Wednesday, April 17, 2019
The Switzerland of South Carolina
If a book is designed to contain a potpourri of historic resources, only one of which is the featured attraction of the diary concerning the home of one's ancestors, it would be natural to expect such an eager reader to jump straight to the desired entry. But I resisted the temptation.
Though Clarissa Adger Bowen's diary about her years residing at the Ashtabula Plantation in Pendleton, South Carolina, was the prime reason I bought the 128 page book, hers was only one of several resources included in the volume. To set the stage—as well as bring us up to speed on the history of the location—editor Mary Stevenson included large sections quoted from other material. How could I skip over such mood-setting details as the quote from a book describing an Englishman's visit to the Pendleton District in 1837, or annotated maps describing the principal residences of the region during that time period?
And so, doing my due diligence to absorb the entirety of the Ashtabula book, I resisted the temptation to jump ahead and cut straight to the chase of the Bowen diary. Fortunate that I did, I stumbled upon a two page quote—plus sketch of Pendleton dating from 1823—of material about the area drawn up by Robert Mills. The chapter, at least in the Ashtabula book, was called "The Story of Pendleton, 1755-1823," and was assembled from various of Mills' publications.
Robert Mills, in case the name doesn't ring a bell with you, was—at least at the time of his sketch of Pendleton—the Engineer and Architect of the State of South Carolina. He wasn't, however, there for long. In 1836, Mills won the competition for the design of the Washington Monument which, though only one of several notable buildings he designed, is by far the best known of his works.
In several of his writings, Robert Mills detailed his observations about his visits to Pendleton District, location of Ashtabula, from which we can glean a sense not only of what the place was like, but how someone of his outlook observed it. It was he who, quoted in the Ashtabula book, fashioned the region as "the Switzerland of South Carolina," remarking that "a pure air, cool, translucent water, and all the necessaries of life to be found, are here."
What better way to set local history's stage for the arrival of my ancestors than words like these? How could I skip over such details, just to get to the part I was anticipating? I'd have missed all the stage-setting and ambience. Lights, camera, and action will come soon enough.