Tag Archives: African-American Culture of Coastal Georgia

Ceylon Cemetery, Circa 1820, Darien

Lieutenant James Nephew received the property along Cathead Creek that came to be known as Ceylon Plantation as payment for service rendered to Colonel John Baker’s Regiment of the Liberty County Militia during the Revolution. Nephew and his wife, Mary Magdalen Gignilliat (pronounced Gin-lat), owned plantations in Georgia and South Carolina. Ceylon became quite successful from the labor of around 120 slaves by 1859. Nothing remains of the plantation, except for a few rice canals on Cathead Creek and this cemetery, where Ceylon’s slaves and their descendants rest in eternity.

Few places illustrate the dark shadow of slavery more than slave cemeteries. Many have been permanently lost and the few which do survive are often in poor condition.

Ceylon Cemetery is no exception in its lack of known burials and marked graves. Walking these historic grounds, one struggles to locate any old headstones. It’s thought that most burials were commemorated with wooden markers and shells, hence their absence today.

The cemetery is slightly more than an acre in size, and though the exact number can’t be known, surveys have indicated that about 76 souls are interred here.

Bailey, Blige, Butler, Carter, Cooper, Gibbs, Harris, Mansson, Mungin, Sheffield, Wilson, and Young, are among the family names represented here.

As the headstone of Corporal Andrew Bailey indicates, at least some of the former slaves of Ceylon served in the Union effort in the war. Bailey joined Company E, 33rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops, at Beaufort, South Carolina, on 12 January 1863. Though rosters list his age at 21 years old at the time, the birthdate on his headstone suggests he was actually 17; his corporal commission came in October 1865, after the war ended. He died on 17 November 1885.

Joseph Gibbs (5 June 1864-14 December 1918) is one of just a few visible older headstones.

Recent burials here, though infrequent, illustrate an ongoing connection between Ceylon’s slaves and their descendants.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Darien GA

Butler Island Plantation, McIntosh County

Heading south out of Darien on US 17, you’ll begin to notice what appear to be large ditches to your left, especially in the winter months. These are the historic canals and dikes engineered for the cultivation of rice on the plantation of Major Pierce Butler and though the industry died with the end of the Civil War, its physical evidence remains.

The Butler family of South Carolina and Philadelphia owned extensive cotton and rice plantations on the Georgia coast. Pierce Butler (1744-1822) was the son of a minor Irish aristocrat and after service as a major in His Majesty’s Twenty-ninth Regiment came to the colonies in 1767 and married Mary Middleton, the daughter of a prominent South Carolina planter. He sided with the colonies during the Revolution and sold his army commission to purchase Hampton Point Plantation on St. Simons Island. In 1787 he was app0inted a South Carolina delegate to the constitutional convention and was integral to securing the protection of slavery as an institution in our nation’s founding document. By 1793 he owned over 500 slaves, who made him a fortune in cotton and rice. He spent most of his time in Philadelphia. He owned this land from at least 1790 until his death in 1822, and after interim management by Roswell King (namesake of Roswell, Georgia), it passed to his grandson, Pierce Mease Butler, in 1838.

Pierce Mease Butler (1806-1867), born Butler Mease, changed his surname to honor his grandfather as the will required and around this time married the famed English actress Fanny Kemble. Kemble was opposed to slavery but upon being told that conditions were “good” at the plantation, coerced her husband into taking her to see it for herself, in 1838-1839. She immediately noted that the conditions were far from good and kept a journal of her time there. Two daughters and a contentious divorce would follow, with Pierce Mease Butler gaining custody of the children.

Years of poor money management and lavish spending left Pierce Mease Butler financially insolvent and his only option was selling off his slaves. At an old racetrack in Savannah between 2-3 March 1859, the largest sale of human beings in the history of the United States saw the liquidation of 429 slaves. Among slaves it came to be known as “The Weeping Time” for its displacement of families, many of whom never saw each other again. A few years later, at the height of the Civil War, Fanny Kemble published her controversial Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, first in her native England where it was a huge bestseller and then in America, where it was widely popular in the North and nearly as popular, if reviled, in the South. Its firsthand accounts of the horrors of slavery are said to have influenced England to side against the confederacy.

