Coastal Georgia Slavery and Ibo Landing
History of Ibo Landing, St. Simons Island, Georgia and slavery on Georgia Sea Island plantations around the Civil War. Slave descendants would later become the Gullah people.
Throughout Georgia’s Sea Islands, there are several different “Ibo Landings.” Although most of the stories originate from Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, just about every surrounding island has a little inlet that the locals call “Ibo Landing.” This is less the result of historical confusion as much as it is an indication of how this story has been embraced and mythologized by African-Americans in this region.
This story is one of many versions of this popular legend. No one is quite sure who these Ibo (also spelled “Ebo” and “Igbo”) captives were, where they came from, or if they committed suicide at all. Records from the period are sketchy concerning this incident. But it doesn’t really matter whether the incident happened or not, for over time it became a myth that gave pride to thousands of Africans forced into slavery on the vast Sea Island plantations that once controlled the area.
On the surface, the story seems one of simple defiance, as Ibo men, women and children drowned themselves in front of their white captors. As the story spread throughout the islands, however, two popular myths emerged: that the Ibos walked on the water back to Africa, or they flew back. Either way, the metaphor of a cultural link between African-Americans and the Motherland is strong. The Ibo Landing story continues to be used today as an argument for cultural continuity.
SEA ISLAND SLAVERY
It’s hard to believe that, in this coastal area of posh beach resorts, shopping centers and freeways, there were once thousands of enslaved Africans toiling in the fierce coastal heat. The foundation of an old plantation house or a crumbling slave cabin here and there are virtually the only structural reminders of this shameful period of history – General William T. Sherman saw to that.
Until General Sherman’s devastating march through Georgia, the Sea Island plantations, like most of the South, were heavily dependant on slave labor. Wealthy cotton and rice plantation owners valued the expertise of slaves who once farmed similar crops in the grasslands and marshes back in Africa. If it wasn’t for the slaves, the vast plantations that once lined the Georgia/South Carolina coast wouldn’t have thrived as they did.
Near the start of the nineteenth century, many slaves were being kidnaped from the interior of Nigeria and shipped down the rivers to coastal ports. The majority were members of the Ibo tribe, whose traditional homeland was in southeast Nigeria between the Niger and Cross Rivers. Their captors were mainly rival tribesmen who traded with white slave traders for currency, goods and firearms.
In the late 1700s, after a horrific voyage across the Atlantic known as the Middle Passage, the Ibos would typically be brought into ports on the Southern U.S. mainland or in the Caribbean. They were placed into pens, given plenty of food and drink and encouraged to exercise, solely to make them more attractive on the auction block. Then, after a humiliating viewing period where they were stripped, pinched and prodded, the Ibos were sold to speculators who, in turn, transported them to areas of demand.
Of course, not everyone agreed with the practice of slavery. The abolitionist movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries succeeded in banning slavery throughout the Northern states. As early as 1749, even Georgia discouraged overt slaveholding within state lines. In 1798, it was made illegal in Georgia to import slaves from Africa.
But these so-called laws were too late in coming for an area so dependent on slave labor. Most plantation owners saw slavery as a necessary evil, and resorted to secretive tactics to keep their workforce growing. At high tide under the cover of darkness, slave holders would sneak their ships through the tidal creeks directly to the island plantations.
By all accounts, life on the Sea Island plantations was brutal for the slaves. They were given the backbreaking task of converting heavily wooded islands into cotton and rice fields. This involved draining the salt marshes, cutting down huge trees and clearing stumps. Some Ibos had accomplished a similar task in their African homeland, but never under slavery conditions.
Few slaves tried to escape the plantations. Capture was almost certain, and even if they did escape to an uninhabited island, poisonous snakes or a lack of food and fresh water usually brought them back. Escape or suicide also meant the abandonment of loved ones.
Life on the coastal plantations came to an abrupt end when the Civil War erupted over the region. As Union ships blockaded the ports of Charleston and Savannah, plantation owners took their healthiest slaves and fled the islands, leaving the sick and elderly slaves behind.
But as the Confederacy collapsed, many of these healthy slaves ran straight into General Sherman’s troops during their destructive march through Georgia. Sherman ordered the slaves to return to the islands and, after the war, issued Special Field Order #15, which ceded most of the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands to former slaves and forbade white settlers other than military personnel to live there.
Many slaves didn’t make it back, becoming refugees along the war-torn Southern roads. Others migrated to surrounding cities. But several did return to reunite with the older slaves left behind. In a perverse twist, many former slaves had become attached to the land they were enslaved upon, and returned to farming the old plantation grounds. Despite widespread poverty, the former slaves formed working communities that would become the nucleus of the African-American island communities found today.
In 1865, President Andrew Johnson expanded the terms of the Confederate pardon to include the return of property abandoned during the war. This meant that the white plantation owners could return to the islands and reclaim what General Sherman had promised the former slaves barely a year before. These plantation owners naturally assumed that their impoverished former slaves would be happy to come back to work for them as sharecroppers.
But this time, the former slaves resisted. They chose to live in their own communities, living on whatever they could catch from the sea or grow in tiny backyard plots. Some even formed land companies to consolidate black-owned farmlands. Individual businesses and schools also sprung up. Without a stable work force, the plantation families lost money, causing many to give up their lands for good.
Cultural ties with Africa are scattered throughtout the Sea Islands, especially on Sapelo Island, where several descendants of West African slaves live in the tiny community of Hog Hammock. Some speak a unique Creole language known as “Gullah,” which developed from the slaves communicating secretly across the islands. Because of their relative isolation from the mainland, the Gullah people have preserved West African customs, craft techniques and storytelling for future generations.
Despite their predicament, the slaves were able to preserve and expand upon many of their African traditions. Besides the Gullah language mentioned above, the more notable traditions involved death and the afterlife. The slaves would often speak about spirits from Africa, which they called “h’ants” or “fixuhs,” coming to visit their homes. To protect themselves from the bad “h’ants,” they would often paint a blue ring around their doorways. Some slaves could detect these spirits better than others, especially babies who were born with a special “caul,” or membrane, over their eyes that enabled them to see ghosts. Naturally, most of the plantation owners dismissed the slaves’ beliefs.
The slaves also had unique burial customs, some of which can still be seen on Sapelo Island. When a relative died, his or her body couldn’t be removed from the house until the preacher said a few words. After burial, the graves were kept mounded by members of the family. Favorite and symbolic objects of the deceased were placed on or around the headstone, which was kept clean and shiny to attract protective African gods. As a sign of daily recognition of their ancestors, the slaves would pour libations on the ground – a tradition that can be seen in one form or another throughout the African-American community today.
On the outside, it seems that little has changed for the African-American Sea Island communities since the early postwar days. Many families continue to live in low income housing, and opportunities are scarce. As a result, the steady migration toward the large cities has continued, leaving an aging population to subsist on the islands. Surrounding lands are slowly being gobbled up by largely white-owned beach resorts, educational facilities and preserves.
But for the time being at least, the shared wealth of these island communities is in their memories and traditions. Because of their isolation, islands such as Sapelo serve as virtual time capsules from another era. Practically nowhere else in the country are everyday West African traditions more readily on display.
It is hoped that, by returning to these islands, African-Americans will, at least in spirit, keep their connection to the Motherland alive.
If you’re interested in learning more about Gullah culture and the Sea Islands, you may want to check out the following sites:
Georgia Sea Island Singers - For over 20 years, this unique group has toured the world sharing songs and stories set against the history and mystique of the Georgia Sea Islands.
Golden Isles Navigator - A very comprehensive site about the region and its people. Especially helpful if you’re planning a trip.
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16 Responses to “Coastal Georgia Slavery and Ibo Landing”
Bill Scales aka (Egbon Adelegun):
What wonderful light this new information brings. I was born and raised in sweet Georgia. But I always loved being a dark skinned black boy. I always saw my pretty dark brown first cousin’s Bernice Scales as so beautiful. The lies about our people being unattractive never settled into my core. My dad was blue black, tall as a tree, slim and my mother was carmel, plumb and sweet like a Georgia peach, but she loved my blue black daddy. My mother’s mother was our doctor, I remember one time when I was about 4 I burned my hand on the wood stove, she took me to the Cunji woman who was a medicine woman with magical powers from Africa. She help my hand and talked the burn and pain out of my little hand. Year’s later I was reading about a Kunji man in Nigeria and I thought we had a person like that back in Georgia. I always felt that I was not a creation/a Negro, I was something and someone greater than all of that. When I read the poem about I have know rivers, it spoke to my heart. I will died one day believing that I am a person of Nigerian descent and Nigeria today should give all of us dual citizenship. There are more Igbo’s Brazil than in America and they use the traditional names mixed with Spanish or Portugese. Ibo Landing should be made a National Monument to the contribution of Nigerian to the Greatness of America. We lost our blood, our wives, our mothers, our brothers, our children, our fathers to the red clay of Georgia. This is our land bought with our BLOOD. You are reading the words of an American-Nigerian.
