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Excerpt: African Voices in the African American Heritage
by Betty M. Kuyk
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African Voices in the African American Heritage

2003, by Betty M. Kuyk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Reproduced by Permission of Indiana University Press


Into the American Community

It was "not the English," Sam Gadsden emphasized. "It was the Dutch." Those were the people who brought his great-grandfather's family to this country. He reported the story as it was given to him by his grandaunt, his grandmother Rebecca's sister. The girls were daughters of Gadsden's great-grandfather, Kwibo Tom. They all came to the Sea Islands together.

Gadsden said that Kwibo Tom's father, whose name was Tom, was a "chief" among his people in the Kongo. They knew "all about where to find elephants" and how to get the tusks. At the same time "they didn't know much about cloth." Tom's family lived "in the Kongo," where the Dutch wanted to buy "elephant teeth ... and elephant bones and things," so they went into the are to trade "nice flowered cloth ... and pretty things ... and trinkets" for tusks.

In the Sea Islands, Gadsden said, "the Dutch" found people who needed "plenty of labor" to work their "rich place," and they figured out how to "get some of the tribal people" who were "good workers." "They can outwork these white people. They can stand there and mow a yard!" So the Dutch fooled "these people who wanted to get the nice things" by promising to take the Kongo people to the place where they could get the cloth for themselves. And so young Tom's father "sent a whole family, expecting to get them back." He sent Kwibo Tom with his three wives and all of their children and Tom's brother, Wali, with his wife and children.

The Dutch ship sailed to the coast of South Carolina, Sam Gadsden continued. "My grandfather said that was the way they come to this country. They land some place they call Bohicket - over there to Wadmalaw, and a white man bought them from the Dutch ... And the man who bought them there - Mr. Clark ... had places on Wadmalaw and on Edisto." Clark kept members of Tom's family on both islands, but, as Gadsden explained, "they were a family, were sisters and brothers right on, because they could row across the river and work on the Clark place and could row back." Later, when Clark's daughter Lydia was married to Major Murray, some of the people moved to the Murray place on Edisto Island; some other members of the family were taken to Fenwick Island. Those on Fenwick Island raised "a whole lot of children," and so did those on Edisto Island. But still they were able to row back and forth between islands, and so they remained one family.

Sam Gadsden's story probably gives the particulars of the tradition recorded by Nell Graydon, which held that many of Edisto Island's African American people were "descended from an African king." With an examination of the history of the slave trade on both sides of the Atlantic at the time when Gadsden's forebears were brought to South Carolina, we will be able to watch legend change into reality.

Gadsden thought that his family was brought to Bohicket Creek about 1820. The Mr. Clark who bought the family was James Clark III, who owned plantation land on the tip of Edisto Island at Botany Bay. At that time it was called Clark's Bay. Clark died there on October 4, 1819, and Gadsden's people are listed in Clark's estate inventory of 1820. They must, therefore, have come shortly before 1820. By this time direct importation of slaves from Africa had been illegal for a dozen years, so Gadsden's forebears were victims of smuggling, sneaked into an obscure creek long after the congressional prohibition of January 1, 1808, banned the importation of slaves from Africa.

The story of the smuggling traffic in slaves from 1808 until the Civil War has yet to be told. But for at least two reasons the story is not easy to tell. Obviously, most smugglers prefer not to keep records of their operations. And this phase of the slave trade found the young nation struggling in a churned-up world which erupted into the War of 1812, pitting Britain and the seventeen new United States against each other. Britain, which had the power on the seas, began to follow her impulse to abolish slave trading. During the Napoleanic Wars her seamen boarded and searched ships of other nations. This technique could help combat the slave trade if she could continue to use it; and by 1818 her foreign minister, Castlereagh, had concluded limited visit-and-search treaties with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. The United States, still smarting from resentments of the War of 1812, adamantly refused to agree. The American states were now involved in heated contests over extending slavery into new territories. Sugar cane cultivation was increasing. The invention of the cotton gin and new techniques in manufacturing textiles spawned expansions in cotton farming. The luxuriant long-staple cotton of the coastal islands was making planters' fortunes in a single year, and in 1819 planters did not see that their cotton culture was already declining. They felt they needed more slaves, and more, and more.

