History in Plain Sight

Students and faculty were busy over the summer, unearthing remnants to help tell the stories of the men, women and children who lived and worked as slaves during the antebellum era on the Fort Hill property, today a part of Clemson’s campus.

The historic Fort Hill property was home to South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun and later the University’s namesake, Thomas Green Clemson, and his wife, Anna Calhoun Clemson. While their time on the property is well-recorded, the lives of enslaved African-Americans are largely undocumented.

David Markus, an archaeologist and visiting lecturer, provided training in archaeological excavation and analysis methods to a dozen students enrolled in his six-week summer course in anthropology. They have carefully moved dirt in areas between Fort Hill and nearby residence halls where a kitchen once stood in the house. Historians believe domestic slave quarters and other outbuildings existed in the space.

“We hope to understand more about the daily lives of people who were enslaved at Fort Hill — how they lived and worked — and interpret their stories in a respectful way,” Markus said. “The University has made a commitment to tell its history more completely, and we hope our work will help support that effort.”

Will Hiott is the director of historic properties at Clemson. He said historical archaeology can be a new conduit to the important task of reinterpreting Fort Hill by relocating long-lost plantation buildings where African-Americans once toiled.

“The long-range plans would be to bring that hidden history back to plain sight as the foundations of the kitchen yard, spin house/weave room, laundry — along with the smokehouse and cook’s residence — are excavated,” Hiott said. “Unfortunately, not everything can be unearthed in one summer session, but we see this as a first step in seeking foundations, artifacts and material culture.”

Debbie Dunning ’75

“I’ve been here so long I rocked on the porch with Thomas,” I’ve often quipped when asked about my tenure here at Clemson. In all honesty, I can’t lay claim to ever stepping on this hallowed ground before the summer of 1971, when my mother and I motored up from the Lowcountry to attend Orientation before the start of my freshman year. But Clemson “took,” and I stayed on to enjoy a 38-year career as an editor for publications such as Clemson World and for commemorative projects such as the University’s Centennial Celebration, the Thomas Green Clemson biography and both volumes of The High Seminary. It was while working on these special projects that I came to best know Thomas and Anna Clemson and could imagine rocking on the porch of Fort Hill, gazing out at the wondrous “high seminary of learning” that has been carefully and caringly built on their homeplace.

Now, as I prepare to pass my role in the telling of Clemson’s history to the next generation, I represent Clemson folks everywhere when I say, “Rock on, Thomas, rock on.”

Debbie Dunning ’75
Manager of Editorial Services
Clemson Creative Services