Thank you for your very thoughtful post. Our story is one of many on Igbo Landing, I’m sure a Google search will turn up more. Glad you enjoyed our story.
Am a 20 year old Igbo Nigerian girl. I have lived in the Igbo speaking part of Nigeria all my life, to be precise Imo state. Each time I go for holidays I go to neighboring Igbo speaking states e.g Enugu, Abia, Anambara. I came to know about the”Igbo Landing” from the catholic arch bishop of Owerri in Nigeria during his sermon delivered at a confirmation mass, then I decided to google it and I found this page. I just want to say a few things to help erase some of the uncertainty of this article. As I said earlier am an Igbo girl who leaves in an Igbo community, and what I have learnt from my parents and elders is that a true Igbo person is one who is proud of home, one who bears his surname (father’s name) with pride, he is one who wants to succeed for the sole purpose of making his village name known and his community proud of him, he is also a person that if he works in a foreign land he makes sure his family is home at most once in 3 years either for celebration of xmas or the New yam festival, he is also a person who wants his children to know their tradition, relations and mother tongue (i.e the Igbo language), he gives his children Igbo names as their first names in foreign countries. In summary to him being Igbo (i.e being the son of his father) is his pride. Igbos spell Igbo as “IGBO” and that is the correct spelling in Igbo Language, but in English it is spelt “IBO”. So to me the true version of this story is that the Igbo slaves drowned themselves rather than work as slaves for the whites. Think about it, it can’t be anything but the true version. Why else would they call it the Igbo landing?, after all it wasn’t only the Igbos that were the slaves there. Like I said before ‘The Igbos like to leave their mark wherever they find themselves.’ A typical Igbo man would rather kill himself than work as a humble servant with no pay, so ‘yes’ if you ask me most of them actually drowned themselves before the slave traders could get a hold of those who finally didn’t get the chance.
Yes, I ‘m Ibo from Imo state.I believe d story cuz bravery is in our blood.An average ibo person is very intelligent (formal education or no formal education), democratic,dynamic,inventive. Even other tribes in nigeria are wowed by their pleasant,open-minded and civivilized personality. I ‘m proud to be an ibo boy.IGBO KWENU!
[...] Story Credits | Where Did This Story Come From? [...]
There is a saying in Igbo land “Igbo enwe eze” which translates to there is no king in Igbo land. Igbos are republican in nature and will never accept servitude. I will not be surprised if the Igbos will rather commit sucide rather than live as slaves.
Igbo people are from Africa most being in Nigera. Igbo people, in general are known world wide for their sneaky, thieving, lying habits. It seems to me that only the flying version of this story is true; that they flew away and escaped/ran from slavery. The support for my conclusion is that many Igbo look just like African Americans – who are the true Hebrew Israelite not jews (Rev 2:9 and 3:9). Their are Igbo/Ebo/Ikbo people disbursed through northwest Africa who are known for their strong witchcraft.
In the story ‘The People Could Fly’ by Virginia Hamilton she speaks of how the Igbo, now called Gullah, in the South Carolina and southeast Georgia area, had to shed their wings for the trip here from Africa. She also tells of the old man who did not forget the magic words (witchcraft), from Africa, that made them fly. He said the words and instantly the slaves flew away from the plantation, even after having shed their wings. Their strong witchcraft is what protected them when they escaped from the plantations as well.
In Revelations 12:13-14 states,
13When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
14But she was GIVEN TWO WINGS LIKE THOSE OF A GREAT EAGLE so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time, ie 3-1/2years.
