Old Plantation, John Rose, and Beaufort District

 Old Plantation

This watercolor owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is described as "the best-known surviving 18th century depiction of slaves in America." It has been widely reproduced in publications and educational texts for more than 50 years. But its artist and its history was unknown -- until now!

Susan P. Shames, decorative arts librarian, PhD in American civilization, and genealogist, has identified the painter as John Rose, husband to second wife Mary Capers Ladson, one of four John Roses of Beaufort District. Using wills, inventories, census records, mortgages, petitions, and other legal documents relating to identify individual slaves of John Rose (the artist), she posits that the 12 slaves depicted in the painting are most likely: Ansell, Cain, Dianna, Dick, Hagar, Hamon, Isaac, Maryann, Mingo [1], Peter [1], Phillis, Quilla, Sabina [1], Satyra, Solomon, Tom [1], Young Tom [2], and/or Tybee.

It took impressive skills of analysis and attention to detail to winnow down a universe of 50 slaves to a pool of only 18 possible candidates. While her intent was to uncover the hidden history of a particular work of art, she also uncovers the hidden history of individual slaves of the artist.

Read the fascinating story of how to unravel an art history mystery in The Old Plantation: The Artist Revealed by Susan P. Shames Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2010. The book is available in the BDC Research Room as well as from the Local History sections at all our branch libraries, call number 759.13 SHA.

About the Author

Grace Cordial has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library since 1999.  The Beaufort District Collection exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of our part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Besides the research room, Cordial manages the “Virtual BDC:” the BDC web pages, the Online Obituary Index, two digital collections, a new BDC.BCL Facebook page, and the Connections blog.  
Among her duties is to coordinate or present programs about local history, Gullah culture, and our coastal environment, including occasional instructional sessions about how to perform historical and/or genealogical research.