After the war, the plantation failed without the benefit of free labor, and Pierce Mease Butler died of malaria in 1867. His daughter, Frances Kemble Butler Leigh, inherited the lands and tried to keep them profitable but gave up after ten years. She wrote of her experiences in Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation Since the War (1883). The property eventually passed to her nephew Owen Wister (famed author of The Virginian) who sold off the last of the property in 1923.

The area is now publicly accessible and is a popular spot for birding and hiking. Always bring insect repellent, though, even in winter.

3 Comments

Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Butler Island GA

Harrington Graded School, 1920s, St. Simons Island

The recent restoration of this historic African-American schoolhouse is one of the greatest preservation successes on the Georgia coast and should serve as a model for similar projects. After the Civil War and the collapse of the plantation economy, the descendants of enslaved persons remained on St. Simons and lived in the communities of South End, Jewtown, and Harrington. They were the dominant population on St. Simons until development in the early and mid-20th century changed the racial makeup of the island. Only remnants of their presence remain, and among them, the Harrington Graded School (thought to be a Rosenwald school), and Hazel’s Cafe, are the most significant.

The school served all three African-American communities until desegregation in the 1960s and was briefly used as a day care center until being abandoned in the early 1970s. It was eventually purchased by Glynn County and the St. Simons Land Trust but due to deterioration, it was slated for demolition in 2010. The Land Trust and the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition formed the Friends of Harrington School and saved the school house. Serious work began in 2015 and by December 2016, the school was restored to its former glory.

2 Comments

Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

St. Andrews Church of God, Circa 1954, St. Simons Island

This interesting church in the Harrington community was built just as the historic African-American neighborhoods of St. Simons were reaching their ebb. It’s a utilitarian example of the two-tower style, common among African-American congregations on the coast in an earlier time. The cinderblock structure, built sometime between 1950-1954, has unpainted sides, with the front being the only “finished” section. A more traditional structure, the circa 1920 Pentecostal Zion Church, stands behind this one.

Leave a comment

Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Keystone Lodge, St. Simons Island

Fraternal lodges were important gathering place for the historic African-American communities of the Georgia coast. The Keystone Lodge No. 98 Free & Accepted Masons, Prince Hall Affiliated, is an important part of the Harrington community. This lodge, which I understand is still active, is also home to the Progressive Chapter 139, Order of the Eastern Star.

Leave a comment

Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Gould Cemetery, Harris Neck

Plantations growing Sea Island cotton on Harris Neck as early as 1787  (Julianton was the first) ensured the presence of a large population of enslaved Africans, who were also essential to rice, cattle, and timber production. By the early 19th century the Gould family was one of several who owned large tracts of land here. Contemporary maps show Gould’s Landing (today’s Barbour River Landing) and an adjacent Gould’s Cemetery. This was undoubtedly the one we see today, a slave burying ground, though no graves from that time were formally marked nor recorded, to my knowledge.

To me, this is one of the most magical places on the entire coast. It’s a place of quiet refuge and subtle beauty that speaks not only to the sad history of slavery but to the evolution of enslaved people in the years following emancipation. It’s somewhat protected by its location within the boundary of a National Wildlife Refuge but it definitely bears further research and listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Gould Cemetery is significant not only because so many formerly enslaved persons are buried here, but also for the the large number of headstones featuring a star motif. The star is a long-employed Christian icon, somewhat common among African-American burials in the years after slavery. It’s my belief that most of these were done by the same artisan, though the range of dates suggests that perhaps an apprentice to the original carver may have completed some of the later ones. I have no way to confirm it but feel certain the carver was a member of the community.

I’m presenting this as a photographic guide to these headstones (though not yet complete nor in any particular order) including names and dates with the hope that it will be helpful to genealogists and historians. Names are carved in simple block lettering. At first glance the phonetic spellings that characterize these markers can present a bit of a challenge, so I have shown the original spellings and placed what I believe to be the correct names in parentheses.

Unknown Burial (likely an infant child of Martha Thorpe)

Catharine Golds (Gould?)- Wos bon Oct. 17 1889. Died August 25 1927.