The woman is representative of the true Hebrew Israelite’s, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It tells how Hebrew Israelite’s, NOT JEWS, will be taken up with Christ when he returns in the clouds. Satan used this same flying method of taking some of the Igbo slaves out of slavery in an attempt to make it look like Yah (Ish 26:4) had come to deliver them, as in Rev 12:13-14. But that is not true it was just the usual Satanic imitation of the awesome power of Yah. Look for the real “rapture” of the true Hebrew Israelite’s in/around 8/2016.
The flying ability given by satan will be used by these same people to try to slip into the Kingdom, New Jerusalem, the Igbo will be known by Yah and will be tied and thrown out and into the lake of fire for forever. This can be read in the parable of the Wedding Feast Matt 22:1-14.
11“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding.
12‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply.
13Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This parable is supported by Rev 20:15, 21:2 and 21:27. All African Americans who’s ancestors were slaves are not Hebrew and NO Hebrew is an African, an Igbo/Ebo/Ikbo.
14“For many are called, but few are chosen.” In Lamintations 5:1-2 it declared that the inheritance of the Hebrew Israelite’s has been turned over to aliens and our houses to foreigners. Aliens meaning jews who are reptilians because they were conceived from the relationships between the fallen angels and man. The foreigners are the people of Jephthah (asian man), Shem (black man) and Ham (white man).
Dr. Douglas B. Chambers, author of “Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia.”
Go get your copy from amazon.
@kend, your theories & stories sound ignorant & bigoted as all hell & should be removed asap! no one wants to hear your offensive rants or your ridiculous & prejudiced insults against other cultures & races. who are you to judge anyone, let alone a whole race of noble people? who are you to condemn anyone to your fictitious hell let alone an entire race? i hope the publishers of this site remove yours and any other racist posts on sight. it is 2013, people…there is no room for this garbage in the world any more…there never was
What an interesting story. I agree with the commenter who thinks that this should have national recognition. I checked the National Registry of Historic Places, and did not see this listed. If anyone’s interested in following up on this, here’s a link to the procedure for getting it listed: http://www.nps.gov/nr/national_register_fundamentals.htm#start.
Mr. Scales’ comments about being of Nigerian descent remind me of things I’ve read about people getting genetic testing to see where they’re from. In confirmation of what he’s said, most people who are descended from African slaves that have had this testing have found that they are from West Africa.
I find it amazing and wonderful that in spite of all that was done to strip people of their connection with who they were and where they came from, that knowledge was maintained and passed down as a hidden treasure in every cell of every body of every descendent, waiting for the time and technology to reveal their secrets. Pretty amazing!
I have recently learned more about the slaves who were brought from Ireland, Scotland, and England (referred to as “indentured servants”) before the slave ships from African started plying their trade in earnest, and about the Red-Legs of Barbados. So much of history got gussied up before they put it in the books. I think learning these stories is a way of honoring those who went before us and paid such a price.
Thanks for your great feedback, Kathleen.
Kend or whatever you call yourself, your response has unveiled your ill-tribal consciousness and your recourse to bible to abuse people is an indication of your high profanity to God. I advise Igbo people to stay away from your type because your are viciously dangerous. You neither respect man nor God.
Kend or kendo whatever his name, am not surprised the type of word coming out of his rotten mouth, which is callous and stupid,I know his tribe and that’s how they talk, they filled with hate and jealousy of other tribes in Africa that are better than his own coward and sorry tribe
I WISH TO LEAR MORE ABOUT THE GULAH PEOPLE,
ESPECISLLY THE MARCH TO THE SEA IN PROTEST OF SLAVERY
THIS IS A FASINATING STORY.
I BELIEVE I AM A DECENTED OF THR IBO CULTURE.
MY DAD WAS FROM SOUTH CAROLINA
Am an Igbo man from Anambra state, reading this stories amazed me. For us here all we know about our people who were sold into slavery long ago, is their disappearance. Nobody has ever come up with mind burgling revealing stories like this. Well am not surprised that an igbo man or woman will kill himself rather than be enslaved, cause an average igbos like freedom and are ready to go extra mile to have it. And the never say die spirit of an average igbo man helps him to survive and succeed in any condition he finds himself. Yes I believe the ebos landing in virginia are core igbo peopl, because they exhibited the true spirit of igbos, which is the last step igbo men takes to defy all odds.