The hunting tradition has long been ingrained in Southern culture. Hunting has played an integral role in developing the characteristic image of the Southern male, and arguably, continues to do so to this day. The Southern hunting tradition is universal, and has served as a way for white and African American men demonstrate their masculinity and affirm their role as providers in the household, and in some instances, reinforce racial and class divides.
After the Civil War, the role of hunting and fishing shifted within Southern society. Rice production declined after the war, and disappeared from South Carolina almost entirely by the early twentieth century. The uncultivated rice fields evolved into wetland habitats that attracted huge numbers of migrating waterfowl, and Southern landowners, particularly those in the Lowcountry, leased portions of their property to hunters and hunt clubs. It was during this period that the South emerged as a leading sporting destination for wealthy white Northerners, including Bernard Baruch.
This shift increased the tension among subsistence hunters and wealthy sportsmen over competition of wild game sources. Hunting also began to reflect racial tensions between whites – specifically the once elite slaveholding whites – and freed blacks. As thousands of hunters journeyed south seeking abundant supplies of fish and game, they also came for an “authentic” Southern experience. This “included the presence of subordinate African Americans to complete the vision of a mythical antebellum South.” (Hunting and Fishing in the New South, 7). The ability of freed blacks – who had previously been forbidden to hunt, or relegated to hunting smaller and less impressive game like possums and rabbits – to freely pursue fish and game, challenged this mythical antebellum trope and placed an additional burden on limited game sources.
“For sportsmen, unrestricted hunting and fishing gave African Americans the ability both to capture valuable wildlife and to engage in sporting behavior that elite whites wished to retain as their exclusive purview. For those invested in sporting tourism, independent black hunters and fishermen not only competed with native and visiting sportsmen for the products of the chase, thereby damaging the regenerative potential of an increasingly lucrative industry, but also challenged the basic assumptions about black subordination that lay at the heart of the popularity of Southern tourism.”
Hunting and Fishing in the New South, Scott Giltner
Regardless of – or oblivious to – the threat that freed blacks posed to this paternalistic, antebellum mythos, wealthy Northerners continued to flock south in the pursuit of abundant game, sporting opportunities, and cheap land.
When Bernard Baruch bought Hobcaw Barony from the Donaldons in 1905, it was the culmination of nearly eight years of searching for a retreat from his hectic life in New York. He was deeply interested in hunting and, by virtue of this Southern roots, familiar with the potential for winter hunting in his home state. His brother, Hartwig, and his Kaminski cousins in Georgetown had hunted on the Donaldson land and told stories of the skies darkened by thousands of ducks, so when Baruch found out Hobcaw was for sale he didn’t hesitate.
For the next four decades the rich and famous joined Bernard and his family on hunting expeditions at Hobcaw Barony. Baruch employed the African-American residents of the former slave villages within Hobcaw Barony, and the white Caines brothers – former poachers – to serve as hunting guides for him and his guests, completing their Southern experience.
Guests who visited the Baruchs at Hobcaw Barony were treated to extravagant dinner parties, and hunting excursions through Hobcaw’s swamps and rice canals. There are seven Baruch guest books covering the period from December, 1911 through August, 1946. Guests who wrote their names in the books include artist Louis Aston Knight; Robert and Evangeline Johnson, children of Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson; Harry Whitney, wealthy financier, sportsman and husband of Gertrude Vanderbilt; Richard Irvine Manning, Governor of South Carolina from 1915 – 1919; newspaperman Ralph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World and the Evening World; and Herbert Bayard Swope, journalist and member of the Algonquin Round Table. When he visited in 1921, Robert Wood Johnson II wrote in the guest book, “ A most marvelously organized shooting lodge. The greatest ducking.”
Throughout the early twentieth century, a number of prominent and wealthy northerners followed Baruch to the South, and purchased land on the Waccamaw neck. In 1911, W.H. “Bill” Yawkey, owner of the Detroit Tigers, bought several islands in Winyah Bay south of Hobcaw Barony. He left his estate, including the islands, to his nephew and adopted son, Tom Yawkey, who later became owner of the Boston Red Sox. Railroad scion, Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt, purchased four old rice plantations – Laurel Hill, Springfield, Brookgreen and The Oaks – located a few miles north of Hobcaw. Many of these properties became vacation homes and hunting preserves for these wealthy northerners and their guests.
The explosion of sporting tourism, and the spike in unregulated hunting, eventually impressed upon Southerners the importance of protecting fish and game. The national conservation movement finally infiltrated the South in the mid to late nineteenth century, bringing about regulations on hunting and fishing, and wider conservation practices. This new attitude toward conservation would be applied at Hobcaw Barony to preserve the property’s natural habitat and wild game.
Belle Baruch had been coming to Hobcaw Barony since she was five years old, when wild game was plenty and thousands of ducks darkened the sky. By the 1950s development was increasing on the Waccamaw Neck, and she could see that the wildlife was declining. Although unregulated hunting from both subsistence and sport hunters played a large role in this deline, Belle understood that habitat loss did the most damage to local species, as wetlands were drained and forests were cleared. She decided to hire a manager, Nolan Taylor, to help maintain Hobcaw Barony’s vast acreage and diverse ecosystems, and protect the property from exploitation by developers and poachers.
In 1956 Bernard Baruch signed over all of Hobcaw Barony to Belle. She realized the environmental importance of Hobcaw Barony, and in 1960 she began talking with her lawyers about preserving Hobcaw from development. In 1964, Belle established the Bernard Baruch Foundation Trust, mandating that Hobcaw be used, “for the purpose of teaching and/or research in forestry, marine biology, and the care and propagation of wildlife and flora and fauna in South Carolina.” After Belle’s death in 1964, Bernard Baruch rejected the idea of naming Belle’s foundation after him, and the name was changed to the Belle W. Baruch Foundation.
Today there are two research facilities on the property: Clemson University’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology, established in 1968; and the University of South Carolina’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, founded in 1969. Hobcaw Barony’s 16,000 undeveloped acres remain dedicated to research, education, and the preservation of wildlife habitat.
For further reading:
Hunting and Fishing in the New South: Black Labor and White Leisure after the Civil War by Scott Giltner
Hunting, Fishing, and Foraging: Common Rights and Class Relations in the Postbellum South by Steven Hahn
Bathed in Blood: Hunting and Mastery in the Old South by Nicolas Proctor