Why South Carolina was the most important theater in the Revolutionary War

A few days ago, I referred readers to Kevin Honold’s essay on the rewards of studying history. In that essay, he talks about how reading a biography of the Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion as a child kindled his love of history. I had not read much about the famous warrior, so I bought and have been working my way through John Oller’s excellent book The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution.

It takes a lot of effort to write a biography on Marion, Oller notes. Mason Weems wrote a largely embellished biography of Marion in the early 1800s that turned him into a Rambo-esque guerrilla fighter not unlike the protagonist played by Mel Gibson in the godawful, historically inaccurate movie The Patriot. Weems was the same person who gave us the fictional story of Washington cutting down the cherry tree that countless kindergartners have been taught in US schools.

(FYI, absolutely nothing like the church scene in The Patriot happened during the American Revolution, even though it was a brutal conflict for soldiers and civilians alike. I guess in the eyes of a German director, every antagonist is a Nazi psychopath. Also, Colonel Banastre Tarleton – whom Mel Gibson’s military foil is based upon – did not die in the American Revolution at all. He lived 50 years beyond the war to become a member of Parliament representing Liverpool. The son of wealthy merchants from Liverpool, he was an ardent supporter of the slave trade, which was a boon to the shipping industry there. A truly terrible human being, but he wasn’t taken out by the swamp fox and his clan as the film suggests. He was the origin of the “swamp fox” moniker, however. And speaking of slaves, if the film were accurate, the main character would have owned slaves. Marion himself had a favorite black valet who accompanied him everywhere.)

At any rate, one of the things that makes this book so fascinating is Oller starts off with the argument that South Carolina was the most significant theater of conflict in the Revolutionary War.

Living as we do outside of St. Augustine, Florida, I complain a lot about how oddly obsessed with Yankee settlements American history textbooks are. American kids are raised talking about Plymouth and Jamestown, when the oldest settlement (by several decades) in what is now the United States is St. Augustine. St. Augustine was a bustling city before the people on the Mayflower were even born.

This has the effect of making American history seem very small and settlers homogeneous. This behavior is not particularly limited to American history either. When schools teach world history, they usually start with the civilizations that will eventually become relevant to the Judeo-Christian wisdom traditions. There is no attention paid to, say, China or India. There is no curiosity that a vast metropolis that had over a million inhabitants was revealed by satellite imagery of the Amazon rain forest.

Anyway, I digress. Back to South Carolina and the “swamp fox”:

More battles, engagements, and skirmishes were fought in South Carolina during the Revolution than in any other colony. Conservative estimates place the number of combat actions in the state at more than two hundred, a third of all that took place in the entire war. No other colony had as many inches of territory affected by battle: of the state’s forty-six present-day counties, forty-five ended up seeing Revolutionary War actions. Nearly 20 percent of all Americans who died in battle in the Revolution died in South Carolina during the last two years of the war.

Ever since the shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the South had been mostly untouched by the conflict, which was famously fought at places such as Bunker Hill, Fort Ticonderoga, Trenton, and Brandywine. But by 1779 the war in the North had reached a stalemate, with the British firmly in control of New York City under Sir Henry Clinton, and the Americans, led by George Washington, camped out thirty miles away in Morristown, New Jersey, desperately hoping for help from a French navy anchored in the West Indies [i.e. the Caribbean]. The last significant engagement in the North had been in June 1778 at Monmouth Courthouse, where Washington and his most dependable officer, Nathaniel Greene, battled Clinton and his lieutenant general, Charles Corwallis, to a draw. But while the Americans were hard-pressed, Britain had grown increasingly weary of war. Its coffers nearly bankrupt and its military stretched thin by an expanded conflict with France and Spain, Parliament agreed to finance one final effort to end the American rebellion.

It came to be known as Britain’s “southern strategy.” Jointly agreed on by Clinton, King George, and Lord Germain, the British secretary of state for America, the plan was eloquent in both logic and economy. The British would begin by occupying and pacifying Georgia, where revolutionary sentiment was weakest among the thirteen colonies. They would then subdue South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia while gathering men to confront George Washington in the North.

