REVIEW:  Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community

Nonfiction history by Charles Joyner 

The splendid reputation of this book is completely well deserved.  Published in 1984, Down by the Riverside was one of a new wave of works of history that looked at a specific defined community over an extended period in the hope that better understanding of the parts would bring greater knowledge of the whole history of a wider region.  The community in this case was the slave community of Lower All Saints Parish in Georgetown County.  Joyner is interested in slave folklife in a broad sense, which includes the entire material culture of the slave’s world: cooking, architecture, holidays and leisure activities, agricultural practices, etc.

Joyner reminds us that the Africans brought as slaves to the Waccamaw Neck came from many nations and language groups on that continent.  They did not share a common language and customs differed among the African nations.  From the melding of these diverse African folklife, mixed with some Euro-American elements, and then shaped by the specific economy and environment of the area came the African American culture of All Saints Parish.  The author first sets the scene by describing the local plantations and their owners. Then the late Professor Joyner examines the different elements of the slave’s material culture.  He raised intriguing ideas that would merit further study, such as did an African architectural preference influence slave cabins.  Full of interesting and evocative details, this readable book would engage anyone interested in a how a unique South Carolina culture was created and formed.

  • Reviewed by Marianne Cawley, South Carolina Room at Main Library, Charleston, S.C.

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