Mulberry Grove Plantation
This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Phoebe Beachner as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.
The Mulberry Grove Plantation historical marker was dedicated in 1956. View the Mulberry Grove Plantation historical marker listing.
1. Mulberry Grove Plantation Marker, 2016. Courtesy of Phoebe Beachner.
2. Savannah River Plantations from the Savannah Writers’ Project, 1947. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
3. Mulberry Grove Plantation Drawing, 1794. Author Unknown. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
4. Eli Whitney’s 1793 Gin. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
5. Mulberry Grove Plantation, 2016. Courtesy of Phoebe Beachner.
6. Mulberry Grove Plantation, 2016. Courtesy of Phoebe Beachner.
7. Rice Plant, 2016. Courtesy of Phoebe Beachner.
The following essay is by SCAD student Phoebe Beachner, 2016.
Mulberry Grove Plantation is located on the east side of GA 21 highway, but travelers should be wary of navigating using a contemporary GPS system, because the marker is obscured from easy access. As home to one of the South’s most impactful agricultural invention and a place where our first President walked and enjoyed, Mulberry Grove deserves significant attention.
The Georgia Historical Commission erected this marker in 1956, (Figure 1), which reads that Mulberry Grove Plantation is “one of the most historic of the old Savannah River Plantations.” It notes that in “Early Colonial days, mulberry trees were cultivated” here and that it later “became one of the leading rice plantations of Georgia.”
Well-known facts about the plantation include the story of Catherine Greene, wife to Nathanael Greene, who encouraged Eli Whitney to invent and create the cotton gin to maximize southern profit and income.[i] Also commonly told is the story of Mr. Greene, a respected general of the Revolutionary War, who passed away from a sunstroke on this plantation at the time of his ownership.[ii] The marker text also sheds light on lesser-known information about the Plantation’s early use and life after the Greenes. Viewers may wonder, how successful were the mulberry trees and rice fields on such a spot?
One of the agricultural promises Oglethorpe made when he was approved by the Trustees to form the colony was that the silk culture would arise in this new colony. As the demand for silk in England grew,[iii] the Trustees established an experimental garden to test new crops upon Georgia soil. It was in this experimental garden that the Trustees discovered how successful mulberry tree leaves were for feeding the silk worms.
To ensure the safety and protection of his new colony, Oglethorpe designated a military outpost a few miles outside of Savannah, called Joseph’s Town. The settlement was mainly home to Scottish immigrants,[iv] however, it is reported that the land of Joseph’s Town was never colonized by any of these “Scots Gentlemen.”[v] Joseph’s Town also served as the location for Mulberry Grove Plantation. As a map drawing (Figure 2) of the river plantations shows, Mulberry Grove was nestled between Drakies and Oakgrove plantations, close to Isla Island.
Down a tree-lined road sat Mulberry Grove, the home of Catherine and Nathaneal Greene. Before the famed couple held ownership of the plantation, one of the “Scots Gentlemen,” John Cuthbert, held the land in his name in 1736.[vi] Cuthbert was able to initiate the plantation’s success with general crops, until his death in 1740, when ownership transferred to his daughter, Ann Cuthbert. It was then that her husband, Dr. Patrick Graham, thought that maybe the mulberry saplings the Trustees lauded about in regards to the burgeoning silk industry would grow well on his plantation. Thus, the name for the plantation was given as Mulberry Grove. Along with selling the mulberry saplings to colonists, Graham and Cuthbert began to develop the land for rice cultivation.
Once the Trustees’ original ban on slavery in their agrarian colony ended in 1750, rice production on plantations such as Mulberry Grove soared. Mulberry Grove planters soon lost interest in cultivating and profiting off of mulberry saplings and focused intensely on rice production. Dr. Graham’s efforts were not forgotten when he passed, and about 833 acres of his land were left solely to Ann Cuthbert Graham.[vii] Ann married again, and the land transferred to her new husband James Bulloch’s possession; they owned slaves and continued the cultivation of rice plants.[viii] The land was surveyed and the property lines were shown, noting the areas of the plantation that were dedicated for different purposes: rice fields, pineland, cleared land, and the bluff and homes.
When Ann Cuthbert Graham Bulloch passed, the land was left to Mr. Bulloch to do with as he pleased.In 1770, Mr. Bulloch sold the land to his son-in-law, Josiah Perry.[ix] In the following years after Perry’s initial ownership, the plantation would be sold and bought again numerous times before landing in the hands of John Graham, Royal Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, in 1774.[x] John Graham, in no way related to the previous owner with the surname Graham, was able to purchase additional land for the plantation and exercise the continuation of growing rice plants successfully. It was also under John Graham that the number of slaves living and working on Mulberry Grove increased.
Under Graham’s name Mulberry Grove was seized as loyalist property and eventually awarded to Major General Nathanael Greene.[xi] Greene hoped to be as successful as the plantation’s previous owners in profiting from the rice plants and living out his days as a prestigious southern plantation owner. Mulberry Grove played host to many prestigious guests, including Greene’s longtime friend, President George Washington. Nathanael Greene passed away as a result of sunstroke prior to Washington’s arrival in 1791.[xii] An artist rendering of the plantation in 1794 (Figure 4) shows a lively time for the land, shortly after Washington’s visit and directly at the time of the cotton gin’s invention.