Hence you have the fall of Savannah and the long siege of Charleston (Charles Town), where from the Continentals’ standpoint, the war looked finally lost. Most of the locals were desperate to show they were still loyal to the crown. The British believed they could save money by getting Tories in the southern colonies to fight the war for themselves. Oller likens this to the military strategy in the Vietnam War.

It was in the Carolina lowcountry and backcountry that the war would finally change direction, with many casualties.

What I am reading these days

I have a great love of books and film to begin with… But I have to say, I have been indulging in some rather magnificent fare lately.

All Things India

First, I have developed a serious interest in India. (Or perhaps recovered is a better term. I had a Jhumpa Lahiri phase in my early 20s.) I know I have mentioned the fantastic book I finished on the history of curry. Feasts and Fasts is another amazing book by the same author, which uses the history of food as a gateway into discussing the broader history of the Indian subcontinent (and, by extension, the various cultures that have been stakeholders there across millennia). It is so strange to me now to hear the name of a dish and be able to pinpoint the region it comes from and how it ever came to be a thing there. India is high on my list of places to visit now.

Before that, I had been reading about the Mountbatten dynasty via Pamela Hicks’ Daughter of Empire: My Life as a Mountbatten. (I wish I could recommend this book, but it’s honestly quite painful. Torturous really. If you can imagine Gwyneth Paltrow with all of her name-dropping of celebrities and shallow digressions, but with nabobs, then you have already gleaned all there is to glean from this book.) I am thankful my interest survived.

I started working my way through the series Indian Summers on Masterpiece, which I think is excellent. (Does this series come from the book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire? I am curious, but have not read that book yet.) The show takes place across summers in Simla, which is in the foothills of the Himalayas, with a group of the British civil servants and merchants at the time of the British Raj, beginning in 1932. The show follows two plot lines: one with the British and one with the struggle for independence.

Martha Gellhorn

We very much loved touring Hemingway’s house in Key West last year, and since then, I have read a lot of books on Hemingway’s time in Florida and Cuba. And then I started reading the works of Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn was an incredible writer in general, but an especially talented war correspondent. Most people, however, know her only as “Hemingway’s third wife.” She met Hemingway at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West (Hemingway’s favorite haunt) while vacationing with her family. Lord, what that woman could do with words. Her books are filled with very nuanced tales of how war and poverty impacted ordinary people.

Hemingway’s house in Key West

The Second Seminole War

I wrote earlier about how I have been studying the Second Seminole War (or, as I like to call it, the Afghanistan of the 1830s) ever since Elise and I decided to hike out to the ruins of a sugar plantation that was torched by Seminoles. My latest book on the topic is The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression. A lot of folks like to make a big deal about the Seminoles resorting to guerrilla tactics, but it’s silly to pretend this was a novel development in American history even then. After all, we have a country because a bunch of colonialists did exactly the same thing to the Brits.

Novels… I’m Trying to Enjoy Fiction (The Struggle is Real)

I am attempting to read a series of novels by H.S. Cross that revolve around the lives of boys and adults at a boarding school in England. I vastly prefer non-fiction to fiction, but these novels are well done and erudite, with is sort of a reward for a life of reading quality non-fiction, no?

A brilliant essay on being obsessed with history

I just had to share this essay in the Hudson Review. You all know that I love history in general and have been on a kick lately reading about Native American history in particular. This essay is one of the best things I have read lately on any subject. It’s ostensibly about the Huron tribe, but the author dwells for quite a while about how he came to love history and the improbable relationships he’s developed with various people who also share his passion. It’s wonderful on so many levels, not the least of which is the observation that some of the best history students are not academics at all.

