NEW GRACE HISTORY
Many visitors to New Grace return again and again to sail on Sabine Lake, kayak and fish in the sparkling winding rivers, hike over panoramic trails and enjoy dining in its many cafes, restaurants and bistros. If you’re looking for a getaway not far from home where the rule is kindness and down home hospitality with a generous helping of good humor and conversation then New Grace will not fail to satisfy and reward the senses.
However, not many first time visitors are acquainted with the intriguing, unique and not-so-southern history of New Grace, South Carolina. Its history is a testament to its cultural diversity, independence and unfailing commitment to the importance of individual integrity, hard work and fair mindedness. The citizens of New Grace pride themselves on being able to work together to insure a quality of life worthy of its heritage.
In the early 1600s merchants in the Louisiana Territory were looking for an overland route to the busy and prosperous port at Charleston, South Carolina. Goods coming in and out of New Orleans had to travel down the east coast and around the Florida peninsula which was expensive and could take months depending on weather and safe passage considering the smugglers and foreign ships that preyed on unescorted ships.
A wealthy New Orleans merchant, Charles Ranier, sent Albert de Beaufort Grace with a small party to travel up the Mississippi searching for a land route to the port of Charleston. De Beaufort Grace was an excellent record keeper and his journals, sketches and reports have survived and provide an accurate account of his travels. He arranged for a Native American guide Quech-ewe-ay (carelessly pronounced Wich-a-way) who accompanied him on subsequent expeditions.
On one of their later expeditions the party found themselves in a torrential rain storm and sought shelter in what appeared to be a cave. When the storm passed De Beaufort Grace and his party explored the cave and found a rear exit which opened upon a beautiful lush green valley nestled among rolling low rising hills with rivers and lakes. Although, he never found a river-land route to Charleston, New Grace was settled. With the influx of Creole, French and Cajun ex-pats arriving from New Orleans, New Grace was well on its way to becoming the all-embracing community which many of our citizens today claim their roots. Just go on up on the porch and pull up a rocker and a fan and have a glass of sun brewed kickin’ iced tea (you’ll need that fan) and talk to local restaurateur and historian Mama Lulu.
THE CIVIL WAR YEARS
Given the diversity of its settlers New Grace was fiercely antislavery. Contrary to the rest of South Carolina the citizens of New Grace provided sanctuary to all escaped slaves and practiced extreme measures to dissuade, mislead and expel slave hunters. New Grace was a stop on the Underground Railroad and was well acquainted with Harriet Tubman. You will find a statue honoring her bravery standing as a symbol of equality for all in Freedom and Justice Park behind the New Grace Court Complex on Main Street.
New Grace remained unscathed by Sherman’s March through the south. According to personal diaries and journals this was due more to the ingenuity of the town than military strategy, compromise or secret agreements. Knowing that Sherman was on their doorstep a town meeting was convened to discuss saving New Grace from the ravages of Sherman’s troops. One town person, Philomine Truharte, fondly called Miss Philly, practiced in working roots, claimed to be a “natral” healer and a all-seeing reader of tarot suggested that all the town needed to do was take down the sign showing the way to New Grace, put bushes and forest debris on the road and extinguish all candles between sunset and sunrise. We’ll never know if blind Union scouts, good juju or just dumb luck intervened, but New Grace is still here and as Mama Lulu points out, “Jest as purty and pristine as it ever was like God intended it to be just like my precious ancestor predicted.” No one contradicts Mama Lulu.
By the late 1800s rice and cotton were cash crops. Although slavery never had a foot hold in New Grace, farming became very important and was an economic mainstay for the region. Workers were hired earning a fair wage and were able to purchase and farm their own land. One of the earliest cooperatives started here when farmers agreed to planting and selling specific crops and sharing profits. Farming is no longer a driving force of the economy of New Grace, but the original ideals are still in place.