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14 Wharfside StreetCharleston, SC 29401
Museum open 10am to 5pm (last entry 4:00 PM) Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.
IAAM will challenge, illuminate, inspire and, ultimately, will move people to action.
14 Wharfside Street — Charleston, SC 29401
Aug 31, 2017
In the days following the U.S. military’s capture of Port Royal, South Carolina in November of 1861, hundreds of enslaved men, women and children flocked to military encampments and Union Navy vessels, seeking freedom and protection from Confederate raids aimed at returning them to slavery. As the numbers of those seeking sanctuary began to swell, the U.S. military established temporary contraband camps on and around the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Two such encampments were established at Otter Island, South Carolina and Tybee Island, Georgia.
In March of 1862, military superintendents of the Otter Island and Tybee Island contraband camps recorded the names of the men, women and children in those camps. Remarkably, the lists also contain the names of the final slaveholders of the more than 100 individuals in the camps. The records are preserved in the collection “United States Union Provost Marshal Files of Two or More Civilians, 1861-1866,” digitized at FamilySearch.org. Here, we present transcriptions of those census lists, and a brief background of the contraband camps at Otter Island and Tybee Island.
Otter Island is a small island opposite Edisto Beach on the South Carolina coast. It is bounded by the Ashepoo River and St. Helena Sound. Now part of the St. Helena Sound Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area, the island of just under 2,000 acres was a strategic point for the United States military to occupy because of its proximity to Charleston1.
The Confederate Army established a fort on Otter Island in 1861, but abandoned the fort in November of that year after the Union capture of Port Royal. Union army and naval forces occupied the abandoned fort on Otter Island in December of 1861. There, they encountered a small settlement of self liberated African Americans, some of whom provided important intelligence of Confederate movements and positions in the area. Naval Commander Percival Drayton established a contraband camp at Otter Island in December of 1861. The camp was placed under the supervision and protection of Navy Lieutenant James W. Nicholson, whose ships patrolled the waters around Otter Island to protect the contrabands from Confederate raids, and provide cover for contrabands as they foraged for food provisions2.
The lists transcribed below are searchable. You may also select how many rows to view per page for each list. These lists were transcribed by Alana Thevenet.
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If you find an ancestor’s name among these lists, there are several avenues of research you can pursue next. Here are some starting points:
If you would like to learn more about the contraband camp at Otter Island, please see the book Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy, by Barbara Tomblin. The book is searchable at Project Muse.
 Map of Otter Island, Edisto Beach. https://www.edistobeach.com/otter-island/, accessed 8 Aug 2017.
 Tomblin, Barbara 2009 Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy. University Press of Kentucky, pp. 66-68.
 “United States Union Provost Marshal Files of Two or More Civilians, 1861-1866,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-MK95-9?cc=1845948&wc=M6KL-T38%3A165419801%2C165440901 : 22 May 2014), Records by Number and Date > 00821-01078, Mar.-Apr. 1862 > image 468 of 1211; citing NARA microfilm publication M416 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
 “United States Union Provost Marshal Files of Two or More Civilians, 1861-1866,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-MV97-NR?cc=1845948&wc=M6KL-T38%3A165419801%2C165440901 : 22 May 2014), Records by Number and Date > 00821-01078, Mar.-Apr. 1862 > image 754 of 1211; citing NARA microfilm publication M416 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
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