The City of Greenville does not have much in the way of historically significant buildings. Sure, the city holds captive a few old textile mills that are spearheading the gentrification of the City View mill communities, but historically the city has not valued its past.
Consider the old City Hall, Built in the 19th century in the Richardson Romanesque style, similar to the Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C., it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Exhibiting a vast misapplication of the word “preservation”, Greenville City Council voted in 1972 to tear it down and promptly replaced it with the giant upside down air conditioning unit that we call City Hall today.
Greenville City Council has always had an eager New South kind of vibe. Quick to reject the old and grab onto the new and shiny. There’s no appreciation of a well worn patina that comes with age. One imagines that the members of Greenville City Council are not natural adherents to the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic.
However, old buildings sometimes escape destruction and live on to remind us of a time and place that stand in stark contradiction of the self-righteous and self-immolation mores of today. Whitehall is one such building. Nestled up on Earle Street off of North Main, (NOMA as it is now called) it was built as a summer residence by Henry Middleton in 1813. Constructed in the Barbadian style, the house stands as a reminder of the connection between Barbados, Charleston, and Greenville.
I knew something of the Barbados-South Carolina connection through my own genealogical research, research not to prove that I am related to someone famous (which I am not) but to prove that our ancestors would recognize themselves in us, if they could only look into the future. I suspect that if they did look, they would be as appalled at what we allow in our modern world as we are appalled at what they allowed in their colonial world.
This was on my mind as I planned a trip to Barbados. Back in January, I had laid out a schedule for a series of neurosurgeries during the last part of July and August. For those interested, I had the implants placed in my brain for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). The results from the surgeries have exceed my wildest expectations. It is like having the last 15 years of Parkinson’s symptoms erased.
So before the trepanation of my skull occurred, I decided to go to Barbados to explore their national archives. Having never been to the West Indies before, I was pleased to discover that the island was not as developed as I had feared. I also discovered how it might feel to be a white minority in a black majority country. The people were very polite and reserved but would readily relax and have a good time once I proved that I could relax too. I quickly discovered that something else was missing in Barbados – the uniquely American toxic political mix of white progressive guilt stoking the fires of black resentment that truly prevents us from achieving that colorblind society that my generation was promised.
When I toured the Barbadian national parliament building, I learned that they have the second oldest elected legislature in the Western Hemisphere putting them right behind the Virginia General Assembly and a full 30 years ahead of South Carolina’s Assembly. I also learned that Barbadians are very proud of their rebellion against enslavement and their independence from Great Britain gained respectively in 1834 and 1966. Nowhere in their official historical narrative did they condemn their colonial history as Nancy Pelosi did to ours with her trip to Ghana last week.
In the 17th century, Barbados had twice as many white Englishmen as did the United States Southern Colonies. It wasn’t until sugar cane was introduced that slavery became prolific. I was not surprised to learn that the British not only brought African slaves to Barbados, they also brought enslaved Irish to work without the possibility of freedom. The Brits, much like the Spanish and Dutch were equal opportunity enslavers. In fact, the descendants of those Irish still live on Barbados to this day. They are an insulated community, extremely poor and suffer from a multitude of genetic disorders due to their isolation.
As the large sugar plantations squeezed out the smaller white land owners, they moved to other English colonies such as Charleston. One such owner was Edward Middleton. Needless to say, Edward got on with the Lords Proprietors of South Carolina and gained much influence in Charleston and throughout the American colonies. He was grandfather of Henry Middleton who presided over the Continental Congress and whose brother, Arthur, signed the Declaration and whose son would build a house in Greenville. The Middleton’s moved at the right time and married the right people. They were intwined with the Rutledge’s, the Drayton’s, the Huger’s, the Manigault’s and the Pinckney’s – names that ring through the halls of South Carolina’s political history.
So what are we to make of these Middleton’s, members of South Carolina’s colonial aristocracy who liked to spend summers in Greenville and make statements such as this complaint laid out by our Founding Father Arthur Middleton:
The Spanish are receiving and harboring all of our runaway negroes, they have found out a new way of sending our own slaves against us, to rob and plunder us — they are continually fitting out parties of Indians from St. Augustine to murder our white people, to rob our plantations, and carry off our slaves so that we are not only at a vast expense of guarding our southern frontiers, but the inhabitants are continually alarmed and have no leizure to look after their crops.
His statement is certainly racial in its assumptions but true in its intent. The Spanish were murdering the English colonists and ruining our economy. One principle that Progressives do not seem to care about is that context is everything.
Should we apologize for Whitehall being in Greenville? Should we profoundly denounce it or should we be grateful to have descended from people who had the ingenuity to create a system of government that would allow eventual freedom to all? Freedom was coming for enslaved Americans. We were on the brink of the industrial revolution. Of the countries who abolished slavery, only the United States was radicalized enough to fight a war over it.
For that is the one answer that separates Conservatives from Progressives. Conservatives understand that freedom requires time, not revolution, to take root. Progressives rely on revolution and the ensuing blood bath to invoke change. Progressives had their revolution in 1861 to 1865 with the loss of 600,000 Americans but did not achieve that they expected. A generation earlier, Great Britain outlawed slavery and compensated the plantation owners in Barbados without incident. The Progressives of 1861 botched it. That is why they now insist that the monuments be razed, ancestors slandered and reparations be paid. Yet, this will never bring them freedom for they are attempting to redefine he past to meet their definition of right or wrong. This can only lead to a different kind of bondage – a bondage of the mind bound to a past that can never be changed.