Searching Out the Hidden Stories of South Carolina’s Gullah Country

After the tour, Bill put me in contact with Mary Rivers Legree, who maintains the reward home as president of the Coffin Point Community Association. Ms. Legree’s household has lived on the similar land on Coffin Point since the period of slavery. She was raised there till the age of 9, then moved north.

Amid the horrors of the Jim Crow South, 78-year-old Ms. Legree recalled an remoted childhood with entry to recent seafood, tomatoes, corn, candy potatoes, okra, and such exotic-sounding fare as pomegranates, persimmons, figs and turtle eggs, all grown on St. Helena Island.

Even when Ms. Legree moved to New York City and later Michigan, she saved her connection to the Lowcountry, as soon as asking her father to ship a cooler of whiting by Express Mail so she might maintain a barbeque for her Detroit neighbors. More essential, she saved paying the property taxes on the land that had been in her household since 1866.

“I didn’t know what it meant, however I despatched the cash,” she advised me as we sat on the picket pews in the reward home, the door open to the sunny June morning.

She understood the worth of the land when, in 2005, she retired and moved again to St. Helena.

After settling into her father’s cottage on Coffin Point, Ms. Legree usually handed the previous reward home. Services had ceased with the deaths of elders, and the constructing was in poor situation. The doorways had been left open, and no markers or plaques indicated the historic significance of the construction. Ms. Legree recalled saying to herself, “This place needs somebody.”

Despite renewed public curiosity in the space’s historical past, Ms. Legree nonetheless worries that the sturdy sense of tradition that has made St. Helena a cohesive neighborhood shall be misplaced until native residents struggle more durable to protect it.

“Most of the Gullah people around here are between 60 and 80 years old,” she stated. “The young people here don’t understand the historical significance of being landowners. They don’t even know how they got their land.”

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