The History of the Hutchinson’s Land

Hutchinson Family in Field
Henry and Rosa Hutchinson posing with their daughters, Lula and Mabel, for a photo in a field of Sea Island cotton

The land where the Hutchinson House sits is just as significant as the home itself. It is land steeped in history dating back to the Oristo Indians and continuing through the first settlers of Edisto Island, Plantation Aristocracy, Reconstruction, Jim Crowe, the Great Depression, into modern day. The full history of Edisto Island is displayed through this one family’s farm.

The property is located along the only high ground route from the interior of Edisto Island to the Native American shell rings of Fig Island along the North Edisto. The Oristo tribe wintered on Edisto, harvesting her bountiful oysters and seafood and manufacturing pottery until spring. Over the years the shells of the oysters they ate and the shards of pottery that failed the kiln were piled high in rings along the marsh. Millennia old archaeological treasure troves that exist to this day. It is no stretch to think the Oristo trekked for many years through the land that would come to belong to the Hutchinsons.

When English colonists first settlers Edisto Island, they divided the land through grants. The first grant on Edisto Island, to Paul Grimball in 1690, included the land where the Hutchinson House sits. Being on the far end of the 2,300 acre land grant, this land was likely the last to be cleared and scarcely worked until after the Revolutionary War, when Sea Island Cotton made its debut.

Sea Island Cotton became widely planted on the Sea Islands of South Carolina starting around 1790. It filled the need for an upland cash crop in the wake of the Indigo markets collapse. With it came an insatiable demand for its long, silken lint and a growing hunger to plant it as far and wide as possible, no matter the cost in human suffering. Around Sea Island Cotton was built the Plantation aristocracy that swallowed Edisto Island whole. African Slaves were shipped into the North Edisto by the thousands annually to fuel the cultivation of both Cotton and Rice. Untold pain and grief was endured by the enslaved in the antebellum. During this period, this property was subdivided and eventually married out of the Grimball name and into the Clark name. It belonged to a plantation known as Shell House or Clark Plantation. The Clark Manor stood next door to the Hutchinson House, just a few hundred feet to the west. It contained several outbuildings, including a cotton gin house and nine slave cabins.

In 1860 the Civil War began. Port Royal fell quickly and the Union Navy was poised to take Edisto. All white Edistonians evacuated Edisto Island in fear of being captured. For a short time, slaves on Edisto were without masters and governed the Island as they saw fit. Clark Manor was occupied throughout this time by former slaves and its lands worked to feed their families. However, soon the Union Navy came to occupy the Island. A number of Edisto men joined the Navy to fight and many families were relocated to Port Royal.

With the end of the War and the Confederate’s defeat, former slaves were granted their freedom and white Edistonians returned to their plantations. With shocking speed the land grants freedmen held and the authority of the Freedman’s Bureau possessed began to evaporate. Plantation owners reclaimed their lands and freedmen were forced to sign labor contracts or being evicted and starve. Seeing the need for action, freedmen on the Island moved politically to seek aid from the federal government to secure land for Freedmen, a movement led by community leaders like Jim Hutchinson and John Thorne. Sadly, their plights fell mostly on deaf ears. Unable to be deterred, Jim Hutchinson and John Thorne took matters into their own hands. Jim continued his political campaign while supporting his family through his farm on Seaside Plantation. John, being a business man by trade, supported the community through economic pursuits. Both men organized cooperative land purchase agreements on Edisto Island to secure land for freedmen.

The site of the Hutchinson House was purchased by a cooperative organized by Jim to purchase all 404 acres of Shell House plantation. The land, once purchased, was divided among the contributors to the agreement according to the amount they contributed. Jim Hutchinson secured 74 acres of highland and 90 acres of marshland, including Clark Manor and all its outbuildings, from the purchase in 1875. Other members of the cooperative, each having received between 10 and 20 acres of unimproved land, had their doubts on the fairness of this deal and a lawsuit was levied against James Hutchinson. The suit was long and drawn out; Jim’s murder in 1885 complicated it further. Eventually, the suit was settled and the Hutchinsons retained all of their lands. Jim’s son, Henry Hutchinson, inherited the tracts where Clark Manor still stood and where he had finished building his home.

