of the year in bales of cotton. Henry essentially ran a farming coop. The nearby freedmen planters brought their cotton to Henry for processing and packing, Henry shipped that cotton with his own to the factor, the factor sold the cotton, took their payment, and returned the profit. Henry distributed the proceeds to the planters. The planters then returned the following spring to report what supplies they needed to plant that year, Henry took out a loan for the group, purchased supplies, and then distributed them. By doing this, Henry gave neighboring small planters, and himself, access to the crop liens and better prices that factors offered.

You’d think with such a setup, Henry would be able to make a fine living. However, given falling cotton prices and Henry being responsible for other’s debts, he was constantly in debt. His soft heart and generous nature didn’t help him in that respect either. Fortunately, Henry was able to pay off his debts shortly after the arrival of the Boll Weevil. This tiny beetle decimated the Sea Island Cotton Crop and eventually collapsed the market. Henry continued to farm the rest of his life and passed away in 1941 at the age of 80. Rosa passed away in 1949 at the age of 83.

Lula Edith ‘Hutchinson’ Whaley

Lula was born in 1887, the oldest daughter of Henry and Rosa Hutchinson. She pursued a career in teaching and received her teaching certificate from the Avery Institute in 1905. She met her husband, William Whaley, Jr., shortly thereafter on the job. Lula began teaching at the Larimer Colored School the day its doors first opened in 1906. She also taught at the Central Colored School. She was living with her parents, Henry and Rosa, in the Hutchinson House in the 1940s. After her parents passed, she continued living in the house. Lula retired from teaching in 1958 after a 52 year career. Lula is thought to have planted the pecan and fruit trees around the property and started the flower gardens in front of the house. Lula passed away in 1974 at the age of 87.

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