This is the third in a three-part series about writing and researching my upcoming young adult historical fiction novel, Ebb Tide, the third book in my Ella Wood trilogy. (Part 1: The Port Royal Experiment; part 2: African American POW Trial.)
Mitchelville, on Hilton Head Island, which was located in close proximity to the Union military camp Port Royal, was the first town built specifically for freed slaves. Part of the Port Royal Experiment, it was constructed and governed by Freedmen. I had the opportunity to visit the site of Mitchelville this past winter. There’s nothing left, but there are long-range plans to one day turn it into a living history park. I’m going to quote here from the Finding Freedom’s Home website, by far the best source of information I found on the town:
In October 1862, Major General Ormsby Mitchel, commander of the Department of the South at Hilton Head Island, ordered the construction of a Freedmen’s town to serve as a new home for thousands of former slaves who flocked to the island after it fell to Union forces in November 1861. Mitchelville was more than a refugee camp. The town’s new residents built their own homes with materials provided by the Union Army. They were responsible for creating their own government, enforcing town ordinances, establishing schools, and ensuring that every child between the ages of 6 and 15 attended regularly. Mitchelville proved that freed men and women could govern, sustain, and educated themselves.
At its peak in 1865, approximately 3,500 people may have lived in the town. Mitchelville declined after the US Army and the jobs it offered left the island in 1868. By the 1880s, Mitchelville ceased to exist as a formal town. By the 1950s, only the island’s oldest residents remembered its important history.
This historic town may be gone now, but it was captured on film in 1864 by Samuel A. Cooley, an official photographer with the US Army. For the remainder of this post, I’ll simply let his pictures speak for themselves.