Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark
Tag Archives: Coastal Georgia in the Antebellum Era
Modified for residential use in the 20th century and restored in the late 2000s, the three extant tabbies on Ossabaw Island represent the most significant surviving cluster of slave dwellings on the Georgia coast. They were part of the Morel family’s North End Plantation, which was among the most successful such operations in early Georgia. Though exact construction dates for the tabby row can’t be determined, extensive archaeological research has determined they were built between circa 1820-1840s. Various Ossabaw employees lived in these structures into the early 1990s and they were modified to accommodate modern needs. Nearly all traces of those modifications have been removed and restoration work has been done.
Tabby Slave Cabin No. 1 -Like the other two cabins, this was originally a saddlebag though the central chimney has been removed.
Tabby Slave Cabin No. 2 – This cabin retains its central chimney.
Tabby Slave Cabin No. 3- This cabin has been stabilized and will eventually be restored. Past modifications are still visible.
National Register of Historic Places
I was recently contacted by some friends in McIntosh County about the opportunity to photograph a slave cabin on their property. Of course, this immediately piqued my interest and when I learned it was of wooden construction, I was even more intrigued. Most slave dwellings on the coast are of tabby construction and nearly all are documented, so to have the opportunity to see an undocumented wooden example was extraordinary. The owners have shared its history, which I will update soon. The property is not publicly accessible.
The structure has been preserved by a couple families for at least 150 years and likely housed black domestics well into the late-19th/early-20th centuries. It’s presently in vulnerable condition, but the owners have expressed an interest in having it properly restored to historical specifications.
Since stories of slave cabins are nearly as abundant as those relating “Sherman’s troops slept in Granddaddy’s barn” and “George Washington slept here”, it’s important to “read” the structure to validate its age and history. There were myriad variations as to style in slave dwellings, so that alone can’t be used to confirm such a structure’s use. Most were very simple single- or double-pen cabins. Some were saddlebags, with a chimney in the middle, while others had the chimney located on one side (as in this example). Nails are a good way to make general assumptions as to age, and this one features Type B cut nails, which were in common use between the 1810s and 1900. The lack of glass windows is also a good indicator, though not definitive.
Built for servants working in the main house of James Hamilton’s Gascoigne Bluff plantation, this slave cabin is one of four surviving on St. Simons. Two more survive on the lands of the former Hamilton Plantation. As evidenced by this authentic restoration, house slaves were generally kept in nicer dwellings than field hands and other laborers. Popularly known as The Tabby House, it was restored by Eugene Lewis in 1931 and again in 1995 by master tabby craftsmen J. Felton Tate, Sr., Renaldo Tate, Sr., and Renaldo Tate, Jr.. After the plantation house burned in the 1890s, a lumber mill was located on the property for many years. The cabin served as a doctor’s office during that era. Today, it is part of the Epworth By The Sea campus of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and is used as an event space.
National Register of Historic Places
Midway Congregational Church, founded in 1754 and a seat of power in the Colonial period, was associated with three satellite congregations known as retreats, because their locations, slightly more inland than Midway, offered a respite from the malarial swamps of the coast. The last of the retreat churches to be established was located at Dorchester. Its origins can be traced to nearby Sunbury, a short-lived boom town founded in 1758 whose trustees were members of Midway Church. Sunbury thrived nearly from its inception, rivaling Savannah in commercial importance, but its proximity to Fort Morris lead to its capture and subsequent burning by British troops during the American Revolution. While many such casualties of the war recuperated, Sunbury never seemed to regain its prominence after the devastating four-year occupation that followed. The hurricane of 1824 and a yellow fever epidemic sent many of its residents scattering into the nearby countryside. Huge plantations with names like Laurel Grove, Arcadia, Melon Bluff, Cedar Point, and Palmyra were emerging in the countryside around old Sunbury. In 1843 upon the suggestion of Reverend Thomas Sumner Winn, a tutor for prominent Presbyterian minister Charles Colcock Jones, a site was chosen for a retreat between Sunbury and Midway. It was originally known simply as “the Village,” but was soon christened Dorchester, in tribute to the heritage of its citizens. Some families built summer homes at Dorchester, though many tore down their dwellings near Sunbury and rebuilt them on the higher and drier ground the retreat afforded. As this new location was only six miles from Midway, the idea of building a church was not initially entertained, though an academy was built in which Sunday school was regularly taught. By 1854, with the continuing decline in membership at Midway, the families of the village built a permanent church, which still stands today. The old town bell from Sunbury, dated 1799, was placed in the steeple. The land was donated by Bartholomew Busby, who owned the nearby Melon Bluff Plantation. At first it was used only in summer, but by the onset of the Civil War was in regular use. The church was officially recognized by the Savannah Presbytery in 1871 and named Dorchester Presbyterian Church. The church holds services on the first Sunday of each month at 5 PM.
National Register of Historic Places
Constituted in 1839, Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist is one of the most historic churches in Bryan County. The present church was rebuilt after a fire in 1859. As of 2011, the congregation had dwindled to just two members, Deacon Gene Bryant and Thelma Kangeter. Deacon Bryant, with the assistance of Chip Killingsworth of Brewton-Parker College, is attempting to have a historical marker placed at the church and organizes a reunion for member families each year.Mrs. Kangeter’s son, Benny, was leading an effort to ensure the church remain in use for reunions, weddings, and funerals and the inside is well-maintained and restored, as well. The exterior remains in relatively good shape.
It’s so nice to see a church with such a history be preserved in a meaningful way. The unpainted pine finishings of the interior add to the primitive appearance of Lower Black Creek.
Copies of the “songbook” Primitive Hymns and funeral home fans sit at the ready on every pew, awaiting congregants and reminding one of what a busy place this once was.
The cemetery, among the largest in the area, indicates that the membership here was once very large, and it’s my hope that efforts to have a historic marker placed will be successful. It would be a shame to see a place so important to so many simply be forgotten. (Note- The bulk of my photographs of the cemetery were recently lost to a digital glitch and I will be replacing them soon).
Ed Nolan writes: My GGG Grandmother and Grandfather are buried here. According to my Grandmother their house was the old one on the left, on the curve towards Hendrix Park up the road from the church/cemetery. Assuming that’s still there…..haven’t been around there in some years.Story was that when Sherman’s men came thru, Grandmother Lavinia Geiger welcomed them into her home (after stashing Grandfather and the children out in the woods somewhere.
Giving the soldiers food, etc…..they went on their way without burning their houses, etc.