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African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry

African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee

Edited by Philip Morgan
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry
    Book Description:

    The lush landscape and subtropical climate of the Georgia coast only enhance the air of mystery enveloping some of its inhabitants-people who owe, in some ways, as much to Africa as to America. As the ten previously unpublished essays in this volume examine various aspects of Georgia lowcountry life, they often engage a central dilemma: the region's physical and cultural remoteness helps to preserve the venerable ways of its black inhabitants, but it can also marginalize the vital place of lowcountry blacks in the Atlantic World. The essays, which range in coverage from the founding of the Georgia colony in the early 1700s through the present era, explore a range of topics, all within the larger context of the Atlantic world. Included are essays on the double-edged freedom that the American Revolution made possible to black women, the lowcountry as site of the largest gathering of African Muslims in early North America, and the coexisting worlds of Christianity and conjuring in coastal Georgia and the links (with variations) to African practices. A number of fascinating, memorable characters emerge, among them the defiant Mustapha Shaw, who felt entitled to land on Ossabaw Island and resisted its seizure by whites only to become embroiled in struggles with other blacks; Betty, the slave woman who, in the spirit of the American Revolution, presented a "list of grievances" to her master; and S'Quash, the Arabic-speaking Muslim who arrived on one of the last legal transatlantic slavers and became a head man on a North Carolina plantation. Published in association with the Georgia Humanities Council.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4274-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Paul Pressly

    How do you share an island without destroying it? That challenge became the starting point for a symposium on African American life in the Georgia lowcountry that took place in Savannah in early 2008. Thirty years prior to that event, the state of Georgia acquired Ossabaw Island as its first heritage preserve. By the terms of the preserve, most of the twenty-six-thousand-acre island is to revert to a state of nature and to be used only for “natural, scientific, and cultural study, research, and education.” Since that time, scientists, artists, and teachers as well as Boy Scouts, students, and environmentalists...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Philip Morgan

    Mystery and exoticism shroud the lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina. The landscape is seductive: the noble live oak, the swaying palmetto, and the lofty pine inspire; the rich hues of tangled swampland give way to sweeping vistas of dense, tall grass savannas; stretches of salt marsh alternate with majestic sandy beaches; ubiquitous Spanish moss, hanging from trees in long festoons, adds an eerie, otherworldly dimension to the scene. A volatile subtropical climate heightens the contrasts: “in the spring a paradise, in the summer a hell, and in the autumn a hospital” was one early adage. Eden-like during parts of...

  5. Lowcountry Georgia and the Early Modern Atlantic World, 1733–ca. 1820
    (pp. 13-47)
    Philip Morgan

    Early georgia does not bulk large in popular and scholarly consciousness. The “runt of the mainland American colonies,” a “fledgling province,” the youngest of the thirteen original states, it seems marginal. A utopian experiment in its initial guise, it was exceptional, sui generis. The first and only British colony to reject slavery, it also became the only place where colonists formally claimed that the institution was indispensable, “the one thing needful” to ensure progress. Lying between Spanish Florida and British South Carolina, with French Louisiana to the west and the polyglot Caribbean to the southeast—and surrounded by major Native...

  6. “High notions of their liberty”: Women of Color and the American Revolution in Lowcountry Georgia and South Carolina, 1765–1783
    (pp. 48-76)
    Betty Wood

    Although paling into insignificance when compared to that of New England and Virginia, in recent years a substantial historiography has built up that deals with many different facets of the American Revolution in lowcountry Georgia and South Carolina. Building upon the pioneering work of Benjamin Quarles, Sylvia Frey, Philip Morgan, and Robert Olwell among others have supplemented a previous scholarship that focused on those of European ancestry by drawing our attention to those who composed the majority of the lowcountry’s population on the eve of the War of American Independence: people of West and West Central African ancestry.¹ However, this...

  7. “I began to feel the happiness of liberty, of which I knew nothing before”: Eighteenth-Century Black Accounts of the Lowcountry
    (pp. 77-102)
    Vincent Carretta

    Excluding criminal narratives, accounts of the lives of only seven English-speaking authors of sub-Saharan African descent, all male, were published before 1800.¹ The term “author” here subsumes both the subject and primary source of the published account. The author may or may not also have been the writer. When the subject and writer differed, the writer was a white amanuensis, who transcribed and edited the author’s oral account. Of the seven authors, only Olaudah Equiano is widely known. But five of them had significant lowcountry affiliations and associations, including Equiano, who spent far more time than he would have liked...

