The Combahee River Raccoon Oysters

eric1by Eric Spigner

Combahee Plantation is located on the banks of the Combahee River which is considered to be the jewel of the ACE Basin (Ashepoo, Edisto, and Combahee (ACE) Rivers). The property was originally part of a royal land grant from the King of England to Daniel Heyward (1720-1777) patriarch of the Heyward family of rice planters. It was known throughout Antebellum times as Hamburg.

One of Heyward’s sons, Thomas, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The original house on the plantation was burned during the Civil War and the present house was built in 1871-1872. An 1830 frame cottage was moved from elsewhere on the plantation and stands adjacent to the main house. During the Antebellum Era there was a tribe of Natives called Yamasee Tribe which are now extinct but some African Americans carry the lineage of the Yamasee Tribe due to intermarriage and relations. 

oysterslavesOyster Slaves

The streams that ran off the Combahee River had an abundance of Raccoon Oysters which were very well liked by the Plantation owners which they would enjoy in a large feast. The slaves who worked that land did not only pick cotton and harvest rice they would dig in the streams for oysters.

The slaves would soon take part in eating oysters they would scrub them and shovel them on iron mesh that rested over a bed of brush and gunny sacking that was used to create steam that made the oysters pop open. The Yamasee Tribe never used the oysters for eating but instead they used it as a form of compost. They would take the shells that were eating by the plantation owners and slaves then crush them in to almost the look of sand. Oyster shells have a high source of calcium, which the Natives didn’t know at that time, but they knew it made a great addition to the ground where they grew there food.


It is recorded that the Natives taught the slaves this technique of using oyster shells to plant there food for which they were making compost to produce strong, beautiful and flavorful greens. It was also recorded that the Natives would use crushed oyster shells mixed with the river water and make somewhat of a paste to use on their skin which prevented and removed blemishes which occurred from living outdoors or in huts. The slaves in return taught the Natives how to cook a bird called Oystercatcher that this area had an abundance of which the Natives only used for feathers to make clothing.

This is an excerpt from the pages of a book written by Eric Spigner, the executive chef of Nova in Oak Cliff, Texas, covering the evolution of South Carolina BBQ during the times of slavery in a small town just less than 15 miles from his Grandmother’s home where he was raised. We will look for more from Spigner in February as we celebrate Black History Month.

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