And I'm Glad: An Oral History of Edisto Island
© 2000, Transcribed by Nick Lindsay. Charleston: Tempus Publishing
Kwibo Tom and His Brother Wallie
The world was full of pirates in those days. Nobody should admit to pirate blood, because the character of a pilot is so bad. It’s worse than an animal’s They would take the goods and the ship and all, and haul them about, kill the people or sell them into slavery. If anybody resisted, they would kill them and throw them into the sea.
In the beginning, when my people immigrate to America, it was a Dutchman who brought them. He was a pirate. He had colored pirates with him. All of them been working in piracy on the high sea. He had the colored pirates go and get the Negros from Africa and make a trade of them. They brought them back into America around this section where there were plenty of new plantations being built, plenty of work going on. That Dutchman was a salesman: he taught the settlers that these Negroes from Africa knew more about cleaning up land than any of the white people did no matter how they would try. The country was wild then and they needed help. He told them, “Let those Africans come; they will make good laboring people for you. I will bring them here; you can put them in slavery and let them do all the rough work.”
Soon every man was in the race to see how many Africans he could get to bring over and sell. They sold them by the head, just like you sell cattle. Some of the white people who came over from Europe used these slaves with a good result. They were cleaning up America, and they were mostly good, only just the one thing: they treated them like slaves. They had guards and patrols and watched them all the time so they wouldn’t run off.
The masters would buy these people from the slave trader by the dozen head. They didn’t buy them at any auction sale; they bought them right off the boat at a place they call Bohicket Creek on Wadmalaw Island right up here. That is where the market was.
The boat would come in, then all the masters go there to buy. Maussa So and So would buy so much, the Maussa So and So would buy so much, and Maussa So and So would buy so much, and they would carry them on to their plantations. They would put them in a little cabin and make them work.
The people would clean up the land, dig ditches for rice fields and put up dams and learn off the kingdom. They treat the people as slaves, but they give them rations, give them meat and give them cloth. They don’t give them clothes; just give them cloth so the poor fools couldn’t hardly hold the neck closed. The women tear up the cloth and tie it around each other, tear off a big piece to tie around her waist and her neck. How should they know how to make clothes? They came straight from Africa.
Some of them live better and some of them live worse; it all depends on the master. Some masters treated their slaves well. They would let them do their own work in the evening and make their own little crop, and they could load it and sell it and make a little money. My grandmother told me these things.
The Dutchman kept bringing them in. He made a regular trade of them. He would come in here with a load, sell them, turn around and go out there and fool them niggers and round up and load his boat again. He fooled them with red cloth, beads, and promises. The Africans liked things like that.
They were easy to fool because they didn’t have much education. The Dutchman was able to fool them because he did. He found out a way he could get rich off of them.
The old time Africans were not savages, not the Ibo people. They were a peaceful and industrious people. They studies how to clear and plant there in the jungle, how to harvest their crops and raise their children peacefully. They were no savages, but they never had yet run across clothes made out of cloth. This was the reason the things the Dutchman brought to them thee pleased them so much.
My great grandfather was named Kwibo Tom. He was the main chief of a tribe in Nigeria, in Africa, a tribe of Ibo people. The Dutchman had been dealing regularly with the old man. Old Tom would lead the Dutchman in to find ivory, gold, diamonds, elephant tusks – whatever it was he wanted. In return for this, the Dutchman would bring the people clothes. This trade had been going on for years, for many years.
The chief’s oldest son was named Kwibo Tom just like his daddy. One day he took a notion, “Why shouldn’t I be going out thee and trading? We could be trading out there on our own account.”
This would have been a very profitable trade if he had managed to do it, for the Dutchman was getting rich off those people even without selling them as slaves. Young Tom could have bought ten boats like the Dutchman was using after they made just one load of ivory, gold and diamonds and sold them at market price. Tom got with his brother, Wallie, and they spoke to the Dutchman about it. That Dutchman answered, and told those two brothers, my great-grandfather Kwibo Tom and his brother Wallie, that he would bring them here to the place where those trinkets came from; and if they would bring a cargo of trade goods and trade for themselves for these things, they could gather up a boat load and take them back to their tribe. Yes, he said he would bring them back, in his own boat.
And they could give him a proportion of their trade goods to pay him for his trouble and the use of his boat. Tom and Wallie could then bring that cloth and those trinkets back to their daddy and their tribe and they would receive a laurel. Their daddy was the main chief and this made Tom a young chief of the tribe there. Both he and his brother were married; Wallie had about four children, Tom had about twelve. They all agreed to that and Tom and Wallie went aboard with their trade goods and their families.
When they go to America, the Dutchman sold both the wives and all the children into slavery, right there at Bohicket, on Wadmalaw. Tom and Wallie never did work as slaves, but they came and went freely about those islands; there may have been some special arrangement about them. Among Tom’s children was my grandmother, Rebecca.
They did not come in at the Customs House in Charleston. The Dutchman was a pirate and it was an illegal trade anyhow, so they came in at Bohicket. He told those two brothers how much better off they would be here, how they could go from place to place in these islands and have as many wives as they wanted – be a rich man here. Why would they want to go back to Africa?
What became of the ivory and trade goods I don’t know. Maybe those brothers made a deal with the Dutchman, the pirate! But it might be he had them where he wanted them and they couldn’t do anything but go along with what he said, once they were out at sea. Anyhow, after they got here and got settled in, the planters liked the kind of children they made, and they told them to make as many as they wished. Tom, he was the Big Chief.
The whole family – the two brothers, their wives and children – went to Mr. Clark over on Wadmalaw. Wallie’s people were settled at a place they call Clark’s, here on this island. Clark had all that then. My grandmother and her brothers and sisters and their father Tom, came first to a place they call Legree’s, over near Oak Island Plantation on this island, then from there they went to Murray’s place, when her father gave all that family – Tom’s family, not Wallie’s – to his daughter, Liddy, as a wedding portion when she got married. That was in 1825.
Major William Murray, when he married for the first time, married Lydia Clark from Wadmalaw, and all that stock of colored people came to him along with her. They were not his property, but they came to stay at his place. They belonged to Miss Liddy. In those days the master had his own slaves and the missus had her own. Murray didn’t rule them; Miss Liddy did. Only in this one thing Murray had the say so: he told Tom, “You go ahead: get as many wives as you want. We need the same kind of people as your children are.” (Sam Gadsden.)
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