The plantations of the Ashley River Historic District contain a wealth of archaeological sites that contribute to the historical significance of the region. The sites are a combination of previously recorded archaeological sites, as well as areas that were visually surveyed for the Ashley River Historic District expansion and found to contribute to the overall cultural landscape of the region. These resources include, but are not limited to, remnants of plantation houses and their outbuildings, earthworks that functioned as colonial-era boundary markers, earthworks related to rice cultivation and phosphate mining, and associated slave and worker housing. Artifacts such as colonoware and other pottery sherds, grave goods, and pipe stems have been found throughout the district in association with many of these sites. Taken together, the identified archaeological sites comprise a complex and compelling cultural landscape that provides evidence of how the area was used over the span of more than 300 years.

The term ‘archaeological site’ is used loosely in this context. The term not only refers to archaeological resources recorded at South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) but also to resources identified in ¬†field survey. All resources, including previously recorded sites, that were accessible were visited and assessed for integrity.

Many of the sites relate to events significant to the broad patterns of the history of the region, such as the various rice fields from the 18th and 19th centuries. Rice fields, particularly from the 18th century, have thus far gone unstudied (or at the very least understudied) archaeologically and are important components of the region. In the 18th and 19th centuries, rice was the crop that helped turn the state into an agricultural powerhouse. Other sites that relate to broad patterns of history are those that relate to phosphate mining. The phosphate mining industry provided an economic boost for the region after the Civil War and it had a substantial impact on the Reconstruction-era development of the region.

Other sites are related to significant individuals that helped define and develop the Ashley River Historic District. One such site is the Lord Ashley settlement located in the northeast corner of the district. This is a pristine late-17th-century archaeological site related to one of the earliest colonial settlements in the region that was established by one of the Lords Proprietors, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury. Other such sites are associated with Middleton Place which was first established by Henry Middleton (17171-1784) who was an influential political leader. He was a leader of the opposition to British policy and the president of the first Continental Congress. His son, Arthur Middleton (1742-1787), who inherited the plantation, was also politically active as a delegate to the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Still other sites have the potential to yield additional information relating to architecture, commerce, African-American heritage, industry, landscape architecture, settlement and exploration, and transportation, as well as the potential to answer key research questions. The most important of these sites would be the Lord Ashley settlement site and the many rice fields scattered throughout the district. The Lord Ashley settlement site has the potential to answer questions related to early trade with the Native Americans, colonization and settlement of the region, and early Colonial and fortified architecture. 

Given that large land areas in the district have remained in the possession of the same families for generations (Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place, and Millbrook Plantation) and are largely undeveloped, the level of site integrity is high. Several archaeological sites within the period of significance have already been studied, tested, excavated, and/or interpreted, and it is known that there are many more sites left to be studied in depth. These resources play a vital role in the interpretation of the history and significance of the Ashley River region. Future archaeological investigations will continue to provide a wealth of knowledge about this region.

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