Friday, October 23, 2015

The Haunting Ashley River Plantation Just A Buggy Ride From Magnolia Plantation

The narrative of the unpretentious plantation located on Ashley River Road just a buggy ride from Magnolia Plantation stokes ones imagination. In the midday sun, it is inspirational, at dimday, unearthly. When the sun has disappeared from the changing skyline and the cloak of night has smothered the colors of light, the once sprawling shadows cast by the estate's ancient oak and singular chimney in the light of day melt away into the blackening landscape.

Standing amidst the old ruins, you sense there is something more than what meets the eye, something beguiling. The pervasive darkness and penetrating river atmosphere nourish the unsettling side of ones spirit. The heavy measure of primitive folklore from the plantations haunting Antebellum past permeates every weatherworn rock, moss covered tree and jaded brick. The ominous voices of yesteryear whisper disquieting words in your ear and the hairs on the back of your neck begin to dance. At that moment, you will have experienced the privilege of living the wonder and mystery that is Runnymede Plantation.

Two avenues led to the haunting estate--one of live oaks and the other with skyline hedges of Southern Magnolias. The garden was extraordinary.

There was a walk in the garden called the Alphabet Walk because the name of each tree that bordered it began with a different letter of the alphabet. Along such magical paths, under the plantation's ancient trees along Ashley River Road, wandered Edgar Allen Poe when he lived in Charleston and one finds just such mystical woodlands in his haunting tales.

The name of the plantation was inspired by a thousand year old oak on the estate located at the center of a large meadow overlooking the Ashley River. The pastoral scene reminded the owners of a property in England with a similar setting--its name, Runnymede.

The plantation has been known by three different names during its over three hundred years of history. Its oldest name was "Greenville." Later, it was named after the wife of one of the owner's and called "Sarah Place." After a fire destroyed the original mansion, the Pringle's built a new mansion and named it Runnymede.

Later, Charles C. Pinckney purchased Runnymede from the Pringle's son, William Bull. In 1865, the mansion built by the Pringle's suffered the same fate as the original. It was destroyed by a fire; a fire set by Union troops--likely the same troops that burned Middleton Place.

Pinckney rebuilt the home a third time. It was rumored to be one of the only country style Victorian homes in the Lowcountry. In 1995, it was purchased by the Whitfield's. The grim specter of fire revisited Runnymede again in 2002 and destroyed the home built by Pinckney. All that's left of the mansion is a partial outline of the home's perimeter, the brick entry steps, remnants of the brick fireplaces,

and the towering, two story chimney from the kitchen house.

Runnymede Plantation has a storied history interwoven with the folklore and superstitions of plantation living as big as its onetime 1,457 acres. One story tells of an African/American burial ground located deep within Runnymede's thick centuries old forests and an age old custom of placing personal items owned by the deceased in life on their graves--a custom with African roots. Items like plates, saucers, and drinking glasses if it was a woman or tools if it was a man, but not excluding items like a favorite chair.

The removal of any of these types of personal items from the graves of a dead person would result in consequences too terrible to imagine implicating swift retribution from the offended spirit. A belief implicitly held by hundreds of people living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina--including those who lived on Runnymede Plantation.

The plantation has a thick, untouched canopy of century old trees, numerous ponds and creeks, an unobstructed view of the Ashley River, and a unique place in Charleston's ancient and colorful plantation history.

A hauntingly powerful Southern tale from Runnymede's past: One September afternoon, two brothers from Charleston visited Runnymede Plantation for an end-of-summer outing; they were leaving the next morning to attend school in another state. One of the chief amusements enjoyed when visiting the old plantation was exploring its river and marshland setting in search of Lowcountry wildlife, such as the prowling alligator and abundant water fowl.

The two brothers were on such an excursion, an excursion that took them deep into Runnymede's surrounding forest where they happened upon an old slave burial ground. On the mounds of earth above where the remains of the people were buried, personal items belonging to the deceased person had been carefully placed. There were items like plates, cup and saucers, drinking glasses and favorite tools. Other items included such things as a favorite chair, a bottle of medicine and a spoon no doubt used to administer the medicine.

The brothers knew of the custom and the beliefs associated with the burial ground, but considering the beliefs to be just foolish superstition, they decided to play what they thought to be a humorous prank and disregarded what many Lowcountry people implicitly believed--the removal of an item from a grave or tampering with it in any way would bring swift and deadly retribution from the offended spirit. They removed a drinking glass from one of the graves and took it back to their home in Charleston.

When the parents saw the object, they questioned the brothers about it. The two brothers confessed to the prank. The parents were disappointed at the actions of their sons and became very concerned. It was not that they believed in the customs and rituals, but their concern was the disrespect their sons showed toward the people on Runnymede and their beliefs--beliefs handed down to them from their ancestors.

The parents immediately contacted the plantation owners and they insisted the item be returned at once to the burial ground and placed in its original position. It was returned. Word of the prank had spread throughout the plantation population, but it was believed their actions to undue the prank to be too late. Vengeance was probably already at work.

The brothers left for school out-of-state the next day, but they did not make it to their destination without deadly consequences. When word reached Runnymede of their unfortunate consequences, it was of no surprise to the people who firmly believed in such things. It was not unexpected.

Runnymede Plantation is located between Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation. Unlike its more popular counterparts, it is not open to the public. It is open to scheduled weddings, private events, and concerts. You can check out its Facebook Page.

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