Located across Charleston Harbor just southwest of the city, McLeod Plantation encompasses 60 acres of fields and woods. In addition to its location and accessibility, the property features an antebellum plantation house and one of the most remarkably intact rows of slave quarters in existence. McLeod is not currently open to the public.
The area that is now known as McLeod Plantation first appeared on a 1695 map as a 617-acre plantation along the Wappoo and Stono rivers on James Island. Originally belonging to Morgan Morris, the land changed hands several times during the 18th century. The first owner to apparently cultivate the land was Samuel Perroneau, who purchased the property in 1741. Perroneau’s daughter, Elizabeth, inherited a portion of the land with her husband, Edward Lightwood II in 1771.
Edward Lightwood and his partner Thomas Everleigh operated the slave trading firm of Lightwood and Everleigh. The property remained in the family when their daughter, Sarah Lightwood Parker, inherited the plantation. Her husband, William McKenzie Parker II, began cultivating Sea Island Cotton. Though this long staple cotton was normally considered highly profitable, a combination of poor drainage and depleted soil soon made the plantation known as “pick-pocket place.: Though unsuccessful at cotton cultivation, McKenzie did increase the size of the plantation to 914.5 acres of land and 779 acres of marsh. In 1851, Parker sold the plantation to William Wallace McLeod, whose name it now bears.
The main house is a three-story, wood-frame structure. The interior has a double pile floor plan with a central stair hall and two interior chimneys. Originally the house was oriented to the south with a one-story raised porch supported by square columns. In 1925, the principal fascade was reoriented to be the rear or northern side of the house. This renovation, in the Southern Colonial Revival style, included an addition of a projecting portico with a fan light supported by four fluted Doric columns on a raised concrete porch base. A single-story kitchen was also added at that time.
According to the 1860 census, 74 slaves lived in 26 cabins on the property. A number of these cabins and other outbuildings that supported the slave economy remain today as perhaps the single most striking feature of the property. The kitchen and dairy structures date from the early 19th century. The kitchen building features a central chimney that divides the structure in two. Perhaps one side was used for laundry and the other for cooking.
The dairy building is unique in that the eastern half is on piers while the western half has an enclosed root cellar. The barn is a wood-frame structure possibly dating from the late 19th century. The gin house, a two-story masonry and wood structure used to process cotton, was maintained into the 1930s.
The most striking buildings due to their rarity are the slave dwellings. The cabins measure about 20’ by 12’ and are of wood-frame construction on raised masonry pier foundations with exterior end chimneys.
With the coming of the Civil War and Union occupation of nearby barrier islands, McLeod moved his family to Greenwood, S.C. A slave named Steve Forrest was placed in charge of the plantation in the family’s absence. McLeod joined the Charleston Light Dragoons in 1861 and was mortally wounded in 1864.
From the beginning of hostilities, Confederate forces began to fortify James Island by erecting breastworks on the southern approaches to Charleston Harbor. Battery Means was built near the confluence of Wappoo Creek and the Ashley River. The plantation house served as headquarters for General Gist’s Brigade, as well as Confederate unit headquarters, a commissary, and a field hospital until the island fell to the invading Federal army in the spring of 1865.
When Confederate forces evacuated Charleston on Feb. 17, 1865, Federal troops used the plantation as a field hospital and officers’ quarters. The 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiments, composed of African-American soldiers, were among the units that camped at the site. The front parlor was used as a surgical theater and many Union and Confederate dead were buried at nearby Battery Means and the old slave cemetery along the Wappoo banks in front of the house.
After the Civil War, McLeod Plantation became headquarters for the Freedmen’s Bureau for the James Island district and in 1879, the McLeod family regained the property. IN 1918 William Ellis McLeod began raising potatoes, asparagus and dairy cattle. At his death in 1990, McLeod left the property to the Historic Charleston Foundation. In order to consolidate the holding, Historic Charleston Foundation sold part of the plantation to satisfy claims of others who were beneficiaries in the will, thus creating today's historic site.