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African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry

The Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee

Philip Morgan

Publication Year: 2010

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 As the ten previously unpublished essays in this volume examine various aspects of Georgia lowcountry life, they often engage a central dilemma: the region’s physical and cultural remoteness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 by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

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...

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pp. 1-12

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...

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Lowcountry Georgia and the Early Modern Atlantic World, 1733–ca. 1820

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pp. 13-47

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...

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“High notions of their liberty”: Women of Color and the American Revolution in Lowcountry Georgia and South Carolina, 1765–1783

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pp. 48-76

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...

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“I began to feel the happiness of liberty, of which I knew nothing before”: Eighteenth-Century Black Accounts of the Lowcountry

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pp. 77-102

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...

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Africans, Culture, and Islam in the Lowcountry

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pp. 103-130

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...

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“They shun the scrutiny of white men”: Reports on Religion from the Georgia Lowcountry and West Africa, 1834–1850

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pp. 131-150

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...

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Reclaiming the Gullah-Geechee Past: Archaeology of Slavery in Coastal Georgia

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pp. 151-187

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...

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A Spirit of Enterprise: The African American Challenge to the Confederate Project in Civil War–Era Savannah

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pp. 188-223

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...

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“The great cry of our people is land!” Black Settlement and Community Development on Ossabaw Island, Georgia, 1865–1900

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pp. 224-252

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...

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Summoning the Ancestors: The Flying Africans’ Story and Its Enduring Legacy

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pp. 253-280

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...

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A Sense of Self and Place: Unmasking My Gullah Cultural Heritage

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pp. 281-292

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...


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pp. 293-294


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pp. 295-311

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9780820342740
E-ISBN-10: 0820342742
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820330648
Print-ISBN-10: 0820330647

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 53 b&w photos, 1 table, 3 figures
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900
Series Editor Byline: Richard S. Newman, Patrick Rael, and Manisha Sinha, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 753324223
MUSE Marc Record: Download for African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Georgia -- Atlantic Coast -- Social conditions.
  • Gullahs -- Georgia -- Atlantic Coast -- History.
  • Atlantic Coast (Ga.) -- History.
  • Atlantic Coast (Ga.) -- Religious life and customs.
  • African Americans -- Georgia -- Atlantic Coast -- History.
  • Atlantic Coast (Ga.) -- Social conditions.
  • African Americans -- Georgia -- Atlantic Coast -- Religion.
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