History is not an American pastime. This is partly due, I think, to the fact that history has long been presented to schoolchildren as a thing from which they are meant to draw “lessons,” as though history were a series of unfortunate incidents involving hot skillets and monkey cages, which, in some ways, I suppose it is. The past is something that maladjusted people “dwell on,” after all. “The belief that history has a present use when properly read,” wrote Jacques Barzun in From Dawn to Decadence, “is a mark of the modern temper; whole periods and peoples have done quite well without it,” and that seems true enough. Remembrance is morbid, unprofitable. It’s impractical, impolite in certain company. And plainly, we survive whether we record our deeds and disasters for posterity, or we don’t.

Hahahaha. But it is true. This is one of the things I loathed about studying history in school. So much moralizing about irreconcilably messy events and people. So many caricatures. “What did you learn about humanity from this story?” being asked by people who skipped all the fantastic, unlikely, insane, totally unpredictable details in favor of some tedious and not-wholly-accurate thesis.

The neighborhood was under construction in the summer of 1982, and I scoured the half-built houses for refundable pop bottles and cans discarded by the roofers and framers. Sunday mornings, I filled a sack with empties, arranged the cans on the driveway at home, and stomped them one by one till my socks turned tacky with sour beer and cola. Each empty bottle brought me a dime closer to Francis Parkman’s History of France and England in North America, the two-volume Library of America edition with Prussian blue silk ribbons for page-keepers. The set cost forty dollars, or a couple thousand cans, or several hundred bottles. I grew anxious and mulled schemes to swindle the History Book Club, which would doubtless sell out of copies long before I could steal enough loose change to buy my own.

There were maps in those books, the catalog affirmed, reprints of the very maps that Parkman consulted during his researches. Maps of the Ohio Valley and the Pennsylvania frontier, elegant and spare and unadorned maps depicting big rivers bristling with tributary streams that traced back into uncharted forests where the Oneida fished and hunted bear, where the Tuscarora burned their Huron captives, and where the Flemish Bastard and his renegades made their winter camps, there to drink and plot the next raid on the settlements.

I got the money together. On the day the books arrived, I bought a Hershey’s chocolate bar at the convenience store, returned home and sat down, dizzy and exultant, at the kitchen table with a glass of milk and opened Volume I, Pioneers of France in the New World, Chapter I, “Early Spanish Adventure, 1512–1561,” which chronicled the expeditions of Narváez, de Leon, and de Soto. I restrained myself from racing down the page. To read with patience and understanding was agonizing.

I still feel that way when I get a new book in the mail.

In the mid-1990s, I worked as a plumber’s apprentice in Cincinnati and attended plumbers’ trade school at night. The journeyman I worked with was a man named Derek. Broad-shouldered, mid-thirties, dark good looks inherited form his Italian immigrant mother, Derek was a kind man with a generous and disarming nature, and for this reason he was well liked by the office secretaries and by the other tradesmen. I’d never seen a man show such unabashed joy in his children, two girls. His wife was the only woman but one, he told me, that he’d ever slept with. A man generally wouldn’t confess to such a thing if it weren’t true. He was honest like that. Imposture, I think, simply didn’t occur to him.

Here’s an example. A friend of his was killed in a work accident. On the way to a job one morning, we stopped at the cemetery. For a few minutes, he stood in the rain beside the newly-turned grave and remained quiet throughout the day. After work, back at the shop, he wanted to talk about the dead man, but when he brought up the fact of visiting the grave, the other plumbers ridiculed him, and a hurt look came over Derek’s face, an angry hurt.

That kind of person.

One morning, I arrived at the shop—normally a glum place at that hour—and found Derek happily recounting a story to two plumbers. He was not much of a reader, but someone had given him a book, and he’d been carried away by it. He was talking about the swamp-fighting in South Carolina during the American Revolution. I knew the story, and the book’s title.

Francis Marion, Swamp Fox of the Revolution,” I said.

Derek was astonished, warily so, as though I’d read his mind. “How the hell did you know that?” I didn’t tell him that it was the first book I’d ever read on my own, when I was a kid at Saint James Elementary. For me, it was a wonderful coincidence, but I didn’t say so.

