Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park
The Lowcountry’s newest Reconstruction Era National Site
Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park has joined five other sites throughout the state to be recognized on the Reconstruction Era National Register. The park provides educational and historical interpretation related to the Reconstruction Era, 1861-1900. Mitchelville is especially important in the history of freedom towns that were established during Reconstruction.
During the 1861 Battle of Port Royal Hilton Head Island became headquarters for the Union Army. A military order was issued that freed the slaves on the Sea Islands. Former slaves and their children fled the plantations and sought protection with the Union army. They were hired as carpenters, blacksmiths, launderers, coopers, clerks, and cooks. General Ormsby Mitchel set aside a large parcel of land along the coastline for the newly freed population. Quarter-acre lots and building materials were dispersed for the building of homes. Freedmen elected officials and created a system of law. They built churches, stores, and a school system. All children between the ages of six and fifteen were educated. Men were recruited for the on-going Civil War. They built Fort Howell to protect Mitchelville. This was often called the Port Royal Experiment.
After the Emancipation Proclamation liberated all slaves on January 1, 1863, Mitchelville became a model for future freedmen towns that were created during Reconstruction. At one time, Mitchelville was home to over 3,000 residents. After the Union army left the island in 1868, Mitchelville’s population began to decrease. When the army left, so did many of the jobs that were given to the freedmen. As time went on, residents took apart their houses and moved inland to farm and participate in local commerce. The town remained until the end of the century. Many of the descendants of Mitchelville citizens still live on the island.
According to exploremitchelville.org, “Mitchelville is one of the most significant African-American archaeological sites in the Southeast. It is one of the few that is nearly intact and offers the potential to learn even more about the lives of the early freedmen. It provides another perspective to previous studies of the “Port Royal Experiment.” The presence of Mitchelville also provides evidence of the ability of blacks to govern, educate, and care for themselves absent the bonds of slavery.” A portion of the original Mitchelville site has been protected and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can come to the Freedom Park and experience exhibits that show how this town once existed and prospered. Learn about Fort Howell and the 32nd United States Colored Infantry that built it.
Mitchelville Freedom Park is located at 226 Beach City Road on Hilton Head Island. It is open during daylight houses. For information on exhibits, tours, programs, and events visit https://exploremitchelville.org/. For information on other Hilton Head attractions visit https://southcarolinalowcountry.com/hilton-head-island-area/ .