Leighlin Plantation figures prominently in The Jack Mallory Chronicles, a beautiful 17th century plantation on the Ashley River outside of Charles Town (modern-day Charleston, South Carolina). Leighlin is presented as one of the first Carolina plantations to grow rice, a crop that would eventually become the colony’s greatest export and thus one of the reasons behind the importation of thousands of African slaves. Before cotton was king in the South, other crops brought wealth to planters, beginning with “Carolina Gold” rice which thrived alongside the region’s tidal rivers and among its many swamps.
First of all, I’d like to explain the inspiration behind the plantation’s name. When the reader first arrives at Leighlin, the plantation is owned by James Logan, Jack’s nemesis. Logan leads a double life–a pirate by sea and a wealthy planter by land. Though living in an English colony, Logan, however, is no Englishman; he was born and raised a poor farmer in County Carlow, Ireland, outside a village called Leighlin (modern-day Leighlinbridge). The American reader will perhaps tend to pronounce Leighlin as Lee-lin when in reality Logan retains the Irish pronunciation of Leck-lin. And how did I come about choosing Leighlin as Logan’s birthplace? Many years ago on a trip to Ireland, I visited Leighlinbridge and the descendants of one Myles W. Keogh, an historical figure familiar to Civil War buffs or those who’ve read about the Battle of the Little Bighorn…but that’s a whole nother story for a separate blog! Suffice it to say, I chose Leighlin as the name for Logan’s plantation (and birthplace) because of my life-long interest in Myles.
Now on to Leighlin House itself. When I wrote the first draft of The Prodigal, I had laid out the interior of the house pretty well but was still a bit sketchy about the exterior. It wasn’t until I went to Charleston, South Carolina, for my first research trip that I decided what Leighlin House truly looked like, both inside and out. I visited three plantations while I was there, one being Drayton Hall, which is a National Trust Historic Site and a place I strongly recommend any traveler to Charleston to visit. (A link to their website can be found on my blog’s home page.)
Drayton Hall is a magnificently preserved plantation house, originally built in the early 1700’s, its architecture inspired by Andrea Palladio. Symmetry is in all things. One can virtually cut Drayton Hall down the center and find equal halves in each side. Each of the two floors has a central room–the Great Hall on the first level and another on the second, each with two rooms leading off each side. Each room is almost a mirror image of the other. The photo below is of the Great Hall.
The lowest level of the house is a raised English basement. In Leighlin House, this area is used not only for plantation stores but its connecting rooms are occupied by the house servants and the handful of white workers employed at Leighlin.
I fell in love with Drayton the first time I toured the house. I visited again on another research trip and enjoyed it as much as the first time. The other plantation houses that I visited had been so altered from their origins while Drayton has retained so much of its original charm. I knew the minute I stepped inside that this would be the design on which I based Leighlin House. On the outside it seems immense but the interior somehow provides a feeling of a much smaller house, of a certain intimacy and charm.
When it comes to the land surrounding Leighlin House, I knew I wanted something grand and unique. And there are few places as grand and unique as Middleton Plantation, located just up the Ashley River from Drayton Hall. (A link to their website is also on my blog home page.)
I spent hours on both of my visits wandering the lush, manicured grounds with its glorious, huge gardens. While I didn’t include the massive, intricately-designed garden for Leighlin (I incorporated a much smaller one inspired by another plantation), I knew I wanted to use many of the other features of the land. One of the vistas I wanted to utilize in my story was the view of the river from atop the bluff where the house sits. This particular view was a favorite of Jack Mallory’s mother.
The path in this photo leads to beautiful green, sweeping terraces. Below the terraces are two ornamental ponds that form the shape of butterfly wings. While I didn’t get as elaborate as wings, I did incorporate the ornamental ponds into Leighlin’s landscape. Beyond the ponds would be Leighlin’s main landing, for in those days the river was the only way to travel to and from Charles Town as well as to ship products downriver to be sold and shipped by sea to distant markets.
The following photo reveals one of the ponds in the foreground and a mill pond in the background. From this, you can get a good idea how lush and green things are there. In the foreground you can also see the terraced lawn dropping away from the bluff.
How could this place not inspire a writer? Or any visitor for that matter. It impressed Hollywood enough for it to be used in Mel Gibson’s Revolutionary War movie, “The Patriot.”
So now when you one day read The Prodigal (and hopefully the subsequent stories), you will have a picture in your mind of what Leighlin House and the immediate grounds look like. I urge you to visit Drayton Hall and Middleton Plantation. I’m sure they will inspire you as much as they inspired me.