Due to the Covid-10 pandemic, the History Center will remain closed.

Close
  • The Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor

    By Nancy Gadzuk

    [Tap or click on any image]

    Sean Palmer, Director of the Upperman African American Cultural Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, was the speaker at the February 18, 2019 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Sean spoke on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor.

    The Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor is a stretch of land about 30 miles wide that follows the Atlantic coastline from Pender County, North Carolina down to St. Johns County, Florida. Geographically, this area is very similar to coastal west Africa, where rice was already being cultivated in the 17th century.

    Enslaved Africans were brought to what is now the southeastern U.S. coast because they had the knowledge, techniques, and skills in irrigation and rice cultivation to work the rice plantations and make them profitable for their wealthy owners.

    Life was hard for these enslaved people. The average life span of a worker in the rice plantations was only five to seven years. Children were brought as slaves because they were young enough to survive the treacherous ocean voyage from Africa, and then do back-breaking work in the rice fields.

    Only recently has the “brain trust” of enslaved Africans been acknowledged for the skills and knowledge they brought to tame the swamp for growing and processing rice and indigo.

    Of course these enslaved people brought more than their environmental engineering knowledge to the Americas. They brought arts, language, food, music, and spiritual beliefs.

    Ivey Hayes, Harry Davis, and Jonathan Green are three African American artists who have featured Gullah Geechee culture and people in their art. Sweetgrass baskets are unique to the Gullah Geechee and the intricate designs and fine handwork make them prized collectors’ items.

    Gullah Geechee language forms the framework for Ebonics and African American linguistic traditions and rhythms that show up in preaching, folklore, and hip hop.

    Spiritual beliefs infuse all of Gullah Geechee life. One example is the belief that the color blue attracts the spirit world. Porch roofs may be painted “haunt blue” to attract spirits, and bottle trees decked with blue bottles are designed to attract the spirits the porch might miss. Enslaved people built praise houses or prayer houses on plantations to maintain and enrich their humanity despite the inhuman and inhumane system of slavery that bound them.

    Each year, the Upperman Center runs an alternative spring break for students, tied to their larger thematic program. The 2018 spring break was “Travelin Round De Bend” and students got to explore the Gullah Geechee corridor, visiting museums, restaurants, and waterways in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Students learned about the complexities of language, slavery, land, and traditional Gullah cuisine in their five-day trip.

    Fortunately for the rest of us, their complete itinerary is available online, and it provides some great road trip ideas for learning more about the Gullah Geechee. There are also links to all the museums they visited:

    https://uncw.edu/upperman/Travelin-Around-De-Bend.html

    Gullah Geechee culture is built on the back and blood of slavery, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and understanding all of our history, the negative as well as the positive. What would be wrong is repeating certain parts of this history.

     

    Trees And Shrubs Of The Maritime Forest

    by Susi Clontz

    Maritime Forest at Fort Fisher

    Maritime Forest at Fort Fisher

    The vegetation along the lower Cape Fear coastline has always been a part of its beauty, but it has also played a major role in the livelihood and survival of the coastal people. Behind the dunes we find a unique habitat called maritime forest.

    Maritime means “near water.” This forest is unlike any other because the trees and shrubs that grow there must be tolerant of the sandy, dry soil plus the wind and salt spray the ocean.

    Southern Live Oak

    Southern Live Oak

    Some of the trees and shrubs found in the maritime forest are Live Oak, Wax Myrtle, Red Cedar, Sable Palmetto, Sassafras, and Loblolly Pine.

    Wedged together and pruned by the wind and salt, these trees take on a sheered look slanting away from the ocean. This unusual formation is a protective barrier for the salt-sensitive trees growing behind the maritime forest.

    For a period between the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States, Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) came into great demand for ship building.  Its dense hardwood proved ideal for the hulls and frames of wooden ships.

    Yaupon Holly Leaf

    Yaupon Holly Leaf

    In colonial times the leaves from the Yaupon Holly (Ilex opaca Ait) were toasted and brewed into a pleasing tea. Yaupon was also shipped north to supply the American colonists defying the British tea tax.

    During the War Between the States, the United States naval blockade of southern ports forced the Confederates to turn once again to the brew used by the colonist and Indians of the southern Atlantic states.

    Yaupon was the most commonly used tea substitute during the war. Oddly enough, the leaves were also used as a coffee substitute.

    Wax Myrtle

    Wax Myrtle

    Candles were scarce in the Confederacy during the war. To make do, the southern people followed a practice used by the early colonist. The berries and leaves the Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) were boiled in water. A translucent and very aromatic floating wax would then be skimmed from the top and used to make candles. This process required a great deal of work considering it took several pounds of berries to make one pound of wax.

    Sassafras (Sasafias albidum) was used by the Indians for a variety of cures and as a medicinal tea by the early settlers. The roots of the Sassafras became the first cash crop exported back to Great Britain from the new colonies. It later became the main ingredient in the beverage we call root beer. Sassafras was believed to be a cure all by the colonists and early explorers.

    Loblolly Pine

    Loblolly Pine

    In 1963 the North Carolina General Assembly named the pine as the official state tree. The Loblolly (Pinus taeda) is one of three species of pine found in our coastal area.

    Starting in colonial times and continuing for almost two hundred years, the residents of the lower Cape Fear processed and exported naval stores. The resin from the pine trees was refined to make tar, pitch, turpentine, or resin. These products were used in the building and maintaining of the ships by caulking seams and waterproofing wood giving it the name naval store.

    Sources
    Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast – Peter Meyer
    Civil War Plants & Herbs – Patricia B. Mitchell
    “Making Do” During the Civil War – Virginia Mescher
    Living the Land – Dr. Thomas K. Squier, M.D., M.H.

    [Text was originally published in the November 1996 FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]