Geographically, no shoreline could have been better laid out for smuggling than the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. Tidal streams, rivers, and inlets led to uncountable islands. Almost all are accessable to others by rowboat and many, at low tide, by foot. Beaufort County, at the southern tip of South Carolina, counts over ninety islands that have names. No amount of patrolling by land or sea could have stopped smuggling. Pirates found their havens here more than a century before Kwibo Tom's smuggler brought him to the United States. Place names still attest to their presence. A little way into the North Edisto River from the Atlantic Ocean, Kwibo Tom's Dutch sea captain passed a tip of land called Privateer Point, the entrance to Privateer Creek. Privateer Point lay on the north side of the river, opposite Clark's Bay. Legend tells that Clark's Bay and its surroundings were well-known landing spots for smugglers and pirates.

Between 1808 and 1820 federal authorities, who were encumbered by bureaucracy, made little headway against slave smuggling. There was no workable enforcement mechanism. Because the Treasury Department handled collection of customs duties, it was first assigned to enforce the law. But because the navy soon had to send cruisers after slaving ships, enforcement ultimately devolved to the Navy Department, sometimes passing through the State Department or the War Department on the way. Confusion over who was in charge was the result.

To try to curb smuggling, law enforcers on the East Coast focused most of their attention on the mouth of the St. Mary's River, which formed the boundary between Georgia and Florida. Since this area was under the command of the port of Charleston, the sailing ships patrolled coastal waters for a distance of roughly 200 miles. In January 1811 Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton directed Commodore Campbell at Charleston to hurry up and get gunboats down to St. Mary's, as he had heard that slaves were frequently being taken ashore there.

A man who wanted to deal in smuggling first had to find one or more backers and make arrangements for a safe landing spot. He had to find space on a ship, or command one himself, and have the slaves transported and secretly landed at the spot previously settled on. Charles G. Cox was one of those men. His story was told through the records of the Florida Supreme Court after he and his associates were so unlucky as to be caught. After at least two of his proposals for financing were refused, Cox received money from a Frenchman, Paul de Malherbe, and a Floridian, Farquhar Macrae.

Cox bought slaves in Havanah and became master of the Emporer, a schooner supposedly owned by Anthony G. Richards of Savannah. The Emperor sailed from Havanah with Cox in command and Paul de Malherbe on board as a passenger. On the afternoon of February 6, 1837, the Emperor was sighted off St. Joseph Peninsula on the northern Gulf coast of Florida. That night Cox transferred his slave cargo to a boat in charge of de Malherbe. De Malherbe landed his cargo somewhere near Port St. Joseph and immediately paid with his life. His boat went down, and he drowned.

Cox, however, did not suffer. The slaves were collected as planned by Joseph R. Croskey, who later became the American consul in Cowes, England. Croskey took the slaves to his plantation in Washington County, Florida. Eight of them were identified by the overseer, who called them Milo, Peter, Coogar, Jim, Tony, Larkin, Sam and Harper. They were all African. Only Milo spoke English; the rest spoke African languages and understood no English. Milo said he came from Africa. Two of the men were cicatrized, and two had filed teeth.

Please Note: This excerpt appears by special permission of the author and publisher and may not be presented elsewhere without permission of the copyright holders.
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About the Author:

Betty M. Kuyk is an independent historian. Born to a Southern family with roots in both Georgia and Virginia, Kuyk now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and dog family and in Virginia with her extended Southern family.

Explore:

Related Reading: Read an excerpt from And I'm Glad: An Oral History of Edisto Island by Nick Lindsay, right here at Africana!

Read "The Process of Becoming an Oral Historian" by Jennie Padgett Smith. Smith discusses Nick Lindsay''s oral history interviews with Bubbersom Brown and Sam Gadsden, who told the story of Kwibo Tom. Read the article as a .pdf file or HTML.

Read The Schooner Emperor: An Incident of the Illegal Slave Trade in Florida by Dorothy Dodd, The Florida Historical Quarterly volume 13 issue 3

Read Illegal Importations: Enforcement of the Slave Trade Laws Along the Florida Coast, 1810-1828 by Frances J. Stafford, The Florida Historical Quarterly volume 46 issue 2

Learn:

Read about the Sea Islands at Wikipedia.com

Visit The Penn Center: A Link to the Past and a Bridge to the Future

Read Charlotte Forten, "Life on the Sea Islands" The Atlantic Monthly, May and June, 1864, from Northern Visions of Race, Region & Reform in the Press, An American Antiquarian Society Online Resource

Teachers:

View Priscilla's Homecoming: Featured Resources and Lesson Plans, with Sea Island resources, right here on Africana!
Copyright 2004 The University of South Florida and The Africana Heritage Project. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. For more information, contact the Africana Heritage Project via e-mail.