Mulberry Grove Plantation is most widely recognized as being the site where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Whitney originally was invited to the plantation to tutor the five Greene children, and he saw the potential in not only producing cotton on the plantation, but also producing it efficiently. As follows, he invented the ginning machine, of which the remains are still visible on the plantation today.[xiii]
In an image of Whitney (Figure 5), in the borders of the vignette, one can infer that there were multiple families included under ownership of the Greene family. In three of the four corners, including the main view, there is evidence of the constant slave work needed on the Plantation, whether it was working in the rice fields, at the gin, or picking cotton.
In 1864, General William T. Sherman’s army made its way across the plantation grounds, burning the main home and the surrounding buildings.[xiv] With the land in ruins and the buildings destroyed, the success of any agricultural profit ceased to exist.
Today the plantation stands as it was left, and to visit today, one must gain permission from its current owner, the Georgia Ports Authority.[xv] The plantation’s remains are shown through several photographs (Figures 6 and 7) taken by the author in April, 2016. The house is in ruins, the land is a jungle, and Dr. Stan Deaton, the senior historian at the Georgia Historical Society, even mentioned that, “if you go out there, there is pottery laying on the ground,” as if it is waiting to be rediscovered and cared for.[xvi] The efforts that led to success on the plantation revolving around mulberry saplings and rice, the visits made by our first president, and the stories created on Mulberry Grove Plantation will never be forgotten.
[i] “Eli Whitney and the Need for an Invention,” The Cotton Gin. Accessed 5 May 2016.
[ii] Natalie Saba, “Nathanael Greene (1742-1786).” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2014. Accessed 28 April 2016.
[iii] William Flatt, “Agriculture in Georgia: Overview.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2016. Accessed 6 May 2016.
[iv] Charles Colcock Jones, The History of Georgia, Volume 1. Georgia: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1883, 148.
[v] Savannah Unit, Federal Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration of Georgia, “Mulberry Grove in Colonial Times” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 23 (3). Georgia Historical Society, 1939, 238.
[vi] “No deal yet for Famous Plantation,” Savannah Morning News, 2000. Accessed 4 May 2016.
[vii] Royal Georgia Gazette, Savannah, 1781.
[viii] Savannah Unit, Federal Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration of Georgia, “Mulberry Grove in Colonial Times” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 23 (3). Georgia Historical Society, 1939, 246.
[ix] Ibid., 248.
[x] “Preserving the Past in the Present,” Savannah Morning News, 2002. Accessed 4 May 2016.
[xi] Robert Lambert, “The Confiscation of Loyalist Property in Georgia, 1782-1786”. The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 20 (1). Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1963, 86.
[xii] John Stegeman and Janet Stegeman, “President Washington at Mulberry Grove,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 61 (4). Georgia Historical Society, 1977, 342.
[xiii] Chuck Mobley, “Two Prominent Savannah River Plantations share Common Heritage and Classic oak-lined Avenue” Savannah Morning News, 2015. Accessed 5 May 2016.
[xiv] Savannah Unit, Georgia Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration of Georgia. “Mulberry Grove from the Revolution to the Present Time,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 23 (4). Georgia Historical Society, 1939, 331.
[xv] Dan Chapman, “Hidden History,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Accessed 6 May 2016.
[xvi] Stan Deaton, Interview with the author, 18 May 2016, Savannah College of Art and Design.
Dan Chapman, “Hidden History.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. http://specials.myajc.com/mulberry-grove georgia/?icmp=AJC_internallink_282016_AJCtoMyAJC_Mulberry_Grove%27s_hidden_history.
“Eli Whitney and the Need for an Invention,” The Cotton Gin. https://www.eliwhitney.org/7/museum/eli-whitney/cotton-gin.
William Flatt, “Agriculture in Georgia: Overview,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2016. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/business-economy/agriculture-georgia-overview.
“Gathering Information on Savannah’s Forgotten Past,” Savannah Morning News, 2015. http://savannahnow.com/opinion/2015-06-28/letters-editor-monday.
Charles C.Jones, The History of Georgia, Volume 1. Georgia: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1883, 148.
Natalie Saba, “Nathanael Greene (1742-1786),” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2014. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/nathanael-greene-1742-1786.
Robert Lambert, “The Confiscation of Loyalist Property in Georgia, 1782-1786,” The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 20 (1). Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1963, 86.
Chuck Mobley, “Two Prominent Savannah River Plantations share Common Heritage and Classic oak-lined Avenue,” Savannah Morning News, 2015. http://savannahnow.com/accent/2008-03-01/two-prominent-savannah-river-plantations-share-common-heritage-and-classic-oak#.
“No Deal Yet for Famous Plantation,” Savannah Morning News, http://savannahnow.com/stories/082700/LOCmulberrygrove.shtml#.Vy_5y5MrLfZ.
“Preserving the Past in the Present,” Savannah Morning News, 2002. http://savannahnow.com/stories/070402/LOCMulberryGrove.shtml#.Vy-5DZMrLfY.
Royal Georgia Gazette, Savannah, 1781.
Savannah Unit, Georgia Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration of Georgia. “Mulberry Grove from the Revolution to the Present Time,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 23 (4). Georgia Historical Society, 1939, 315–36.
Savannah Unit, Federal Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration of Georgia. “Mulberry Grove in Colonial Times,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 23 (3). Georgia Historical Society, 1939, 236–52.
John Stegeman and Janet Stegeman, “President Washington at Mulberry Grove” The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 61 (4). Georgia Historical Society, 1977, 342–46.