If you have ever visited Charleston, you’ve probably noticed the long benches that sit on the porches of many Southern homes and restaurants. These iconic pieces of furniture, known as joggling boards, are a unique symbol of the Lowcountry.
The word “joggle” means to shake slightly or move to and fro which is exactly what these boards do. Similar to a rocking chair, the benches consist of a long, pliable board, which is supported on each end by wood stands. The hand-selected wood comes from southern pine trees due to the wood’s sturdy nature and flexibility.
The origin of the joggling board dates back to 1804 in South Carolina. According to legend, Cleland Kinlock, who built Acton Plantation, asked his widowed sister, Mary Kinloch Huger, to come live with him and care for the household. Mary suffered from rheumatism, a medical joint condition, and wrote to her family in Scotland about how she had difficulty taking carriage rides due to her medical issue, but missed being able to go for a ride. In response, the family sent over plans for a joggling board that simulated the motion of being on a carriage ride, but was still easily accessible for Mary and also provided her with a bit of exercise.
The joggling board soon gained popularity and became a porch staple for Southern homes during the 19th century. Many people believed that if you had a joggling board on your front porch, you would never have an unwed daughter. It soon developed the nickname “courting bench” as young couples that sat on either end would slowly slide to the center due to the bowing in the wood.
In the last few decades, there has been resurgence in joggling boards due to their functionality as indoor and outdoor furniture and Lowcountry history. It is said that if someone offers you a seat on his or her joggling board, it is considered an invitation for friendship. When walking around Charleston keep an eye out for these historic benches, which continue to be a symbol of Southern lifestyle.