On a photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com), our adventure of the morning was an airboat ride through the swamps of Jean Lafitte National Park. There are a lot of swamps, waterways and lakes at the end of the mighty Mississippi. How our guide found his way around must have come from many years experience. Pretty amazing where these boats can go and how fast they can go.
I enjoyed the whole trip and liked our guide, Rocky, a fitting name for this guy. He was barefoot, sometimes getting out of the boat to push off or walk on the shore. I told him I would be worried about cottonmouths, but he said you can smell them! He threw marshmallows to the gators, which I’m sure they get on a daily basis. They just swim right up to the boat. I don’t know how he a perfectly camouflaged barred owl sleeping on a limb as we cruised past. Also surprising that the owl didn’t move as he pulled the boat right beside the tree! In my past efforts to photograph owls, they are quick to leave as I approach. Like the alligators, they must be used to boats and people.
At the end of the trip, he said he was going to see a big alligator, and he knew right where to go, even calling the gator. From under a tree, it came toward the boat. Our guide pulled the boat onto the shore and got out a package of chicken. The gator walked right beside the boat and up to the front where our guide sat barefooted with shorts on, coaxing the gator to get right into the boat! Like old friends they met, our guide petting him on the nose, head and scratching his throat! Amazing!
“Some time later, while in England preparing for the ministry, young John Grimké Drayton received word that his older brother Thomas had died on the steps of the plantation house of a gunshot wound received while riding down the oak avenue during a deer hunt. Thus, having expected to inherit little or nothing as a second son, young John found himself a wealthy plantation owner at the age of 22.
Despite the prestige and wealth inherent in ownership of Magnolia and other plantations, he resolved still to pursue his ministerial career; and in 1838 he entered the Episcopal seminary in New York. While there, he fell in love with, and married, Julia Ewing, daughter of a prominent Philadelphia attorney. Returning to Charleston with his bride, he strove to complete his clerical studies while bearing the burden of managing his large estate. The pressure took its toll, and his fatigue resulted in tuberculosis. His own cure for the illness was working outside in the gardens he loved. He also wanted to create a series of romantic gardens for his wife to make her feel more at home in the South Carolina Lowcountry. A few years later, as though by a miracle, his health returned, allowing him to enter the ministry as rector of nearby Saint Andrews Church, which had served plantation owners since 1706 and still stands just two miles down the highway towards Charleston. But until his death a half-century later, along with his ministry, Rev. Drayton continued to devote himself to the enhancement of the plantation garden, expressing his desire to a fellow minister in Philadelphia, “…to create an earthly paradise in which my dear Julia may forever forget Philadelphia and her desire to return there.”
After walking through the gardens, we took the house tour. No photographs were allowed. Although the house isn’t grandiose, it is comfortable, and the huge porch is wonderful. The original home burned three times, once by Union troops. It was rebuilt as a cabin at first, then gradually, additions were made. The property is still owned by the family through 12 generations.
“After the Civil War and through the Civil Rights Movement Magnolia continued to function, though in a distinctly different way. Among the many challenges was establishing a new relationship with the formerly enslaved workers who remained on the plantation as sharecroppers, tenants, and day laborers. All of Magnolia’s residents worked to find a new level of social and economic understanding and accommodation. The plantation’s main house was rebuilt in the 1890s. Increasingly mechanization would replace the need for tenant farmers; what began in the 1930s was accelerated by World War II bringing the end of plantation agriculture at Magnolia. In spite of difficulties the African American community still maintains a strong presence in the Cane River region. Traditions rooted in African, French, Native American and Spanish influences give this area its character.”
Next we hopped on a trolly that would take us through the Audubon Swamp. They have built ramps in the water where alligators, birds and turtles sit. The trees were loaded with roosting Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Anhingas. John James Audubon spent time here, studying and painting wildlife. Some of his work hangs in the house.
Fortunately, we brought sandwiches and snacks, so we had a quick lunch before the boat tour through the rice fields. Thomas and Ann Drayton came to Magnolia near “Charles Towne” in 1676, having made a fortune with a sugar plantation in Barbados. They tried many things including sugar, but none worked in this unique land. Finally they they found success with rice, namely Carolina Gold Rice. Cultivating rice was the most dangerous kind of farming there is. Several on the boat tour simultaneously asked, “Why?”. The slaves walked through this flooded 60-acre field where it is hot, out in the sun. There are alligators all over the place. Cottonmouths live here amongst other snakes. Mosquitoes carried yellow fever, but the most deadly was a cut, which could become quickly infected in these stagnant waters.
Now the fields have returned to marsh, which is a wonderful place for wildlife. It still has gates to control the water. As a duck hunter, I had visions of ducks flocking into flooded rice fields.
After this tour, we went for a walk through the Audubon Swamp. Photographers with tripods were wandering trails and boardwalks. What a cool place in this blackwater swamp where Audubon himself once roamed.
On the way home, we stopped at Mt. Pleasant Seafood to get something to cook for dinner. You don’t know what you are doing when you walk into an unfamiliar place, even though it is highly rated. I wandered around while I listened to Martha ask the nice, patient lady what she recommended for a fish to cook over an open fire, and how to do it. She recommended a Red Snapper that would be big enough for four. I came up to join her and noticed the oysters and asked for a dozen. I was impressed by the knowledge, patience and enthusiasm of this lady. Later I would learn she is an owner, Sarah Fitch. For 75 years and four generations, the family has run the market. From an article in Mt. Pleasant Magazine:
MPM: When did you decide to go into the business you are in?
Fitch: Mount Pleasant Seafood first opened its doors back in 1945, on the banks of Shem Creek, with my great-grandfather and grandfather, Captain Walter G. Toler and Captain Walter D. Toler. For four generations now, we have been serving fresh local seafood to both our local community and tourists from around the world. Whether it’s the fresh catch of the day, the Ready-to-Go Shrimp Boil or we are catering a special occasion, we are extremely grateful for the opportunities that allows our family to serve others.
MPM: How do you find your passion?
Fitch: I wouldn’t say I found my passion, but more so I was born with it. From the time I was old enough to shuck an oyster myself, I fell in love with our family’s legacy and the people of this community. It was a natural fit for me to assume this role and work hand-in-hand with my family, doing what we love to do.”
MPM: What or who inspires you?
Fitch: “My family’s history inspires me and the future of our community motivates me. Along with sharing recipes and smiles with the folks we serve, I equally enjoy working with today’s youth, both within my church community as well as inside our market. To me, the greatest thing we can do to ensure the success of our future is to create a space for them to learn and grow. I believe we do this well at Mount Pleasant Seafood.
MPM: Tell us about how you grew up and who shaped you into the woman you are today.
Fitch: I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a family that has taken pride in hard work. Also, even with our community growing larger and larger by the day, there is a small-town sense about this place that instills care and concern for our neighbors and environment. I think I’ve benefited greatly from my family and community all around.
MPM: Give us some success tips for someone just starting out in your line of work.
Fitch: Keep your eyes and ears open all the time. The natural resources around us are incredible, as are the men and women cultivating the waters for our seafood. Listen to their stories and learn the rhythms of seasonal products to fully enjoy everything the Lowcountry can provide. When we know what goes into the art and hard work of harvesting local seafood, I think it tastes even sweeter and tastier.