Ward Lee’s Cabin

I have always wanted to be an Archaeologist growing up.  I vividly recall one particular afternoon during Sunday dinner at my grandfather’s house. I was about six years old and was doing a good job convincing my cousin that we could “excavate” the remains of the beloved family dog, “Tippy” who was buried in the backyard.  Professionals install careful controls but I came running out with my trowel /AKA garden shovel.  Ward Lee Cabin Dig

With the assistance of our older brothers we pulled out the “ancient bones” and ran back into the house where our mothers were serving pumpkin pie.  We held up the remains and were met with  screams and shouting.  Dishtowels were shooing us out the backdoor along with our once furry discovery.  Yes, we were made to wash our hands. Twice actually.

The incident is still spoken of today around the Sunday dinner table but thankfully it didn’t spoil my love to one day be part of a real dig which I was able to do on a recent trip to Edgefield. This time I convinced my best friend Kerry to join me! Kerry and I at Ward Lees Cabin It was an exciting and quite dirty experience but unlike my backyard discovery years earlier, nothing of value was found.  I was instructed to look carefully for any materials representative of the magical practices of the African-American community – and especially of the Kongolese Africans, such as Ward Lee, but I found nothing but some old rusty nails and a piece of an old coke bottle.   Although I had discovered that Ward Lee had made a face jug which we know had ritualistic connotations , it was doubtful anything of that nature would be found due to Lee’s strong Christian faith.

I continue to dig up amazing new insights into the lives of the survivors of the Wanderer.  It is beginning to develop a remarkable picture of how they led their lives under slavery and after freedom in 1865. 
 In my research, I learned that the last slaves imported into America included kings, queens and princesses and ‘N’gangas’ – tribal leaders. These were all the types of community leaders that conquering tribesmen would want to eliminate or sell into slavery.
Next month, on the weekend of the 14th of April, I will present at the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies at the Aiken County Museum of History in Aiken, SC.

The Lecture Tour Begins!

I kicked off the Wanderer book project tour on Thursday Feb. 23rd  when I presented our findings to an audience of some 300 people at the convention center of the Jekyll Island Club. This was my first experience with public speaking and it was good to begin with such a SMALL audience….Yes, I was nervous but Where better to begin?
Jekyll is the resplendent jewel in Georgia’s necklace of live oak and moss draped islands, a simply spectacular patch of well-preserved history and nature. Here, there proved to be a hidden face to Jekyll’s natural beauty, a dark side of history that loomed large in the annals of the southern slave trade. It was here that the sleek ship Wanderer made landfall on one chilly November night in 1858. The Horton home was occupied then by the DuBignons, new owners of the island and its fields of sea island cotton. In the pre-dawn darkness there came a rap at the door…
After 125 years,  I am able to uncover the recollections of that sleeping house boy and revealed the gripping story of the arrival of 407 Africans at Jekyll Island.
I spoke candidly introducing these stories to a rapt audience for over an hour, sharing with them my presentation that included slides, audio &  video clips of the Africans and their descendants who have contributed to the fabric of American life. This was a  rewarding response to say the least.
What started in misery ended well – my presentation concluded with the stories of descendants who have become NFL stars, State supreme court judges, teachers, councillors, civil rights heroines servicemen manned all manner of leaders who daily serve swell the memory of ancestors who were once kings, queens and priests in their native Africa.  It was a remarkable moment during that trip when I stood on the sandy beach off Jekyll Island alongside Yango’s great -great grandson. It was a silent celebration that the captives stories were finally going to be told.   We held hands during a very emotional moment and as we looked off to the sea, it was as though the waters carried our tears right back to Africa.   Tears of Joy.
Shore of Jekyll Island with Fred Yango
Our thanks to Jon Hunter, Director of Historic Resources of the Jekyll Island Authority, and to Andrea Marroquin, Programming Coordinator of the Jekyll Island Museum for planning the presentation as part of their Black History Month program who have been a tremendous support to me over these past few years. The event was a spectacular beginning of the lecture tour that will conclude with the publication of our book on the Wanderers and their story!