Derek embarked on a book jag. He read books about local history, about the Miami and the Shawnee, about the arrival of the French and English in the Ohio River Valley. As we drove the unmarked van around the city from job to job—sweating water pipe, cutting away disused cast iron at a tear-out job, boiling lead in iron ladles in murky crawlspaces—we talked about the Jesuit Marquette’s voyages, about gauntlets and ordeals; about the indefatigable LaSalle, who paddled the lengths of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, both up- and downstream; Little Turtle, brilliant strategist of the Miami, whose confederacy crushed St. Clair’s army on the banks of the Wabash, inflicting the bloodiest defeat ever suffered by the American military at the hands of Native Americans. We talked about prisoner exchanges and broken treaties; captivity stories; the vanished buffalo of the “Cain-tuck” hunting grounds, the great herds that today exist only on a mural painted on the Newport, Kentucky, levee. And the war chief Blue Jacket who, according to a suspect legend, was a white child adopted by the Shawnee. It was Blue Jacket’s men who routed General Harmar’s army from Ohio and Indiana. He was present, too, at Fallen Timbers in 1794, by which time the Americans—with time, men, and money on their side—had learned the strategic value of burning the tribes’ fields and towns.

You must read the entire thing. It is a sublime meditation for a certain sort of person.

How did curry end up in the Caribbean?

Lately, I have enjoyed reading Colleen Taylor Sen’s book Curry: A Global History. I love cooking and I really, really love history, so this has been an oddly fascinating topic.

Curry is the rare dish that you can pretty much find anywhere in the world. Where we live in Florida, food from the Caribbean is ubiquitous. And in our town in particular – which has a significant Portuguese population – anything even remotely connected to Portugal is everywhere. This includes food from areas of India that had been occupied by the Portuguese after Vasco da Gama. If you go to a Caribbean restaurant, you can order a goat curry. If you go to the Indian restaurant, you can order a goat curry. If you go to an Asian grocery store here, you see Caribbean food brands.

It might not seem all that interesting on its face that folks in the Caribbean ended up with curry. The Caribbean was (and still is) the crossroads of the world. But it turns out that curry did not exactly end up in the Caribbean via trade routes.

Curry ended up in the former American colonies as relatively wealthy Americans imitated everything the fashionable elites in Britain did. As Britain had taken over much of India, Indian textiles and spices became popular in Britain, and they simultaneously became popular in the United States.

Not so with the Caribbean, however. It was the Indians themselves who brought curry to the Caribbean.

With the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 and slavery altogether in 1833, there was suddenly a labor shortage in the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and South Africa. (The last thing former slaves wanted to do after the abolition of slavery was return to the grueling work of a sugar plantation.) According to Sen, the British government established offices in (then) Calcutta and Madras to recruit Indians as indentured laborers. These laborers would agree to contracts of five to ten years, have their basic needs met, and receive small wages. At the end of their contract, they would receive either free passage home or free land in the region where they were working. Most of them chose free land.

As a result of this arrangement, Caribbean islands that had a British presence now have a lot of people with Indian origin. In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, nearly half of the inhabitants have ancestors from India. Ditto for Guyana. A small portion of Jamaica is of Indian origin.

Per Sen:

On their arrival, immigrants received daily rations of rice, dal [lentils, peas, or chickpeas], coconut oil or ghee [clarified butter], sugar and salt, turmeric and sometimes salted or dried fish and onions. Substitution was essential, since ingredients such as curry leaves, fresh coriander and mint were not grown locally. The substitute for coriander is a local herb called shado(w) beni that grows wild in drainage ditches. The chili pepper used in Trinidadian curries it the fiery scotch bonnet, so-called because it looks like a little pleated bonnet. In places of spinach-like greens called ‘sag’ in India, Trinidadians and Jamaicans use callaloo, the leaf of the dasheen plant (a form of taro). Callaloo is also the name of a soup cooked with coconut milk, crab, okra, chilies, and herbs.

Each of these countries vary the meats that are used in their curry. Fish curry is popular in Guyana. Jamaicans love goat curry.

A Saturday picking out bonsai trees

Elise has wanted a bonsai tree for about a year now, ever since we met a man selling bonsai on a trip to Key West. We decided to indulge her today and drove out to Schley’s Bonsai and Supplies in DeLand (about an hour away from us). As it happened, the owner was hosting his Summer Bonsai Festival. We learned there’s a club devoted to bonsai in DeLand (and perhaps we might join, though that’s a bit far to go for meetings).

Jason’s bonsai farm did not disappoint. He has table after table of bonsai as far as you can see.

The tables of bonsai are beneath a canopy of these
ancient live oaks, with piles of Spanish moss.
I loved this tree from the Japanese garden, hanging down into a koi pond.

Elise found a bonsai and I did too. This is my dainty little crepe myrtle, which is actually about 25 years old. I put it in the library. Jason said that in Japan there are families that have passed down bonsai from father to son across centuries. Isn’t that incredible to think about?

This is the tree Elise picked out.

Hiking to the ruins of a plantation burned by the Seminoles

Lily pads blooming in a pool of water that
had accumulated in the plantation ruins.

We love hiking and biking around our little beach town south of St. Augustine, Florida. From our many adventures out and about, I was surprised to discover that we have the ruins of two sugar plantations in our immediate area, both of which had been torched by Seminoles during the Second Seminole War.

Elise and I finally had the opportunity to hike through the jungle to tour the ruins of one of them – the Bulow Plantation Ruins in Flagler Beach. (The other is the Mala Compra Plantation Archaeological Site, a few miles north on the A1A.) It was a neat experience in itself, but made infinitely richer by the fact that I have spent the past couple of evenings reading books about the Second Seminole War. Because I had done this reading, I really had a sense of what we were looking at.

We had studied the history of St. Augustine a great deal before purchasing a house in the area. The city of St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish in 1565, is the oldest European settlement within what is now the United States. (Many American children grow up learning about Plymouth Colony in school, when in fact there was a well-established city far to the south. It is a sad testimony to how ethnocentric curriculum is.) But I really had no idea that we were purchasing a house with what are effectively battlefields all around it, and how many American leaders cut their teeth on conflicts in our backyard.

A Little History

The Second Seminole War was sort of like the Afghanistan of the early 19th century. I think this is a useful analogy for several reasons:

(1) The war was an epic money pit and the extent of its required appropriations cemented military political influence in Washington, DC. Appropriations for the war ranged from $30 million to $40 million, which in 1835 was an incredible sum. As you can imagine, the war was popular at first and then… not so much.

(2) The options for the young American government in executing the war were limited because of the behavior of countries that had controlled the area in earlier decades.

(3) It’s hard to talk about either side as heroes because both the Seminoles and the American government deliberately attacked civilians (hence the burned-out plantations around us). The second half of the war was mostly fought using guerrilla tactics. Although many people think of guerrilla warfare as a modern phenomenon (e.g. Vietnam), it is a song as old as time.

(4) The American government had a difficult time negotiating any resolution to the conflict due to the decentralized nature of the Seminole system of governance (not unlike the tribal nature of folks in the Middle East) and corruption among the agents tasked with carrying out such negotiations (not unlike modern military contractors). The federal government would issue allotments to agents to take to tribal leaders in the hopes of brokering peace. These agents would sell what they were supposed to give to the Seminoles and pocket the money. Then they’d tell political leadership in DC that the Seminoles did not want peace.

The Seminole Wars started when the United States government acquired the land that is now Florida following the War of 1812. It became formal United States policy to remove the Native Americans in the region to what is now Oklahoma. Among the “Five Civilized Tribes” in the region (essentially the tribes that practiced something akin to modern agriculture), only the Seminoles chose to fight the US government outright over their claims to the land. The Cherokee – who in terms of culture, were as sophisticated as any European country – attempted to fight the government in courts and failed. Some members of the Seminoles made a trip out to Oklahoma and decided that the land out there was more fertile than Florida, and would be ideal for growing crops and raising livestock. They were attacked by other Seminoles for this. It was a mess.

