A Dream Comes True
By: Darrell Mullinax
Last January, a friend in Charleston, Chad Womack, sent me an e-mail with a photo. After a rain, he was out walking around on a lot, looking for signs of old glass and pottery or pipe stems, when he saw a stamp-sized patch of green sticking out of the dirt. He kicked it with his foot and reached down to pick it up. Incredibly, it was a slave tag: "CHARLESTON, 1840, PORTER."
The following week I received another e-mail with another photo attached. While detecting around a plantation house that is being renovated, Chad had found another slave tag, or about two thirds of one anyway. All the information was on the part that he found except the last two digits of the year. It seemed unbelievable that he had found two slave tags in less than two weeks. The day he found the partial tag, he also found a nice South Carolina button. I had to make another trip to Charleston!
I talked it over with my detecting buddy, Randy Reece, and he was ready to go. I contacted Chad and made arrangements for Randy and myself to go the next Sunday. Chad said he had a couple of spots to put us on. You can't beat a friend like that! I was already up when my cell phone rang about 4:20 a.m. It was Randy, and he was waiting outside my house. I threw my things in his car, and we were on the road by 4:30.
We knew the address of the first site, a plantation house, and we called Chad as we neared the location. Chad had to work but he was going to meet us and show us the site. By 8:15 we had taken the tour, and things looked very promising. A large area was scraped down about 6", and some old brick could still be seen in the dirt. After sharing with Chad and Randy that one of my detecting goals was to find a South Carolina button, I started detecting the scraped area. About 20 minutes later, I made a decent find, an 1887 Indian Head cent. I also dug several modern pennies and a clad quarter. Randy had some cartridges and a Wheat cent, I believe, but that was it for what had looked to be a hotspot.
There was a good size area right in front of the house that had about 10" of dirt removed. Randy worked there and found a couple of small, flat buttons but not much else. I moved to various other parts of the yard and found a few modern coins but nothing old except a large, flat button near the entrance back of the property. While making my way back to the front of the house, I searched along the east side. I dug a good signal that turned out to be a nametag with the name Franny Russell on it.
About two o'clock Chad came back by and asked if we wanted him to show us the other site. I told Chad and Randy I had found my slave tag, and it even had the slave's name on it. Then I pulled out the modern nametag and showed it to them, and we all had a good laugh. Randy and I agreed to check out the other site, following Chad for about three miles until he pulled over at a large lot. It had been cleared of all trees and brush, and a lot of dirt had been moved around to put in a drain system. Chad said the only problem with this site was that it had been hit pretty hard since November. He showed us a strip near the street that had been the hotspot.
Randy started hunting there, while I moved over to one of the mounds of dirt and searched. I didn't come up with anything from the mound, but there was a strip beside it that looked as if it had been spread recently. That 30' x 60' strip began giving up Wheat cents, but none earlier than 1930, and I finally found a 1942-D Mercury dime before Randy approached me and asked if I wanted to go back to the plantation house. He wasn't finding anything, he said, but when I told him I was finding a few Wheats, he decided to stay and help me work the area.
I found one more Wheat cent and then received a good, repeatable signal that was clearly something else. From a depth of 3-4" out popped a piece of copper. It must have been on edge, or it would have surely given a higher ID reading. I was startled for a moment because, even though it was bent, it had the right shape and size to be a slave tag. I checked both sides of it and couldn't see any writing on either side. So, I walked over to Randy and showed it to him, telling him I was thrilled there for a minute. He looked at it and said, "That is a slave tag!"
I just couldn't believe it, but he told me to check the clipped corners. I agreed with him that the size and shape looked like a slave tag, but explained that I could see no lettering on it. He suggested we take it to the car and get some water. As we poured some water over it and rubbed it lightly, a few letters began to appear, and my heart started pounding. It really was a slave tag!
We put it in a cup of water and went back to find another tag- yeah, right. I searched a few more minutes and looked up to see that Chad had come back by to check on us. We told him we were going to take a water break and handed him the cup with the tag in it. Chad turned the cup up to take a drink and saw something in the bottom. He had a surprised look on his face and wanted to know whose it was. Randy was quick to tell him that it surely wasn't his. Chad shook my hand and congratulated me, and I thanked him. He kept rubbing on the tag and checking it with his younger eyes, and said he could make out CHAR and under that looked like NE.
"Hey!" Chad exclaimed, "You have found one of the more scarce Charleston Neck tags!"
That really made my day! Not only had I finally found a slave tag, but a Charleston Neck tag at that!
Chad said he had to go make sure his men's paperwork was completed at the end of their shift. So, after searching for a few more minutes, we decided to call it a day.
We were to meet Chad and his wife, Sarah, at the Cracker Barrel for supper before leaving Charleston. Randy and I arrived before Chad and Sarah, and when the hostess asked if we wanted to be seated or wait for the rest of our party, Randy replied that he'd like to sit down and rest his feet. I told Randy my feet felt fine because they weren't touching the ground anyway.
After making two more one-day trips to the site, I was pleased with my finds, especially when, on the second trip, I managed to find my first South Carolina button. Other recoveries included a two-piece eagle A button, a one-piece eagle I button, a British Royal Dragoons button, and a large, flat button. A U.S.N. insignia also made its way into my pouch. I also found two Indian Head cents, numerous Wheat cents, four silver dimes, a Standing Liberty quarter, an 1822 large cent, and a key that looks much like an old shackle key. What did the first hunters on the site find?
If you ever find a piece of flat copper in Charleston, do not throw it away before carefully cleaning and examining it. You might be discarding a tag worth thousands of dollars. I'm sure everyone would like to have two friends such as Chad and Randy. Chad acquired permission and put us on the spots, and Randy drove me to them. All I had to do was search and dig. You can't beat that! I didn't attain my original goal on that first trip, but what was only a dream did come true. May your dreams come true, too. (I meant to stop on the way home and buy my first lottery ticket but forgot.) Thanks again to Chad and Randy for assisting me in the find of a lifetime.
DARRELL MULLINAX is from upstate South Carolina and has been detecting seriously since 1996. A member of the South Carolina Treasure & Artifact Association in Greer, South Carolina, Darrell started out searching parks and schoolgrounds, but now relic hunting in Charleston or around old home sites is his idea of detecting.