Thursday, July 1, 2010

Archaeologist's research could boost South Carolina's heritage tourism

Archaeologist's research could boost South Carolina's heritage tourism
Article and photo courtesy of

Francis Marion, South Carolina's legendary Swamp Fox who helped repel the British during the Revolutionary War, is a legend in American history.

But when Mom and Dad are on their way to Florida, how do you get them to stop in the Palmetto State and tell Marion's story to their kids?

There are no interpretive centers at any of the places Marion frequented during his lifetime, though there could be in the future, thanks in part to the work of Steven D. Smith, associate director of applied research at the S.C. Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.

Smith, who oversees the Institute's Military Sites Program, has been conducting archaeological research at Revolutionary War battlefields since 2002. He has been the principal investigator for archival and field surveys at battlefields like Camden, Blackstocks, Musgrove Mill, Fort Motte, and Francis Marion battlefields like Blue Savannah, Snow's Island, Wadboo Plantation, and Parker's Ferry.

The research is helping South Carolina's heritage tourism industry to interpret the sites for tourists.

"You need an infrastructure in order for tourism to work and you need to interpret the story," said Smith, who recently confirmed the location of a Revolutionary War battlefield called Williamson's Plantation at Historic Brattonsville for the York County Culture and Heritage Museums.

"The centers have to be developed," said Smith, "but our research provides the history and archaeology that will be used to develop accurate language for signage, interpretive programs, and tours."

In the past, Smith's field survey and research with institute colleague James B. Legg has led to a battlefield interpretive trail at the Battle of Camden for the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.

The idea, said Smith, is to entice people off the interstate to spend time and money in South Carolina while learning about a unique chapter in American history.

This could be especially important in the economically depressed Lowcountry between Georgetown, Charleston, and Florence, where Francis Marion lived and fought the British. The state's Francis Marion Trail Commission sponsored Smith's archaeological study of Marion's battlefields in that region.
Developing tourism related to the Swamp Fox is actually just a byproduct of Smith's personal interest and research on the famous partisan fighter.
Smith has been pursuing Marion's legacy ever since 1993 when he began to receive grant and contract funding from organizations like the Sonoco Products Co., the Lowcountry Council of Governments, and most recently, the trail commission, to confirm the authenticity of sites associated with the Swamp Fox.
Over time, the research enabled Smith to enter the Ph.D. program in anthropology at Carolina and begin work on his dissertation that focuses on the partisan community around Snow's Island, S.C., during the Revolution.

The area provided a base of operations, secure campsites, supplies, and men who helped Marion, who is "widely acknowledged as America's most successful partisan fighter," Smith said.

Smith's dissertation examines the Snow's Island community, including analysis of historic documents, landscape, and archaeology. It will also review the national memory of Marion from the early 19th century to the present.

In addition to Snow's Island, Smith's dissertation will examine another Marion site known as Dunham's Bluff, as well as Wadboo Plantation in the Moncks Corner area.

All told, he has examined 15 sites since the start of his research on Marion, five of which have turned up material evidence of a campground or battlefield where the Swamp Fox lived or fought, and which hold promise that they could be incorporated into some type of an interpretive center, trail, or program.

"Step one is to find the sites. Step two is to develop the infrastructure for interpreting those sites. And step three is the acquisition of the sites in order to preserve them," said Smith.

A long-range plan by the Francis Marion Trail Commission, he added, calls for facilities that would attract visitors at places like Francis Marion University, Moncks Corner, and Georgetown.

In addition to confirming the location of places frequented by Marion, as a result of his research, Smith has also begun to rethink how Marion fought the British. Increasingly, he said, archeologists and artifact hunters working with him are finding fewer musket balls than expected and instead are turning up smaller caliber lead shot in battlefields.

That indicates to Smith that Marion's forces relied more on smooth bore trade guns and rifles, and often fired birdshot, evidence of yet another classic guerilla tactic for which Marion was well known.

The smaller weapons were still quite effective as "you didn't have to kill the enemy, you could just disperse him or put him out of commission," Smith said.

"I'm kind of an old-fashioned historian in the sense that I still like facts," Smith said. "I like to try to verify the past as much as I can using the evidence of archaeology, so my main interest in Marion is to combine primary source material and archaeology to wrest from the mythology who the real Francis Marion was.

"I like to understand history in terms of the way people understood themselves rather than the way we want to look at them. That is my thing and Francis Marion is sort of my cause célèbre for that."

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