Lesson Plan: Overview

African American Life in the Pee Dee Before the Civil War

Grade Level: 3rd

Hewn Timber Cabins

Academic Standards

Content Standard: 3.2- The students will demonstrate an understanding of the exploration and settlement of South Carolina and the United States.

Indicator: 3.2.7 Explain the transfer of the institution of slavery into South Carolina from the West Indies, including slave trade and the rate of African American developing plantation economy; the daily lives of African American slaves and their contributions such as Gullah culture and the introduction of new foods, and African American acts of resistance against white authority.

Content Standard: 3.4- The students will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the war and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator: 3.4.1 Compare the conditions of daily life for various classes of people in South Carolina including the elite, the middle class, the lower class, and the independent farmers and the free and enslaved African Americans.

Indicator: 3.4.2  Summarize the institution of slavery prior to the Civil War; including reference to conditions in South Carolina, the invention of the Cotton Gin, subsequent expansion of slavery, and economic dependence on slavery.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

H- Construct maps, graphs, tables, and diagrams to display Social Studies information. 

E- Explain change and continuity over time. 

P- Locate, gather, and process information form a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps.

G- Make and record observations about physical and human characteristics of places.

Historical Background Notes

Alex Gregg, a former slave at the Mars Bluff Plantation, retold stories of his life as a slave and the lives of other slaves to his grandson Archie Waiters.  Archie Waiters lived with his grandfather and grandmother beginning at the age of three until he was a young man.  Archie remembered the recollections told to him, and these stories have been able to keep a part of African American history alive in the Pee Dee region.  Without these recollections, artifacts, and customs we would not know much about slaves that lived in this region, once called the “Pine Barren” region.

When researchers were looking at slave life in South Carolina they were infatuated with the dialect that was spoken on the Sea Islands and how the many cultures came together and spoke a common language.  Research was not recorded on the slaves that lived in the Coastal Plain regions and much information was lost.  Many believe it was because the slaves living in this region spoke the same as their owners and their family members.  Sea Island slaves were not around the plantation owner and this area was mostly populated with Africans.  Also, the Sea Island region was mostly a rice cultivating plantation system, as the Coastal Plain region was mainly cotton production and land clearing.

Alex Gregg was brought to Georgetown by boat from Africa.  Before the boat was unloaded or docked, the Africans that arrived were bought by Pee Dee farm owners.

Mars Bluff was a new community of farmers.  The slaves in this region were very different from those of the Coastal Zone. (Vernon, 1993, 10).  The slaves of this region spoke the same or almost the same dialect as their owners.

The homes of the slaves were located on the banks of Jefferies Creek.  The slaves would clear the land for the planting of cotton.  Due to the invention of the Cotton Gin, more and more land was needed and more and more slaves were needed to clear the land.

The homes of the slaves were built only as shelter. (McAllister, 2005)  They would sleep and possibly eat in these one bedroom cabins.  They would have beds made of pine straw and the coverings would be scraps of material used to sew a quilt.

The cabins were made from Hewn Timber logs.  Notches were made on each log to help the slaves keep track of which log was used in which slot. (McAllister, 2005)  Since the slaves were unable to read, they would use these notches to keep the logs in the correct places.

The homes were small but built for protection from the rain and cold.  As many as fifteen people would live in one cabin.  The walls would be covered with newspaper during the fall. This would serve two purposes, one for protection of the cold wind beating against the cabin, and another as decoration for the cabin walls.

The slaves all ate together in a common area.  They would all feed from a wooden trough.  The bell would ring to call them from the fields for a middle of the day meal, and they would not return to the cabins until the sun set for the day.

Cultural sayings and tools brought to this region helped shape this area of South Carolina.   Sayings such as “Great Da” in reference to the” god”, “ Da”(McAllister, 2005), words such as “cooter” which means, “ turtle”, and “swallow your tongue”, which means “ don’t say those things,”  were also brought from the African region. These phrases are used today by many of our grandparents and great grandparents.

Brush brooms made of dog wood branches would be used to sweep the dirt floor of the cabins.  Quilt making was also something that the African American slaves would do when they were not working on the farms.  Many of the pieces of the material were scraps that were not longer needed by the owner.  Sometimes these quilts would tell a story of life or serve as a map to freedom.  These items were brought from the African culture and used during and after slavery. 

Much of the information about slaves in the Mars Bluff region is very sketchy and not officially documented.  If not for the stories told to Archie Waiters as a young child, we would not have any record of what life was like for slaves during this important part of American history.


