Animals of the Plantation - An Exhibit at Brookgreen Gardens

At the far north and eastern corner of Brookgreen Gardens, a focal stop on the Lowcountry Trail and near the Lowcountry Zoo entrance, is Domestic Animals of the Plantation. This exhibit is home to an array of animals who are considered “historic rare breeds” – which means they are much more like animals of the 1800s than their hybridized descendants.  A few of the animals within this habitat include Marsh Tacky horses, Tunis sheep, wild turkeys, Red Devon cows, Spanish goats and Dominique chickens. All are considered “heritage breeds” by The Livestock Conservancy. They not only help tell the history of Brookgreen, the exhibit’s inhabitants do an admirable job of interpreting the amazing contributions of domestic animals to colonial agriculture.

As we look back in time at Brookgreen and surrounding plantations, we tend to see only rice.  Certainly, the production of that money crop was the raison d’être of most, if not all, of the immediate area’s plantation operations. Even so, raising rice was absolutely not the sole activity on these properties.

More than 200 enslaved Africans lived and worked at Brookgreen. Obviously, then, substantial effort had to be committed to the production of food crops. In addition to those animals kept exclusively for food, there was also a need for draft animals to help with the work of the plantation. Additionally, animals themselves sometimes produced a cash crop, as in the case of wool from sheep. At the time of his death in 1853, Joshua John Ward had carriage horses, mules, cows, sheep, lambs (238 of them!) and hogs. So, by anyone’s reckoning, they represented a substantial presence on every plantation landscape.  Dalton and Linda Floyd and the Floyd family are the benefactors of this enlightening exhibit where farm animals are once again a vital part of the Brookgreen scene. An integral part of the Lowcountry Trail, Domestic Animals of the Plantation offers an opportunity for visitors to better understand the inner workings of Brookgreen, and properties like it, in past centuries. In a day when children believe milk comes in square boxes from the grocery store and meat comes in paper wrappers from fast food drive-throughs, a genuine and important educational mission is being served by this exhibit.

Much of this information was excerpted from an article written by John Sands for the Brookgreen Journal, in 2002. There’s so much more to know about this, another of Brookgreen’s many treasures. Visit soon!

Kimberly Duncan