This blog post will not be like any of my traditional posts. Be willing to read it in its entirety though. Like the image used for this blog post; we should be this way as well. Stand tall, look up at the sky, and be grateful for your life and all it entails. Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground, but your roots may run deep…
The roots can signify your values, your morals, your personality, your culture, your ethnicity, your religion, your characteristics, your thinking, and your expectations.
The Angel Oak in the image is a 400 year old oak tree in South Carolina. The main trunk is 25.5 feet around and notice the branches and the roots of the tree? It is estimated that the tree should have a life span of over 900 years.
Now, we as humans have a much more limited life span, but that does not mean that we cannot have roots, that we cannot be optimistic, that we cannot live to our full potential, but in doing so we have to learn our history.
Nature for me is magical, beautiful, teaches me lessons, provides me comfort and guidance. It is also very inspirational and when I need to get the creativity flowing, to think, to contemplate, it is where I go.
My vacation in the Charleston, South Carolina area this week has brought me rest, a very much-needed change of scenery, warmer weather, time with family, and the opportunity to learn more about the history of the USA.
I have been to the only plantation on Mt. Pleasant, SC and it is the only one in the USA that still produces crops. In the low-country landscape, seasonal crops of strawberries and pumpkins are a few grown. The produce is sold locally and they host annual events and activities, plus some brides and grooms choose to have their wedding with the marshes as their backdrop. The plantation spans 738 acres currently, but at one time boasted over 4,200 acres, although the labour used at the time when it was so big does not sit well with me-slaves.
The avenue of oaks that line the 3/4 mile drive from the main street to the house are famous! You have seen them in many different films; the North and South mini-series, The Notebook, Queen, and more. One also learns about slavery. There are 9 brick ‘cabins’ that stand right near the main house and this is where the slaves who knew various trades lived. Each cabin was a mini-educational and learning opportunity about their lives; how they lived, worshiped, their trades, life expectancy, and more.
One of the slave descendants did a theater production about the slaves on the plantation during slavery. Her grandmother and great-grandmother were slaves on the plantation. This is where the Gullah culture was shown as she spoke to us in the language and sang along with demonstrating story telling.
This is where I learned about the Gullah culture in America that came originally from Sierra Leone; Bunce Island. Turns out that the Charleston area and actually a whole strip of narrow land from southern North Carolina all the way to the northern part of Florida and 30 miles wide inland was filled with slaves from Western Africa.
Charleston brought in over 120,000 slaves (documented) thousands more non-documented and was the main port where ships arrived. I also learned, and this was unknown to me, that slavery existed in the north. Rhode Island had two brothers that had ships and their ships were the ones sent out and used to capture the slaves which were brought to the south; over one thousand vessels. And Rhode Island back in that time had a population of 20% blacks with 1/3 of families owning at least one slave. I, like many others I am sure, did not know there were slaves in the north, and I grew up in New York state.
This same Gullah community was also in Oklahoma, Bahamas, Texas, and Mexico. These outlining areas were where black Seminoles fled after freedom was granted or for those that escaped. And they can all trace their roots back to Sierra Leone. Their culture, the songs they sing, their traditions, language, worship, weaving of sea-baskets in special patterns, colourful cloth and materials dyed, food, medicine, and mannerisms; all the same as individuals who are in and were born and raised in Sierra Leone today. I find this fascinating and so have begun my journey of learning and broadening my historical knowledge of the USA.
I bought the book Gullah Culture in America, written by Wilbur Cross with a forward by Emory Shaw Campbell. Wilbur Cross graduated from Yale University, is an Army veteran from WWII, and has written or co-authored over 50 books related to history, culture, travel, and health. Emory Shaw Campbell is fluent in the Gullah language, and is the Emeritus Executive Director of the Penn Centre. The Penn Centre was established in 1862 as a school to teach freed slaves.
A trip was arranged back in 1989, 1998, and 2005 between the Gullah descendants of the USA and Sierra Leone. I think the most fascinating part of all I have learned so far is they actually traced by name a slave from Charleston, South Carolina; Priscilla, all the way back to Sierra Leone to the date she was taken and from the very village she was born. She was brought on the ‘Hare’ vessel and was “lucky” to survive the voyage as many of the slaves were sick, ill or died on the voyage. 1756 was the year. By 1770 she had three children and upon her death in 1811, she had thirty grandchildren. Henry Martin was a descendant of hers and Thomalind Martin Polite a descendant of his and a speech pathologist living in the Charleston area, year 2005. Imagine being able to trace your roots back to the 1700’s? I can imagine how she felt. Normally unheard of for descendants of slaves. But a paper and document trail existed and has been proven!
My own family has done genealogical research and can trace our ancestors to the 1600’s and the Puritans at that time looking to escape the religious persecution of the king of England. Paper and document trails exist.
My grandmother spent much time doing further research and told us our ancestor came to the colonies on the ‘Mayflower’ and we are related to one of the passengers that unfortunately died on the voyage, but she left behind a husband and children.
How about you? Do you know your roots? Where you came from? Are you interested?
Would love to know your thoughts on this post. Writing is a passion of mine and I believe we should always broaden our normal niche.