  8. Africans, Culture, and Islam in the Lowcountry
    (pp. 103-130)
    Michael A. Gomez

    The history and experience of African Muslims and their descendants is critical to understanding the lowcountry. Long viewed as the source and reservoir of Gullah culture, it is now clear that coastal islands such as Sapelo, St. Simons, St. Helena, and their environs were also the collective site of the largest gathering of African Muslims in early North America, establishing a legacy that continues to the present day.

    We learn a great deal about these Muslims through advertisements for enslaved runaways, as they contain unique and substantial information on individual ethnic and cultural traits. These advertisements are important in part...

  9. “They shun the scrutiny of white men”: Reports on Religion from the Georgia Lowcountry and West Africa, 1834–1850
    (pp. 131-150)
    Erskine Clarke

    In the early 1830s, an escaped slave made his way into the deep swamps of the Medway River in Liberty County, Georgia, not far from the little town of Sunbury. Eluding white authorities who sought to capture him, he began to make contact with the surrounding slave settlements. Word soon spread that he was a powerful conjurer, and the people from the settlements began to risk dangerous nighttime journeys to see him in his hiding places and to receive from him some of the power of his conjuring. Some apparently sought protection from threatening spirits or angry neighbors; others may...

  10. A gallery of illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Reclaiming the Gullah-Geechee Past: Archaeology of Slavery in Coastal Georgia
    (pp. 151-187)
    Theresa A. Singleton

    Lowcountry Georgia was the birthplace for the archaeological study of African American life that has now blossomed into the research field known as archaeology of the African diaspora. Although it was not the site of the earliest archaeological study of people of African descent, the research conducted by Charles Fairbanks, an archaeologist, and Robert Ascher, a cultural anthropologist, at Rayfield Plantation on Cumberland Island in 1969 set the stage for the study of slavery and plantation life as the interdisciplinary pursuit practiced today.¹ Their precedent-setting study combined descriptive accounts obtained from a variety of written sources—slave narratives, travelers’ accounts,...

  12. A Spirit of Enterprise: The African American Challenge to the Confederate Project in Civil War–Era Savannah
    (pp. 188-223)
    Jacqueline Jones

    Interviewed by members of the Southern Claims Commission after the Civil War, black men and women throughout the Georgia lowcountry testified to their remarkably resilient entrepreneurial impulses. The U.S. Congress established the commission in 1871 to compensate southern Unionists whose property had been seized by federal troops during the war. In lowcountry Georgia, most of those loyal southerners were black men and women. When U.S. troops marched through the lowcountry in late 1864, they had confiscated livestock, food, and household goods belonging to black people living in and around Savannah. Alexander Steele recalled that he and other slaves on James...

  13. “The great cry of our people is land!” Black Settlement and Community Development on Ossabaw Island, Georgia, 1865–1900
    (pp. 224-252)
    Allison Dorsey

    A shaken Andrew Waters wrote to John W. Magill, superintendent of the Freedmen’s Bureau for Ossabaw Island, informing him that, in the face of violent confrontation on December 3, 1866, he had been unsuccessful in arresting a defendant charged with “contempt of authority.” Less than pleased, Magill ordered Waters “to arrest Mustapha Shaw and bring him before me … and this you will not fail to execute at your peril!” The following day Waters, accompanied by John Mungin, reported to Magill’s office with a handful of witnesses to lend credence to his tale of woe. Louis, Benjamin, and Thomas Bond,...

  14. Summoning the Ancestors: The Flying Africans’ Story and Its Enduring Legacy
    (pp. 253-280)
    Timothy Powell

    The flying Africans’ story undoubtedly constitutes one of the most powerful, enduring, and vital examples of the “mysteries of the Gullah and Geechee past.” This narrative has been told and embellished for more than two hundred years in the form of communal histories, local legends, children’s stories, movies, novels, and television shows. Based on an actual historical event, this remarkable tale of how members of the black communities of coastal Georgia rose up, both in rebellion and in flight, embodies the magical history of this unique region and teaches us a great deal about the curative powers of storytelling.


  15. A Sense of Self and Place: Unmasking My Gullah Cultural Heritage
    (pp. 281-292)
    Emory S. Campbell

    So much has been discussed about the unique history of the Gullah culture over recent years that I thought I would use this opportunity to share my story of how I came to have a sense of place and self as a Gullah-Geechee person. My sense of self steadily emerged as outsiders and we Gullahs began to study the mysteries of the Gullah-Geechee culture through research and documentary. Until most recently, Gullah-Geechee people had always been a mystery to outsiders. A composite of this mystery portrayed a close-knit extended family kinship and African-rooted spiritual life anchored in the praise house,...

    (pp. 293-294)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 295-311)