Gullah Culture, Sustainable Agriculture, and Black History Intersect at This South Carolina Farm

Landowners are partnering with Hipcamp to earn extra money by connecting their properties with folks looking to stay and camp outside. All you need to get started is a flat spot where someone can pitch a tent or park an RV, or a structure (such as a yurt, canvas tent, or cabin) for them to spend the night in.

When Tony Jones left Beaufort, South Carolina, he never expected to return, especially not with his wife Belinda and their five kids.

“I would tell folks where I was from, and I was proud to be from the area but really not proud to come back,” he said.

So, you can imagine that Tony surprised himself when he brought Belinda to St. Helena Island 37 years ago to see a 12.4-acre rural, wooded property. The land was, according to Tony, “in the sticks,” about a 20-minute drive from Beaufort. There was nothing there, not even a road or a trail to access it.

Tony joked, “Belinda would tell people, I drug her down here—”

“— kicking and screaming,” Belinda finished with a laugh.

But once the Jones family arrived, they found themselves in a place full of history, culture, and rich biodiversity. After starting Morning Glory Homestead, the Joneses began to welcome Hipcampers to Friendly Fowl Farm at Morning Glory Homestead to experience a land that was once a plantation and at the center of Gullah Geechee culture.

Having earned a spot as one of the best Hipcamps in South Carolina for 2024, Belinda and Tony are transforming land with a painful history into something that’s impactful to all who visit.

Photo courtesy of Hipcamp Hosts Tony & Belinda Jones

Familial roots

Belinda grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina, before she and Tony met at South Carolina State University. Upon graduating in 1981, Tony accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. military. The couple then grew their family as they moved between states and countries like Germany and Belgium while Tony worked as an Adjutant General Corps human resources officer.

All the while, Tony knew that he had important land in his family—his ancestors had bought a piece of land on St. Helena Island where they’d once been enslaved on a plantation. “This is where occasionally my father would come out with some guys and they would go hunting,” he said.

Belinda added, “It was not used for a long time, but it was still in the family. Tony’s father was renting plots out.”

When the Jones family moved back to South Carolina upon Tony’s retirement from the military in 2002, they built their home and a garden on this very land.

We knew we wanted a garden because we’ve always had a garden wherever we’ve been,” Belinda said. “We started raising chickens, goats, rabbits, hogs, and then later we added turkeys and guineas. Tony says no more animals. But, you know, I have a bucket list.”

Photo by Hipcamper Allison M.

A farm-to-camping experience

The local community became interested in the Joneses’ farm when Tony and Belinda’s kids began participating in 4-H youth programs, showing their own produce and animals at events and a local farmer’s market.

“Before, we were just using homesteading for our family, raising what we needed to eat and sharing with family and friends occasionally,” Belinda said. “As interest grew, we started thinking, ‘Wow, maybe we could do a little more of this.’ Over time, we started attending conferences and workshops about how to get into farming as a business and started filling out the necessary paperwork.”

In 2016, the Joneses made Morning Glory Homestead an official business. They continued their farming education by attending conferences as members of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, which guided them to Hipcamp.

“They offered this wonderful sustainable farming conference, and while there, we heard some folks talking about how they were offering camping on their farm,” Belinda said. “When we were stationed in Europe, we camped throughout, and you’d see holidays on farms. We were aching to do it now that we actually had the property and the means to do that.”

Belinda took to the web to look for a platform they could use to connect with campers.

“While I was looking, Hipcamp came up in the search engine. I went ahead and filled out the form and we got accepted. We’ve been excited about it ever since,” she said.

Today, Friendly Fowl Farm offers two campsites that accommodate tents and RVs or trailers under 34 feet long. Rather than electricity, sewage, or wifi, the sites offer peace and quiet amid magnolia trees, and even with limited amenities, campers are drawn here for something more.

Photo by Hipcamp Host Belinda Jones

Getting to know the land

In October 2018, the Joneses welcomed their first Hipcampers—who had a simple request.

They wanted to learn something about our culture and the area, so we offered them the opportunity to meet a local historian and storyteller,” Belinda recalled. “We offered them what we were eating that day, as a meal, and we sat outside around a fire.”

And what is that history? Morning Glory Homestead is set in what is now known as the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. In this coastal area between North Carolina and Florida, enslaved African peoples from different tribes spent the 18th and 19th centuries creating a distinct culture called Gullah Geechee with its own language, arts, crafts, cuisine, and music.

Although the Joneses were aware that their land had once been part of a plantation, it was after they arrived that they started to delve into the history of the land and the culture of the community, which intersected with their own.

Soon after moving to St. Helena Island, Belinda took drives around the area to get to know her new home.

“People would say, ‘Who your people, where you from?’ because they heard me talking and were like, ‘She’s not from here,’” she said. When Belinda told these neighbors about Tony, his family, and their property, the others said, “Oh, you live in McTureus.”

“I remember asking Tony, ‘What in the world are they talking about?’” she recalled.