Unlike the other Native American groups, the Seminoles had not been living in Florida for very long before the conflict with Americans. (The others had been living in the region for centuries, at least.) The Seminoles were the descendants of other tribes in the Gulf region and Georgia, who began to move south into Florida and develop a distinct culture around the same time the Spanish were conquering the land.

The Seminoles did not have some monolithic view of Europeans. They grokked the varied and nebulous political and economic motives of the specific nations they encountered. They were allies with the British during the American Revolution (so the animosity between them and the US was well-established). In fact, the British were the official arms dealers of many Native American tribes before and after the American Revolution, as the Native Americans were a useful source of internal political resistance (and thus military and economic headaches) for the young country.

The Spanish were another story. The Spanish had been so successful at looting gold from the New World that they created hyperinflation in their own country and devalued their own currency with their immense spoils. Because of this, the Spanish were not able to invest much effort in nation-building in their Florida territory. Apart from their port cities like St. Augustine, the Spanish pretty much ignored the rest of the land. Sure, they’d send scouts and explorers around, but they weren’t constructing any more cities. This also meant the Spanish left the Seminoles to do whatever they pleased.

The Seminoles liked their laissez-faire arrangement with the Spanish. The Americans did not like this arrangement at all. The Seminoles would routinely raid and plunder the plantations in Georgia and then run back into Spanish Florida, where they would experience zero consequences. Remember, at this time in the nation’s development, these plantations were thoroughly rural, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, essentially self-sufficient little cities owned by some wealthy landowner and slaveholder. It was like attacking a castle in medieval Scotland, but less fortified.

To make things even worse for the folks the Georgia, the Seminoles welcomed runaway slaves into their tribes. Many of the “Black Seminoles,” as they are called, retained practices and beliefs from Africa, but melded them with the practices and beliefs of the Seminoles. Suffice it to say, many Southerners hated the Seminoles and their exploits achieved an almost mythological status in pro-slavery publications.

As I said earlier, war with the Seminoles began almost immediately after the US picked up much of Florida territory following the War of 1812. The US government encouraged settlers to move south into Florida, onto land that the Seminoles already regarded as theirs. The First Seminole War was over relatively quickly. The US government committed to providing the Seminoles with wealth and the means to modernize their farming enterprises, and the Seminoles agreed to move onto a reservation in the swampy wastelands of the Florida interior.

Then came President Andrew Jackson. Jackson supported only one policy toward Native Americans, and that was removal. He was not even remotely going to consider the interests of a group that sided with the British in the Revolution and later conflicts. And he was incredibly popular. (Incidentally, it was Jackson who initiated the practice of every new president filling up government appointments with highly partisan loyalists. You can thank him for the “swamp” in DC.) Congress ratified a series of treaties with portions of the Seminoles who were willing to leave for Oklahoma, but extended those treaties to the entire membership of the tribe. Many remaining Seminoles – remember that the Seminoles had a thoroughly decentralized system of government – did not think these leaders represented them or had any authority over them.

The War in Our Backyard

This brings us to the beginning of the Second Seminole War and the burnt-out plantations in our backyard. The Second Seminole War began with the “Dade Massacre,” when Seminoles attacked an unprepared caravan of US troops heading from Tampa to Ocala in the week after Christmas in 1835. It carried over to the plantations along the east coast of Florida.

