Middleton Place

Eliza's House \| Middleton Place

Eliza's House

Eliza's House (c. 1870) was once occupied by former Middleton slaves. This two-family duplex was constructed of mill-sawn weatherboard with a central, double (back-to-back) fireplace, and the interior and exterior walls were whitewashed. There was no connecting access between the two units, but occupants of each half had equal use of the porch and the loft.It is known as "Eliza's House" in memory of Eliza Leach, a South Carolina African American born in 1891, and the last person to live in the building. She died in 1986, at age 94, and almost to the last continued to live in the house much as her predecessors would have done: raking the bare "swept yard" clear of leaves and twigs, chopping wood for her fire, and toting water from the Spring House — even though modern conveniences had long since been installed. Eliza also worked over 40 years at Middleton Place, performing a variety of duties, from sweeping and raking in the Gardens to collecting tickets and distributing brochures to visitors.

The original occupant of Eliza's House is not known. Middleton Place Foundation archival material suggests that in the 1880s the house was lived in by Ned and Chloe, former slaves of Williams and Susan Middleton. Before 1865, Ned had been one of Middletons' drivers, or field supervisors, and his wife Chloe was one of 30 slaves Susan brought as dowry when she married Williams in 1849. Four years later, in 1853, Chloe had become a nursemaid for the Middletons' son. Chloe apparently had three children named Catherine, Elias and Julia. In early 1882 Mrs. Middleton wrote her daughter that Ned and Chloe had just been moved into their "palace." This is taken to mean Eliza's House. Mrs. Middleton also said that the marble nymph Ned called "an image" had been taken "into his piazza" for temporary storage. This was a reference to the Wood Nymph statue by Schadow (1810), buried for safekeeping in 1865, that now overlooks the Azalea Pool in the Gardens.

Historic Background

Union soldiers burned Middleton Place on February 22, 1865. The owner, Williams Middleton, having done what he could to secure family possessions at Middleton Place, was away trying to protect his family's Combahee River rice lands and slaves. Mrs. Middleton, with the children, had sought refuge in the upstate.

Freedmen rapidly learned that Emancipation brought new challenges to their attempt just to survive, much less to obtain equality. Those who left plantations to make new lives for themselves discovered it was not easy to find employment or shelter. Many disappointed ex-slaves returned to the familiarity of their old homes to work for former masters in exchange for housing and token wages. Mrs. Middleton wrote her son in 1872 that a number of freedmen wanted to come back to Middleton Place. She commented that, after a while, there would be "enough laborers to keep the dear old place from reverting to a wilderness."

Like others, the Middletons found the new order of things distressing, but they gradually adjusted to their reduced circumstances and the changed labor situation. Land-poor, Williams tried with only marginal success to resume planting. He also ventured into timber farming, and leased a portion of his property to a phosphate mining company. In all his endeavors, he relied completely upon the cooperation and loyalty of his African American employees.

Ned and Chloe had a part in helping the Middletons reorganize their lives in the difficult post-war years. Ned is frequently mentioned in Williams' correspondence, and seems to have been in charge of the plantation when the Middletons were away. In 1877 a nephew informed Williams that he drove to Middleton Place every day and found "Ned and Chloe very kind and attentive. They frequently inquire after all of you."

Ned, Chloe, and all the other workers were key factors in the survival of Middleton Place. Their diligence and devotion helped the Middletons preserve the "dear old place" that was home to them all.

Beyond the Fields

Beyond the Fields is richly illustrated permanent exhibit with rare images, archeological artifacts and historical documents, and presents the Foundation's latest research. Stories of individuals, recreated from family letters and documents, will be told and over 2600 names of Middleton slaves can be searched by visitors. According to Tracey Todd, Vice President Museums, "Beyond the Fields will have a tremendous impact on the visitors' experience, and give the kind of information many have never heard at other historic sites. This exhibit is a giant leap forward in telling a more complete story of life at Middleton Place in the 18th and 19th centuries."

Eliza's House is also the starting location for the Guided "Beyond The Fields" Walking Tour. 

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