So Belinda spoke with local historian Robert Middleton, who explained that the property was once the McTureus Plantation, still known as McTureus to locals.

Photo by Hipcamper Karina F.

As the Joneses learned more, they quickly noticed how their land differed from other plantation sites.

“We found some things like broken plates and pottery, but we haven’t seen any buildings. Probably, this part of the plantation was just for planting,” Belinda explained.

Beyond the lack of buildings, Hipcampers will notice that the Joneses provide a far different experience than what’s found at other historical plantation sites—which are rarely owned by enslaved people’s descendants like Belinda and Tony.

“I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to change the narrative. We recognize that yes, we were enslaved here, but look at what we did. We practically built most of the South—and the North too,” Belinda said. “We want to show what our people did on the plantations.”

Photo by Hipcamper Starla B.

History and culture under the stars

Part of that narrative includes discussing the Gullah Geechee community and history. Both Belinda and Tony now identify as Gullah, but they’ve had varying experiences with the identity.

“Back in the day, if you really wanted to fight, you called someone Gullah or Geechee, because Gullah was not a good term,” Tony explained. “You were often chastised or punished severely if you spoke the Gullah language either in school or in households. My mother would say, ‘Stop talking flat in here.’ They wanted us to be immersed in the dominant cultures.”

It wasn’t until the Joneses moved to the homestead that Belinda realized she was Gullah, too, though her grandmother, great grandmother, and great-great-grandmother were from the Charleston area in the Gullah Geechee heritage corridor.

“I never really associated myself as being Gullah because I never heard my grandmother or my aunts and uncles say anything about it,” she added. “I don’t think they recognized then that was how they could identify. When I began researching what makes a person Gullah so that our kids would know our area, I realized my grandmother had all those traditions that I now recognize as Gullah.”

The Joneses’ first Hipcampers had such a great experience learning about the land and the Gullah culture over a campfire supper that it’s become an unofficial offering for those who stay.

We don’t eat with everybody,” Belinda said. “That’s just if they invite us and if we have time.”

If timed right, campers can also experience Morning Glory Homestead’s twice-quarterly event, The Gullah Campfire Supper with Stories and Songs. Inspired by the campfire suppers the Joneses had with Hipcampers, the public event features guest speakers and an oyster roast. 

“Those suppers not only talk about the Gullah Geechee people, but we also branch out to talk about historical events that have occurred throughout South Carolina…like what happened in Belinda’s hometown of Orangeburg, the Orangeburg Massacre,” Tony said. (The largely unknown Orangeburg Massacre was a violent moment in the Civil Rights movement when the National Guard killed three Black men and wounded 28 people protesting for integration at a bowling alley in February 1968.)

Hipcampers who want a more in-depth cultural and historical experience should book the St. Helena Island tour with the Joneses, available as a Hipcamp Extra during checkout.

“We were looking back at pictures of the first people we took on our island tour,” Belinda said. “We were surprised at the interest and the question, so we extended the tour from a one-mile walking tour to include other areas on the island. That’s when we do the driving tour and people follow us around…to different sites and we jump out and talk about them.”

The two-hour tour includes information about the McTureus Plantation and the nearby Coffin Point Plantation, plus visits to a praise house and a cemetery. In addition to the island tour, the Joneses offer other Hipcamp Extras including meals and goods like farm fresh frittatas, rosemary olive oil bread, farm tours, and fishing experiences.

Photo by Hipcamper Mary S.

“I love fishing and shrimping, and from a cultural standpoint, we love throwing our cast nets,” Tony said. “So we did a segment with teaching some ladies how to fish, crab, and shrimp using a cast net [and the] crab line. Those kinds of experiences people may have read about but never had an opportunity to do themselves. We give folks some hands-on experience.”

Photo by Hipcamper Mary Anne B.

How Hipcamp helps

When asked what Hipcamp has done for them, Tony said, “Hipcamp helps to supplement what our main job is—farming and doing other agritourism.”

Belinda pointed out how Hipcampers have inspired the Joneses to diversify their business.

“We’ve met people of different nationalities and ethnic groups who are from different countries and have varied interests. It’s caused us to expand what we offer, because we’ve learned that some of the same things that we like to do when we camp, people still like to do today.”

Although some campers book a stay to look at birds and local fauna or to learn more about the farm, Belinda says that most visitors just want “to sit down and hear us tell stories.” This speaks to the care Belinda and Tony take as Hipcamp Hosts to respect the land and the Gullah culture—and make sure others do, too.

As Tony says, “People went through a lot of pain in this area with slavery and the Jim Crow experience, but in the midst of all the pain, they were still reaching and achieving things. And now we’re giving folks a learning experience from it.”

See Belinda and Tony featured on Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi

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Alex Temblador is an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in the likes of National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Outside Magazine, Texas Highways, among many others. She is also an award-winning author of three books: Half Outlaw, Secrets of the Casa Rosada, and Writing an Identity Not Your Own.

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