One of the things I find absolutely fascinating about the Seminole Wars is how little connection to the actual land many of the people involved had. The US was still a relatively new government. The settlers the US was sending into Florida were new to the area. Most of the US army was made of immigrants to the US or militia men shipped southward from other states. And the Seminole themselves were new to Florida, having migrated down there from Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

The Mala Compra plantation I mentioned above was owned by General Joseph Hernandez, who was commander of the Florida militia during the Second Seminole War. (“Mala Compra” is Spanish for “bad deal” or “bad bargain.”) Hernandez left his mark all over the St. Augustine area. His parents came to the region from the island of Minorca in the Mediterranean Sea. (If you ever visit St. Augustine, Minorcan clam chowder is all over the menus here.) When the US acquired Florida, Hernandez – a savvy businessman and diplomat – anglicized his name and embraced his new country. He owned a large swath of land south of St. Augustine that included Mala Compra. (Mala Compra is now a wildlife preserve and public space with a ton of impressive mountain bike trails.)

Mala Compra Park

It was Hernandez’s idea to have the military take control of the various plantations in the area as they moved down to fight the Seminoles. “We must occupy the plantations for their own good,” he wrote to Major Benjamin Putnam.”The settlers will be no match when the Seminoles come to kill them and take their livestock.” (See The Wild West in the Deep South: Second Seminole War by Dwayne Walker.)

Indeed, that was the impression many plantation owners had. They abandoned their properties in drove and traveled with their families to lush, wealthy, and urban St. Augustine for protection. They’d leave their overseers and slaves behind to handle the day-to-day operations of the plantations. They were regarded as disposable.

Bulow Plantation

Bulow Ville Plantation, in present-day Flagler Beach, had been built by Major Charles Wilhem Bulow, in 1821. Well, technically, 2,200 of his 4,675 acres were cleared by Bulow’s slaves (he owned over 150 slaves) and they also constructed and operated his mansion and sugar mill. The Bulow Ville Plantation grew sugar cane, cotton, rice, and indigo. Bulow died at age 44 and left the whole operation to his son, John. John increased production, eventually making the plantation into the largest sugar plantation in Florida.

John Bulow kept his plantation running through well-established and lucrative trading with the Seminoles and did not at all support Jackson’s policy on removing the tribes. When US forces arrived at the gates of his plantation, he fired on them. That idea went about as well as you might expect. Bulow was taken prisoner by US forces until they were temporarily done fighting the Seminoles in the area. After he was released, Bulow fled the area like other plantation owners. (He ultimately died at the age of 26.)

The Bulow plantation house before it burned down.

The plantation was situated on a saltwater marsh, where flat-bottomed boats (that could accommodate relatively shallow water) would carry the processed sugar and molasses (a by-product of refining sugar) to Ponce Inlet, where it would be transported to St. Augustine and Savannah (and then to the rest of the world).

You can take a kayak out on Bulow Creek from the location of the plantation ruins. If you want to… there is a very persuasive warning sign about the alligator population there.

After it was abandoned by Bulow, the Seminoles torched the plantation so it would not be of use to US troops. They had done this to many of the plantations they came across. The fire was so massive it could be seen from St. Augustine. It’s somewhat ironic that Bulow’s plantation would be burned down by people he actually had a decent relationship with and defended. But war is war.

Exploring the Bulow Plantation Ruins

All that is left of the plantation today are the coquina walls (a sort of natural cement made from clam shells from 12,000 years ago or earlier) of the mill itself, which have been taken over by the jungle. Since much of the mansion was made of wood, it was destroyed with the exception of its coquina foundation.

This is what remains of the springhouse, a building that used flowing water to keep provisions cool.
(Essentially an early refrigerator.)
This is all that is left of the foundation of the mansion.
You would not know what it was without historical records.

Byzantine Art in St Augustine

After our survey of Moorish architecture, we backtracked several weeks in our history lessons to the Byzantine Empire. St Augustine’s historical downtown is also home to the St Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine, with a lot of wonderful examples of Byzantine art and iconography.

The shrine also has several holy relics, including an altar made with bone fragments of St Theodora. Theodora, wife of the Byzantine ruler Justinian, is one of E’s favorite people from history. Before being empress of the Byzantine Empire, Theodora was a circus performer with her family and trained bears.

The Lord’s Prayer in both Greek and English.
Mosaic with gilded tiles.
The shrine is full of frescoes like this one.