Bob made arrangements for a boat at his Palmetto Bluffs preserve
to Daufuskie Island, nestled between Savannah and Hilton Head. This island was inhabited by numerous native tribes until the early 1700’s when they were driven off their land by explorers, traders and settlers. While under British rule, plantations were developed, growing indigo and later Sea Island cotton. Slaves tilled the fields while the plantation owners and their families spent most of the year elsewhere. The slaves’ isolation provided the setting for the retention of many of their African culture.
The plantation owners and slaves fled the island at the start of the Civil War, which was then occupied by Union troops. After the war, freed slaves (Gullah people) returned to the island, purchasing small plots of land or working for landowners. By the turn of the 20th century, farming had given way to logging and oyster harvesting and canning as a way of life for the predominately Gullah-populate island.
Daufuskie oysters were sold world-wide …
until the pollution in the Savannah River closed the oyster beds in the 1950’s, after which the island’s economy declined and the Gullah people again began to leave the island, this time for better employment opportunities. By the 1980’s, the island’s population had fallen from around 2,000 to less than 60.
Today, although the entire island is on the National Registry of Historic Places, there are three major resorts which are only now beginning to recover from the economic collapse of 2007-08.
We landed on the island at
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church – originally a whites-only church before integration
after a period of silence, one person, typically a woman, began to “hum” a well- known tune that had its origin in Africa would become the basis of a spiritual that expressed their primitive religious faith; with others joining in and the music escalated, hands clapped and feet began to stop
Mary Fields School – built in 1933 for the island’s black children. The first teachers were also black and slates and pencils were their teaching tools. Author Pat Conroy, the first white and first male teacher at the school. He became famous for his book “The Water is Wide” about his teaching experience on Daufuskie Island. The school finally closed in 1995.
Mary Fields Cemetery – is the largest Gullah cemetery on the island. There are grave markers dating from 1926 to the present. Earlier wooden markers have disintegrated from all the Gullah cemeteries and the only indications of those graves are low areas where wooden caskets have collapsed and some stones have been broken.
Moses Ficklin Cottage and Historic Live Oak – this 500-year old oak tree (which may have greeted the early Spanish explorers) shades a restored Gullah home of a deacon of the First Union Africa Baptist Church and the Gullah undertaker who married the local midwife
Mary Dunn Cemetery – with gravestones dating to 1790 is the only historic cemetery on the island for white people, originally those related to Mary Dunn, although in later years permission was given of white people who were not relatives were buried there
while the cemetery has become graced by gorgeous azaleas
Our last stop in the island was Bloody Point, the southernmost inhabited point in South Carolina named for the first of three skirmishes between the Yemassee Indians and settlers on April 15, 1715 … when it was said there was blood in the water from the dead and injured. In the 1770s the area became a shipbuilding area.
After a 45 minute drive back to Freeport Marina where we’d left our boat … where we saw a beautiful 50’-plus ketch.
Built by a wealthy NYC businessman to sail up and down the Hudson River, she is one of the last remaining examples of gas-powered yachts built prior to World War I … and there are only two other 100-year old motor yachts like her still in existence. Joseph Cousins, the original owner, held frequent parties aboard the Grace, entertaining notable of the era from the arts and society. One of his frequent guests was Edna Ferber and is said to be the inspiration for her novel “Show Boat”, later made into a Broadway musical.
Our last stop for the day … and one I’d been looking forward to … was at the Inn at Palmetto Bluffs for the fixings …