Friday, August 01, 2008

Silver (Mica) Bluff

The Silver Bluff Audubon Center is located outside of Jackson, SC (southeast of Aiken) along the Savannah River. Legend has it that the site gets its name from either Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto as he and his 625 men passed through in 1540 or from English explorer Henry Woodward during his visits in the 1680s. In either case, someone was distracted during geology class and misidentified mica in the bluffs for the precious metal silver. The misnaming aside, Silver Bluff is rich in history.

The earliest record of land use at Silver Bluff was during the Colonial Period when William Bartram, as a guest of George Galphin in 1776, noted that Indian mounds were in the process of being "plowed down" in a field along the Savannah River. George Galphin was a colonial trader and was the original owner of Silver Bluff. Galphin constructed a millpond dam upstream on Hollow Creek and used the pond on Silver Bluff as a power source to operate a sawmill and flour-grist mill.

George Galphin owned slaves, but he allowed them to conduct their religious ceremonies unencumbered. Silver Bluff is the location of the first organized African-American congregation in Colonial America. An African-American cemetery, known as Colvin Cemetery, is located along Hollow Creek and dates to the Antebellum Period. Only chaperoned visits to the cemetery are allowed. In 1750, Galphin established a trading post adjacent to the Savannah River landing operating the post until the end of the Revoluntionary War. In fact, a skirmish was fought at the trading post's location on May 21, 1781. The Patriots defeated the British forces and captured supplies destined for local Native Americans. The supplies were instrumental in allowing Patriot forces to conduct a successful seige of Augusta, Georgia, which fell two weeks later and ended Loyalist control of middle Georgia.

Governor James Henry Hammond (originator of the term "Cotton is King") owned Silver Bluff from 1830 until his death in 1865. Hammond operated the mills until 1860s and cleared additional land, including a portion of the hardwood bottomland, for his agricultural pursuits. He ran a fuel-wood operation in the 1830s for steamboats plying the Savannah River and operated a sawmill on Hollow Creek. The pine lumber was milled on the site and rafted to the Savannah River.

Water has always been a critical component of activities at Silver Bluff. African-Americans were interred near water (having arrived by water), mills used water as a source of power, remnants of illicit whiskey stills dot the landscape, and currently a former millpond (Lake Kathwood) is subdivided into fish ponds used to support the endangered Wood Stork. The Wood Storks will be the focus of attention during the Storks & Corks on August 9th.

Images by Paul Koehler and Jeff Mollenhauer

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