The Florence County town of Mars Bluff is home to the one remaining cabin from the Reconstruction-era African-American settlement known as Jamestown. The community was founded in 1870 by former slave Irvin James, who purchased 246 acres in the Pee Dee region for his descendants. His desire was for his current and future family members to be able to live independently, free of debt to or ownership by another man.
The land was divided into 22 units which each included a wooden cabin, such as the one pictured above, and enough land for a garden and some livestock. More than 300 James descendants were born and raised on the settlement before moving on to other parts of the country to find work with higher wages and better treatment.
Prior to relocating to other regions of the United States, the Jamestown residents worked on farms and even rented their land. However, wages ranged from 30 cents to 60 cents a day for strenuous labor, and many people eventually moved elsewhere to look for better work conditions. As Irvin James descendant and contributing photographer Terry James says of life in Jamestown, “You had to cut your own wood. You had to go out and hunt your food each day or you went out in the yard and killed it. That, along with the era, the tensions of the time, the stresses of being African-American and living in the South, never knowing if you’re going to step wrong and get someone upset. It was tough.”
Each year James descendants gather in Florence to celebrate their history and teach the younger generation the significance of the settlement to their lives. The reunion is a public event that includes three days of activities related to the settlement’s past, such as quilt making and corn husking. Organizers feel it is important for everyone in the community to understand and remember this way of life.
In order to continue this effort, Terry James and others have begun a movement to raise funds to restore and preserve the remaining Jamestown cabin. James is compiling a recipe book of African American dishes and folk remedies that were followed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He hopes that proceeds from the sale of the book will help the preservation effort as well as educate people on the culture within the settlement. The land surrounding the cabin is now mostly used for logging.