Connection with the Land

Settlement in the Corridor

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The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is largely the area designated in 1865 by Special Order No. 15.This order, proposed by General William Tecumseh Sherman promised that the Islands from Charleston, SC south,thirty miles from the sea to the St John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida would be set aside “for the settlement of Negroes”who had been emancipated.1Because the focus of the order was heads of families, hopes of the affected people to become stable families were raised to the extent that most of them began seeking their ambitions like ordinary free people. A substantial number of former enslaved people streamed to the Sea Islands and other parts of Low Country South Carolina and Georgia.

Special Field Order No. 15 was rescinded in 1866. Even though hopes were dashed and ambitions severely curtailed, the quest for land within the proposed area continued. Eventually a substantial number of families succeeded in acquiring acreage and promoted self sufficiency, perhaps the most important factor in sustaining the Gullah Geechee culture.

Traditional land tenure and function

In Gullah Geechee culture, a sense of self has depended largely on a sense of place and vice versa. Family Landownership has provided a sense of place. The land has held the family together because the family has always owned and worked the land together. For generations Gullah Geechee families have used the same parcels of land that was purchased soon after the Civil War to provide living space and to produce food.This has created a substantial amount of ancestral land and promoted a kinship economy, meaning that service and goods -bartering among family members are common practices.Families have grown crops that relate to their West African ancestry that include okra, sweet potatoes (yams) water melon and benne (sesame).Too, the Gullah Geechee language, skills in blacksmithing, boat, fishnet and basket making and other cultural norms are easily passed on from one generation to the next because of living space proximity between them.

Land is widely considered the most valuable of all Gullah Geechee cultural assets. It has always been the base for economic and social development. Small family farms are often the source of income for those who live in the Sea Islands in isolation of employment centers, and churches, schools and burial grounds have traditionally been located on land that was oftentimes benevolently transferred to for the good of the Gullah Geechee public.

Thus the relationship between land and Gullah Geechee culture is plainly reflected in the landscape of the Corridor where a number of Gullah Geechee families began settlements after Special Order No. 15.

© 2016 Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor