Freewoods Farm: The history behind 40 acres and a mule

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 6:28 PM EDT
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SOCASTEE, S.C. (WMBF) - No matter the culture, farming is familiar for many.

For a Black farm in Socastee, their crops weren’t for selling but rather a means for survival.

When you think of farm life, chickens may come to mind, hogs, even some mules.

At Freewoods Farm in Socastee, you’ll see plenty of those animals, but that’s not all.

“We have collard greens,” O’neal Smalls, president of the Freewoods Foundation said. “Turnip, mustards, cabbage.”

With 40 acres to cover, Smalls enlisted help from volunteers like Craig James.

“You have everything you need. You can put a house out here,” Smalls said. “You have your farm, your vegetables, your produce.”

Together, they make their rounds across the farm planting produce and feeding the livestock.

Looking at Freewoods Farms from afar it appears to be the standard American farm.

However, there’s a deeper story sowed into this soil.

“Freewoods was a Black community,” Smalls said. “[It] started right at the end of the Civil War and lasted that 100 years we’re talking about, that first century of freedom.”

After a tumultuous 300 years of slavery, Smalls said with nothing but their freedom, Black families only asked for one thing 40 acres and a mule.

“They really thought they could make it if they got 40 acres,” he said. “Well, they didn’t get it.”

Instead, roughly 30 Black families put their minds and tools together to create a self-sustained community. It abundantly showed farming on this land wasn’t just an obligation, it was the only means of survival.

“They had to fashion a new life for themselves,” Smalls explained. “They grew almost everything they ate. In addition to talking about what happened on the farm, we have to talk about what happened in the community.”

After hours of working tirelessly in the field, these Black farmers built their own churches and schoolhouses.

Some still stand today.

To earn money the farmers grew cash crops like tobacco and cotton.

This self-supported way of living carried on from 1865 to 1900, spanning 35 years.

“What they did here I think is a remarkable story,” Smalls said.

In fact, it’s a tale Smalls is vowing to never let die, which shows in what we see here today.

Crops constantly growing, chickens producing eggs daily and mules to haul it all away.

It’s this preservation of his history that’s gotten Black South Carolinians like James grabbing the seed bags to lend a helping hand.

“That’s how you keep something like this alive,” James said. “You have a few people who come out and volunteer, but you want to get the community more involved.”

Today, Freewoods Farm Museum is also the only known Black farmer’s museum in the country.

Centuries later, several things have changed but when it comes to working in the field Smalls said you won’t see much of a difference.

“The same ol’ way,” he said. “We do it the way they did it.”

Smalls said there’s always room for more volunteers.

If you want to support, visit or for more information on Freewoods Farm, click here.

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