Tabby Construction: Building the early Lowcountry

Equal parts oyster shell, sand, water and lime, examples of the concrete material known as tabby can still be seen throughout the Lowcountry. In particular this blog will focus on St. Simon’s Island, GA and the surrounding area. From the first time I noticed this unique material, I was fascinated. Functional and vernacular, the abundance of oysters in this area created a striking sight as I traversed a wooded area in Tolomato Island, GA that was home to the ruins of a former sugar plantation and rum distillery known as ‘The Thicket.’

Tabby ruins of slave quarters at 'The Thicket' a sugar plantation/rum distillery, Tolomato Island, GA.
Tabby ruins of slave quarters at ‘The Thicket’ a sugar plantation/rum distillery, Tolomato Island, GA.

Although local preservation efforts have stabilized the ruins, it is still apparent how strong and durable tabby is as a building material and while standing among the ruins, I was able to visualize what the place must have looked like in an earlier time.

More of the ruins of the sugar mill on Tolomato Island.
More of the ruins of the sugar mill on Tolomato Island.

The Thicket plantation went through a series of owners from as early as 1760. By 1800, the property was owned by a William Carnochan who established an operation of a sugar mill and rum distillery, financed by Thomas Spalding of nearby Sapelo Island. The sugar works and distillery were a successful and profitable venture until a treacherous hurricane caused major damage to the buildings in September of 1824. One casualty was also reported, a slave who drowned. Carnochan never rebuilt and when he died in 1825, the property changed hands to Thomas Spalding’s son Charles. It was on this land that Sea Island cotton was cultivated.

In 1884, the then-current owner, John Mansfield, had at least four of the tabby slave cabins demolished, along with another residential dwelling. It is alleged that in this demolition, a slave graveyard was also plowed over and destroyed. That would make sense given the close proximity to the dwellings. That is definitely something worth doing more research on, so I will post my findings if anything comes up.

In any case, this collection of ruins is one of my favorite off the beaten path sites. All of the photos in this post were taken in October of 2010 when I attended the Society for Georgia Archaeology’s Annual Conference, held in St. Simon’s Island.

Another shot of the 200+ year old ruins.
Another shot of the 200+ year old ruins.
Nature reclaims her territory but the tabby stands strong even still.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Reminds of the ruins out at Wormsloe! I haven’t seen these yet, but have them on my radar now. Thanks!

    1. k8lynann says:

      You definitely should! There is all kinds of ruins like that out towards St Simons! I have never made it out to Wormsloe though, gotta do that soon. Thanks for reading!

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