During the civil War, Union forces defeated the Confederates on Hilton Head Island at the Battle of
Port Royal on November 7, 1861. Cannon fire from that battle heralded a dawn of freedom for millions of African slaves throughout the South. Thirty-two thousand were enslaved in and around Hilton Head Island. Many of these men, women and children escaped their plantations and headed to the Union lines on the island and in nearby Beaufort. The government labeled these people "contrabands:" not legally free but not forced to return to their masters. While legal emancipation did not come until 1863, the freedom seekers of Hilton Head Island worked to create their own community of political, social, religious, and economic freedom.
In 1862, Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchell planned a town for former African Slaves on Hilton Head Island. General Mitchel died shortly after. The town, named in his honor, was built by men and women seeking freedom. Mitchelville had named streets and homes on ¼ acre lots. Residents participated in their local government, voting for representatives who enacted South Carolina's first mandatory school attendance law. The residents of Mitchelville contributed to the War's effort. After the
War, many who left the town went on to positions in state and local government. Others passed on their commitment to education
and civic participation to generations of African Americans of Gullah descent.
(bottom left) Map of Mitchelville, 1863 with modern roads shown.
(top right) A foot print of old Mitchelville, this park commemorates the heritage of freedom in
America and the rich culture of the people who endured.
Plan for Mitchelville Freedom Park
For more information about the story of historic Mitchelville please visit www.MitchelvillePreservationProject.org.
(bottom center) Gen. Ornsby M. Mitchel Image courtesy of the Library of Congress