The Dying Art of Deer-Driving in the South Carolina Low-Country

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The Dying Art of Deer-Driving in the South Carolina Low-Country

by Ileana Strauch
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 4: Ghosts

"These images chronicle a century of tradition."

The Gullahs are descended from African slaves taken to work on the cotton and rice plantations of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Isolated until recently from white and even other African American influences, the Gullahs developed a distinctive creole language and preserved many West African customs, as well as methods of cooking, fishing, and hunting. By tradition, the Gullahs were farmers, first as slaves and then after the Civil War as small landholders, sharecroppers, and plantation laborers. Some were skilled woodsmen and worked as drivers in deer hunts. In this tradition, mounted drivers and hounds would flush deer out of the thick woods and undergrowth of the South Carolina low-country to where hunters with shotguns waited at intervals along the deer paths. Low-country deer-driving recalls the African hunting practice of driving game into nets or towards waiting armed hunters, while the hounds, horns, and mounted huntsmen are elements of the English mounted hunt. With the outside world increasingly intruding, the Gullahs have found it more and more difficult to keep alive their unique traditions. The loss of open land and the preference for the ease of “still hunting” have nearly doomed the mounted hunt. These images chronicle nearly a century of low-country deer-driving tradition as still practiced by the South Carolina Middleton Hunting Club.