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"Salt Water People 1862"

Randy Bond - 25Nov10 12:59PM

This scene depicts an African American mother and her 2 daughters during the American Civil War on one of the Sea Islands located off the coast of South Carolina. In the 18th Century African slaves were brought to the islands to work the cotton, rice and indigo plantations. The slaves developed the notable and distinct Gullah/Geechee Creole culture and language which has survived to contemporary times. In 1861, the Union Navy and Army occupied the islands. The white planter families had fled to other locations on the mainland, sometimes leaving behind their slaves. The blacks largely ran their own lives during this period.

The Sea Islands became part of the Port Royal Experiment during the Civil War in which former slaves successfully worked on the land abandoned by plantation owners. Several private Northern charity organizations stepped in to help the former slaves become self-sufficient. The result was a model of what Reconstruction could have been. The African Americans demonstrated their ability to work the land efficiently and live independently of white control. They assigned themselves daily tasks for cotton growing and spent their extra time cultivating their own crops, fishing and hunting. By selling their surplus crops, the locals acquired small amounts of property. In 1863, General Ormsby Mitchel allowed African Americans to found the town of Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island. In 1865 President Andrew Johnson ended the experiment, returning the land to its previous white owners.

"Salt Water People" 
refers to Africans who were taken from their homeland on the transatlantic slave trade via large clipper ships. "Salt Water" references the fact that these people crossed the Altantic Ocean.

An excellent film about the Sea Islands and the Gulllah culture is Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (1991) set on one of the islands at the turn of the century.

Official Site Daughters of the Dust

Educational Site on Daughters of the Dust

Figures from Wm. Hocker set 325

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