Thomas Coram’s View Of Mulberry in 1800 looks up to the rear of the house from the vantage point of “the street” so-called because it was lined with slave quarters, of which height houses are visible. Coram’s view suggests “the street” was a matter of pride and indication of wealth and prestige. Refinements to Mulberry altered the landscape but not the institution of slavery. In April 1861, the street was replaced by a lawn greatly admired by Mary Boykin Chesnut, who was happy to escape the fighting Charleston and the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie entry tells that she sat “idly to-day looking out upon this beautiful lawn, wondering if this can be the same world I was in a few days ago. After the smoke and the din of the battle, a calm.”
Two years later, on a brilliant day in November, Chesnut hosted a “charming picnic” hosted on the lawn. Chesnut is effusive: “Everything was propitious,” she recalls, “the most perfect of days and the old place in great beauty. Those large rooms were delightful for dancing; we had as good a dinner as mortal appetite could crave; the best fish, fowl, and game; wine from a cellar that can not be excelled.” Staff was at hand for preparations, serving, and menial tasks. Chesnut calls them “servants,” sometimes Negros, but never slaves.
Margaret Mitchell was likely inspired by Chesnut’s “charming picnic” at Mulberry. Gone With the Wind opens with a grand picnic meant to capture to elegance and taste of the antebellum South in April 1861. Contrary to Chesnut’s blind-eye towards slavery, Mitchell makes a few significant changes offering two picnics side-by-side; one for the Wilkes and friends, and the other for the “servants,” a euphemism for African American slaves. There would be turkeys, chickens, and buffalo tongues; at the Wilkes’ there is Brunswick stew served great tables under the trees, barbecue, chitterlings, and such served behind the barns and sheds. Though the Wilkes, O’Haras, Hamiltons, and their cohorts choose to ignore it, the aroma of barbecue inescapably pervades the grounds.
Feature Image: Thomas Coram. View of Mulberry, House and Street (1800c.). Oil on canvas. Charleston, South Carolina. Gibbes Museum of Art. The rear of the house faces the “street,” lined with African American slaves’ houses.
See Mary Boykin Chesnut. A Diary from Dixie, as Written by Mary Boykin Chesnut, Wife of James Chesnut, Jr., United States Senator From South Carolina, 1859-1861, and Afterward an Aide to Jefferson Davis and a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army. Edited by Isabella D. Martin and Myrta Lockett Avary. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1905; Margaret Mitchell. Gone With the Wind. Macmillan. New York: Macmillan Company, 1936, http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/chesnut/maryches.htmlText; Margaret Mitchell Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan Company, 1936.
*Boykin was well-connected and among the Confederate elite. Her husband James Chesnut, Jr., left the United States Senate in 1860 to serve under General P.T. Beauregard, and then aide de camp to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America (1862-1864).