W. M. Thorpe- Sacred to the memory of W. M. Thorpe. Born Feb 6 1861. Died Jan 27 1936.

Reverend C. C. Dawley- Was born Feb 11 1855. Died Oct 1 1923.

Nethelea Hages (Hodges?)- Born Aug 8 1905. Died July 13 1923.

Nancy McAntosh (McIntosh)- Died Dec 7 1922. Ag (Age) 66

Mary Jane King- Was born Sept 1889. Died Augest (August) 2 1933. Sleep On.

Margret Procter (Proctor)- Born Feb 12 1862. Died Sept 26 1930. In memory of our loveing (loving) mother. Gone but not forgotten.

Rosa L. Simmons- Born Nov 31 1896. Died Dec 23 1923. Age 27.

Judge E. W. Lowe- Was born 1855. Died Nov 6 1927.

James King- Was bond October 15 1888 Died May 25 1922. Age 33. At Rest.

Eunice Stevens- Was born March 14 1906 Died Nov 6 1921. Asleep in Jesus Peaceful Sleep

Annie Bell Salins (Sallins)- Was born Oct 15 1818. Died March 13 1918.

Thomas Butterfieald (Butterfield)- Born 1879 Diede (Died) Dece 9 1918. Oct 16. This headstone is a bit puzzling at first, but I believe the October 16 is likely an indicator of the the birth date, discovered after the process of carving the headstone had begun.

Elliott Miflin (Mifflin)- Was born March 22 1886. Died May 28 1928.

Rosa Mifflin- Was Born May 23 1884 an Died Jan 6 1930

Elkeno Mifflin- Wos Born Aug 15 1880. Died June 20 1923

Daniel Mifflen (Mifflin)- Born March 16 1856. Died Nov 1 1942. This is one of the newest of the star headstones and the only one to feature a Masonic cypher.

James Miflin (Mifflin)- Born July 17 1901. Died Aug 1 1928. Ocean Breeze Chamber 4541-Townsend Ga. The Ocean Breeze Chamber in Townsend was likely one of the numerous fraternal lodges for African-Americans common on and near the Georgia coast in the last decades of the 19th and first decades of the 20th centuries. Other than churches, these were about the only places blacks could gather in the Jim Crow era and were centers of fellowship and community. They were also practical, as most provided members the opportunity to purchase burial insurance. Townsend is about 20 miles inland in McIntosh County.

Marian Dawley- Born 1823. Died April 27 (?) 1886.

Calvin Stevens- Born May 28th 1903?. Died Feb 25th 1921. At Rest.

Eleza Stevens- Born Oct 24 1875. Died Aug 11 1928. Ocean Breeze Chamber 4541-Townsend, Ga.

Henry Stevens- Farther (Father). Born Mar 10 1840?. Died Dec 1 1919. Asleep.

Morris Jenkins- Born Nov 28 1807. Died May 26 1900. At Rest.

Corporal Jack Thompson was an African-American with ties to the Gould plantation. He served with Company E, 33rd U. S. Colored Infantry. This regiment was organized 31 January 1863 or 8 February 1864, as 1st South Carolina Volunteers Colored Infantry attached to U. S. Forces, Port Royal Island, South Carolina, 10th Corps, Department of the South, to April 1864. They were mustered out on 31 January 1866. I’ve been unable to find any other information on Corporal Thompson.

Private Edward Stevens- June 5 1896-September 4 1947. 567th Service Battalion Quartermaster’s Corps, World War I

Private Jasper Hillery- d. 29 May 1940. Florida. Private Hillery served in the 151st Depot Brigade.

Jesus Statue near Dawley gravesite.

Reverend B. H. Renear- Died Lacey Ga. Mar 20 1904. Age 40 yrs. Lacey was the name of the post office at Gould’s Landing. It operated near the cemetery from 1896-1914, replacing the Bahama post office which operated from 1891-1895.

Palm trees and old-growth oaks characterize this space.

The Barbour River passes near the perimeter of the cemetery.

 

5 Comments

Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Harris Neck GA

Pyramidal Roof House, Tarboro

Leave a comment

Filed under -CAMDEN COUNTY, Tarboro GA