Illustrated Nat Fuller bio released prior to Sunday feast

"Charleston Square" by Charles J. Hamilton, Charleston, South Carolina, 1872. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, via the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative.

Diners attending the Nat Fuller Feast this weekend – or those who just want to follow along with festivities commemorating the interracial banquet hosted at the close of the Civil War by one of Charleston’s top caterers – may wish to bone up on Fuller’s bio, now online.

The Lowcountry Digital History Initiative has posted an extensive life history of Fuller, born into slavery in 1812. While many of these biographical details have been publicized in the run up to the private supper on Sunday, the narrative here is divided into chapters and enhanced by evocative imagery, such as an 1866 sketch of the Charleston watermelon market; a “newspaper “for sale” notice advertising the building that housed Fuller’s popular restaurant and Nat Fuller’s signature.

Organizer David Shields, a University of South Carolina professor, is most fond of the painting that appears on the site’s home page: “Charleston Square” belongs to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, and Shields suspects very few local residents are familiar with it.

“It gives the most lively presentation of the mid-nineteenth century scene at the market that exists,” Shields says.

While Charlestonians may not know the painting, they’ll instantly recognize the cityscape from the vantage point of Market and Meeting streets. Here, the scene is populated by African-American women selling oranges, musk melons and heads-on shrimp. “I think the seated woman in front of the market steps is selling ground nut cakes, but it is hard to tell,” says Shields, who learned from the painting that vendors went barefoot.

Fuller died before the painting was completed in 1872, but Shields says the market area likely looked very much the same in the 1850s and 1860s, when Fuller bought and sold food there.

One of the striking aspects of the city as depicted is its cleanliness.

“Because of those buzzards, very little trash littered the streets about the market,” Shields says. “It was one of the cleanest areas in the city. It was the alleys you wanted to avoid in 1872 Charleston.

He adds, “That said, the absence of horse dung is suspicious.”

In addition to words and pictures, the new website includes recipes and an interactive map.