  Primary Sources
Gregg, J. Eli. Ledger Book, 1849-1856. "J.Eli Gregg papers." South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina.
Gregg, J. Eli. Day Book, 1856-1857. "J. Eli Gregg papers." South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina.
Secondary Sources
Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993.
King, Wayne and John W. Califf, III, "Slave Houses, Gregg Plantation" (Florence County, South Carolina) National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974. Connect to this link to see photos of the slave houses.
Vernon, Amelia W. African Americans at Mars Bluff South Carolina. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
Other Materials
PowerPoint of Hewn-Timber Cabins created by Sharon Byram
TAHSC Cultural Institution Page for Hewn-Timber Cabins (includes contact information for visits and field trips)

Lesson Plans

The students will be able to learn and understand about the life of the African American in the Pee Dee region during slavery.

Question: Why was it important for slave to be purchased to work in the Mars Bluff region?

Day 1
1. Read the story of when Alex Gregg described how Africans came to South Carolina from the text: African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina
2. Discuss how Alex Gregg’s family felt when they were sent to a place that was not their home.
3. Create a timeline of when slavery first appeared in South Carolina.
Days 2-4
1. Show PowerPoint of Hewn Timber Cabins.
2. Discuss the PowerPoint and reflect on what was read from African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina.
3. Discuss how the items that were used in daily life were handmade by the residents of the cabins.  Talk about how some of these items told a story.
4. Read the story Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.
5. Tell the students to reflect on what they learned from the story.  Discuss how Clara felt, and if it reminds them of how the Gregg Family felt when coming to South Carolina.
6. Ask the class what Clara did to help her escape from slavery.
7. Have the students construct a quilt that will describe their lives.
8. Given a construction paper square, the students will design a quilt square describing themselves.
9. The squares will be put together to create a classroom quilt.
10. Each student will complete a writing assignment on what they have learned about the Africans from this region of South Carolina.

Teacher Reflections

During the summer of 2005 I had the opportunity to participate in the Pee Dee Summer Institute sponsored by the South Carolina Archives.  The purpose of this institute was to familiarize educators of the importance of South Carolina history in the Pee Dee area.

Dr. Marty Matthews, the Master Scholar, and Mrs. Wardie Sanders, the Master Teacher, took us on a journey that was not to be forgotten. Upon entering the class I felt as though I was fairly knowledgeable about South Carolina history.  Since I teach third grade and the focus is South Carolina history, I thought that I may not learn anything new and this may be a waste of my summer vacation.

During the first day, I learned so much about the early civilization and the significant impact that many cultures had on the development of South Carolina.  I remember going home after the first day and becoming re-energized and ready to start a new school year with this new wealth of information.  Upon learning about the Bering Land Bridge and how many of the Indians came from Asia, I have been able to reconstruct a living map with my students and was able to share more of this information when we took a field trip to the State Museum.    

I have been able to use the knowledge of artifact discovery to make this a rewarding and exciting experience for my children.  We have taken sweet grass baskets, and various pieces of pottery brought in by students, to do an artifact search and decide where it came from and why it was used.  The children are now more excited about artifacts and the word is not just something needed to know for the PACT, but it is something they can use when discovering new and exciting information.

As the days continued, it was evident that this was indeed a special class.  The field trips to the various cultural institutions provided me with much needed information that I could share with my co-workers and my students.

The bus ride in Santee as we traveled the path of General Francis Marion made me feel like I was back in time.  I wish we could have stopped and visited the graveyard to do some tombstone etchings.  When school resumed I was so excited about sharing this with my fellow colleagues and children in my classroom.  I played the CD of the Swamp Fox and my children wanted to listen to it everyday.  I have now put little pockets of information in their minds and I have watched them grow.   I am so ready to share with others what they have learned about “The Swamp Fox.”

Dr. Stukes wrapped that wonderful day up with his fantastic impersonation of General Francis Marion.  Just listening to him sent chills up my spine.  I could have listened to him for hours.  I knew that I had to get him to come to my school and perform for my children.

The trip to Francis Marion University to view the Hewn Timber Cabins and to hear the wonderful lady from Brattonsville give her reenactment of a slave girl was so moving.  Every year we take our students to the cabins, and Dr. McAllister and his assistant takes us back to the time of Alex Gregg and his descendents.  However, this time was a little different.  I was able to listen, take notes, and make photographs that I could share with my children.  This helped me prepare for my lesson on Alex Gregg, and to the give the children a clearer picture of what life was like during slavery.  My students have really grasped this information and were so excited to share when the visitors from the South Carolina Archives visited in December.

Student Assessments

  1. Class participation 30%
  2. Creating timelines 20%
  3. Creating quilt square 30%
  4. Paragraph 20%  (Rubric attached)

Examples of Students Work


Sharon Byram
Darlington, South Carolina