Contemporary map showing Rhett’s Bluff (formerly Shoolbred Point) to the top right of Bass Pond on Kiawah Island, the site of the 1994 excavation.
(Image source: Kiawah Island Real Estate, “Vanderhorst, Rhett’s Bluff)
Contemporary aerial photograph showing Kiawah Island’s network of marshes, inlets, and forests.
(Image source: Kiawah Island Real Estate, “Ocean Park Marsh Walk”)

This website serves as a digital investigation into the 1994 excavation of Shoolbred’s Old Plantation at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.1

Conducted by the Chicora Foundation, the 1994 excavation and its accompanying report serve as the only time in which the site has been thoroughly explored and researched. Focusing on a small area currently known by the island’s vacationers and residents as “Rhett’s Bluff”, the excavation revealed traces of the enslaved people who inhabited Kiawah Island in the late eighteenth and early-mid nineteenth centuries.2

While the excavation’s published report sheds light on some important aspects of the lives of Kiawah Island’s enslaved people, such as foodways and material culture, it leaves ample room for additional, unasked questions and unexpressed ideas concerning the less tangible aspects of the lives of Kiawah’s enslaved population such as spirituality. This digital project will focus specifically on the ways in which Kiawah Island’s enslaved inhabitants’ religious beliefs and ideologies may or may not be represented within the archaeological context of Shoolbred’s Old Settlement. Additionally, attention will be paid to the unique ways in which the settlement’s enslaved inhabitants utilized and transformed pre-existing material culture as a means of expression and communication.

Digitally re-examining artifacts linked to the spiritual beliefs and practices of Kiawah Island’s enslaved population of the late eighteenth and early-mid nineteenth centuries provides an opportunity to gain a new understanding of the realities, nuances and commonly-held assumptions regarding the everyday lives of the enslaved peoples of coastal South Carolina.

In navigating and exploring this website, you are invited to “re-investigate” personal and collective notions of slavery, religion, autonomy, and material innovation.

1. Michael Trinkley and Debi Hacker, “Shoolbred’s Old Settlement: Excavations at 38CH123, Kiawah Island, Charleston County, South Carolina,” Chicora Foundation Research Series (2009).

2. Ibid.

This project was created by an MA student at Bard Graduate Center in New York City as a final project for the class “Archaeologies of American Life,” taught in Fall of 2022, and is not linked to Kiawah Island or the Chicora Foundation. Please find this project’s research bibliography here.