A previously overlooked stop on the underground railroad has now been recognized thanks in part to the scholarship of Professor Susanna Ashton in the Clemson University Department of English.
Audubon South Carolina and the National Park Service have designated Four Holes Swamp as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. A blackwater tributary to the Edisto River, Four Holes Swamp contains Francis Beidler Forest, which hosts the world’s largest stand of virgin bald cypress trees and serves as a sanctuary to more than 140 species of birds.
An initiative of the National Park Service, the Network to Freedom program “honors, preserves and promotes the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight.”
Ashton’s work sparked Audubon South Carolina’s effort to recognize the site’s historical significance. She identified the author of the anonymous “Recollections of Slavery by a Runaway Slave” as James Matthews of Dorchester County, South Carolina.
“I tracked his experiences escaping from bondage and, astoundingly, making his way to freedom in Maine,” Ashton said.
After fleeing a nearby plantation, Matthews took refuge in Four Holes Swamp, now one of nine Network to Freedom sites in South Carolina.
U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., joined Ashton and other leaders to celebrate the site’s designation in September 2023 during International Underground Railroad Month.
“The stories of the men and women who sought freedom from enslavement among these very trees are powerful reminders of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, even under the most challenging circumstances,” Clyburn said.