Henry Hutchinson began building his home after his marriage to Rosa Swinton and completed it around his father’s death in 1885. Located adjacent to Clark Manor on a shallow ridge, the elevated two-story building was ideally located to catch the breeze of Ocella Creek and access the road to Point of Pines. Once his home was complete, Henry refurbished the cotton gin house next door. By 1900 Henry had become a successful Sea Island Cotton planter. He made a name for himself in Charleston through his early maturing, high quality Sea Island Cotton that he sold to his factor Dill, Ball, & Co. Henry became a pillar of his community by operating a local cotton gin and offering loans to neighbors to purchase farming necessities. By ginning cotton for his fellow freedmen and acting as a middleman to sell their baled cotton directly to his factor in Charleston, Henry was able to circumvent many of the economic prejudices his fellow freedmen farmers faced in the cotton market. This secured them a better price per pound of cotton and the extra volume of product allowed Henry to work directly with a factor to receive investment capital and agricultural loans. The crop that had once trapped them into slavery was now their means of means of economic sovereignty. Henry also grew vegetable crops for his family to eat and raised both cattle and chickens. 

As Henry entered his 60s the Boll Weevil entered Edisto Island. With it came the decimation of Sea Island Cotton harvests for decades to come. No longer profitable to grow, farmers abandoned cotton to pursue truck cropping and livestock. Henry continued to grow Sea Island Cotton, if only as an ornamental, into the 1930s. Henry passed away in 1941 and Rosa in 1949. With Rosa’s passing, their daughter, Lula, inherited the land. Lula Hutchinson Whaley was a school teacher at Larimer High School on Edisto Island. Lula raised her family in her parent’s home and cared for many a grandchild under its roof. She planted the bulb-flower gardens and the fruit and nut trees that surround the house to this day.

The land and home passed through the hands of several Hutchinson heirs after Lula before it eventually found itself for sale on the open market in 2016. A community wide push was made to purchase the property to preserve the home. The Edisto Island Open Land Trust stepped up as the organization to purchase the home and secured a short term loan to buy the 9 acre parcel. Through fundraising we were able to pay off the loan by the end of the following year. With the financial assistance of the Charleston County Greenbelt Program, EIOLT was able to purchase the adjacent 9 acre parcel in 2019 to buffer the home from residential development. Now the Edisto Island Open Land Trust owns the home and the land it sits on with the goal of restoring the home, interpreting the history of the land, and building a community driven public greenspace for Edisto Island.

Stewarding the Hutchinson’s Land

As a land trust, our primary goal is to preserve the ecological and agricultural integrity of the lands of Edisto Island and its surrounding coastal communities. To this end we must steward the land we own and the Hutchinson House is no exception. In fact, the Hutchinson House is the site of our most intense stewardship work. Because the property is publicly accessible, we have implemented many habitat improvement activities so we can interpret their importance to visitors.

Our environmental interpretation of the site compliments our historical interpretation to educate visitors on not just the importance of preserving our history as Edistonians but also our natural environment. Bluebird nestboxes, bat boxes, pollinator gardens, wildflower meadows, and a demonstration Sea Island Cotton plot provide us centerpieces to articulate the significance of protecting the land we steward.

Sea Island Cotton

As part of both our historical and environmental interpretation of the property, EIOLT maintains a small plot of Sea Island Cotton for demonstration. Henry Hutchinson made his living and based his entrepreneurial business on producing, processing, and selling Sea Island Cotton for the Charleston market. He planted his own lands in cotton and ginned cotton for his neighbors. Henry’s cotton gin was built inside the Clark Manor’s old cotton house, which Henry refurbished. A cotton house was a special two or three story outbuilding on a plantation that housed all of the cotton processing facilities. Here cotton from the field was dried, cleaned, ginned, cleaned again, and then packed in bales to be shipped to market. Henry is believed to have owned and operated a steam-powered McCarthy Gin in his cotton house, an expensive and modern machine for the time that could quickly handle massive amounts of cotton with few laborers. Henry acted as a middleman, handling the processing and shipping of the cotton and distributing the profits accordingly. Our demonstration Sea Island Cotton plot gives us a living exhibit to interpret this important facet of the Hutchinson’s history to visitors.

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