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Sweet grass is a grass that grows naturally from the Carolina to Texas along the coastal dunes. It is also common on the coast of Africa, in countries that grew rice hundreds of years ago. These people used the grass to make baskets for winnowing and hauling rice and other products. When the slaves were brought to America beginning around 1500, the coastal African people were in high demand because of their experience in growing rice. When the slaves arrived, they found grasses similar to those in their homelands, so they began creating baskets. After the Civil War, the basket making continued in some coastal areas, in particular, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina near Charleston, where the the baskets have become a favorite souvenir.
Mt. Pleasant, is about four miles north of Charleston on Hwy 17. About 75 ghetto basket stands line this busy road. Baskets are also sold Charleston's Market area. It is estimated that there are about 300 families involved in the basket industry, down from 1200 families in the 1970s. Sweet grass baskets can sell for as much as $500 if they are of high quality.
In the Charleston Market sweet grass baskets typically cost several hundred dollars for a large basket and maybe twenty dollars for a tiny basket an inch tall and three inches wide.
Updated Dec 29, 2011
Sweetgrass basket making is an art that has been handed down from generation to generation (mostly women), and is part of the uniquely low country Gullah culture.
The art was brought to the coastal islands of South Carolina and Georgia by slaves from West Africa. The materials have been modified but the techniques are centuries old.
They are coiled baskets made of sweetgrass harvested in the spring and summer on the edge of the dunes near the ocean, often decorated with longleaf pine needles and woven together with strips of palmetto leaves.
Sweetgrass baskets have been exhibited at such places as the Smithsonian. They are beautiful and not inexpensive -- I can't remember the price tag of baskets I saw in Charleston, but I just looked on-line and there were some selling from $130-$275, which actually isn't prohibitive if looked at as a work of art rather than just a souvenir.
They sold by artisans in a number of places, including the Old City Market in downtown Charleston.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
This was the flag that was flow at Ft. Sumter and still very well preserved to this day. That is hard to imagine. Ft. Sumter and the flag were surrendered to Southerners, as the first thrust of the Civil War. It is now is the museum for display
Updated Jan 3, 2011
Sweetgrass Baskets--an art, not a craft! You'll find individuals selling these baskets all over the city, especially near public buildings and at THE MARKET, but don't think you're going to run away with a real bargain because pieces of art can be pricey.
The knowhow for making these baskets came from slaves who were brought here from West Africa. These baskets are woven in coils and made out of a specific type of grass found growing in this part of the country. They have been part of South Carolina's tradition since the 18th century.
Recognized as art, the better samples have been placed in museums around the country and even The Smithsonian. They can take as little as a few hours for smaller pieces to several months for more complicated creations--and priced accordingly. We were shown a large, woven 'platter' shaped piece said to cost $10,000!
Example: A small round basket (approx., 5" by 5") which I thought would be great for jewelry cost $119. I didn't purchase a basket at this time, but you might want to. You'll have many opportunities to do so, just be selective.
Updated Sep 11, 2010
When we go to Charleston Harbor Marina (which is in Mt. Pleasant) we get a 'goodie bag' from them which often has some Benne Wafers in it. The Benne Wafer is a thin cookie, made with tasty toasted sesame. Benne (the Bantu-word for sesame pronounced ben YAH) was brought from East Africa and planted extensively throughout the South.
Sesame is a seed that can be used in many of the same ways as nuts. When toasted, its flavor is almost almond- or peanut butter-like flavor. The original Benne Wafer is produced in Mt. Pleasant at the Olde Colony Bakery
They can be ordered on-line. The picture is from their website since I have long ago eaten all of my benne cookies.
Written Feb 25, 2010
Charleston was founded as Charlestown or Charles Towne, Carolina in 1670 and moved to is present location in 1680. The city is located along the South Carolina coast at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. By 1690 this was the fifth largest city in the US.
During the American Revolution, Charlestown was twice targeted by the British forces, and was captured in 1780. Before the Civil War Charleston was a hotbed of states' rights activism, including the divisive Democratic National Convention which allowed Lincoln to be elected. The Civil War actually began in Charleston with the siege of Fort Sumter.
Written Sep 27, 2009
The French Quarter of Charleston was designated as such in 1973 when the area was being preserved and revitalized. This section of the city along the Cooper River contains many of the city's oldest structures as it was one of the original parts of the city when it was founded in 1680.
This area has art galleries, Waterfront Park, Pink House Tavern (1712), Dock Street Theatre (1809), French Huguenot Church (1844), St. Philip's Episcopal Church (1835), and the Old Slave Mart (1859).
Written Sep 27, 2009
Charleston sweetgrass baskets date back over 300 years. The tradition was brought here by slaves from Africa and are an important craft and artform to the Gullah people of Charleston. The baskets are made of local sweetgrass by Gullah women. You can find women selling these downtown in the Market. Some of the designs are really amazing. The Gullah are descendants of African slaves many who came from Angola. The baskets were used to harvest rice and the tradition is handed down to each generation.The Gullah are comparable to the Creoles of Louisianna, but different of course. The Gullah are mainly in South Carolina...being a unique culture they have their own food, stories, music and (my favorite) language. The Gullah language is english mixed with over 4,000 African words from tribes all over Africa. Up until the 1940's alot of Gullah people still lived downtown, but now most of them are just on the islands. My grandfather can speak some Gullah just from growing up downtown and being around it. You can see some nice examples of the baskets on this website http://charlestonsweetgrass.com
Updated Apr 15, 2006
Foods that are a MUST try when visiting Charleston are:
shrimp and grits
hoppin john (rice and black eyed peas)
macaroni and cheese (trust me the southern version is very different from your traditional mac & cheese)
bar-b-q sandwhiches at Bessingers
apple or peach cobbler
sweet potato pie
red velvet cake
Written Mar 8, 2006
Now we heard about the sweet-grass baskets that were made here, but until you feel the quality and see them make by the poeple that create them we didn't under stand why they cost so much. These sweet-grass baskets are all hand made a take some time to create, they say this trade has been past down for gereration since times of slavery and that the craft itself originated in West African slaves. These baskets are incredible, you can feel the quality and know that they will last for generations in your family.
Updated Oct 9, 2005
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