In 2009, our Baxter/Bonaparte Family Reunion was held at at Myrtle
Beach, in South Carolina.
However, our South Carolina
ancestors were the Gullah/Geechie, of South Carolina,
some of whom own and manage Atlanta Beach.
For many years the only place blacks were allowed to congregate, was Atlanta
Beach.The Gullah/Geechie Culture was formed by descendants of African American
Slaves, in the Islands off of South
Carolina and Georgia.
Nicknamed The Black Pearl, the rich culture of the Town of Atlantic Beach was
formed of mostly Gullah/Geechee people, descendants of slaves who lived for 300
years on the Sea Islands from Wilmington,
North Carolina to Jacksonville,
Florida. In the early 1930’s, defying Jim
Crow laws in the segregated south, debunking black stereotypes, and
broadening the enterprises of the Gullah/Geechee people, black men and women
opened hotels, restaurants, night clubs, and novelty shops in Atlantic Beach.
Many of the slaves in South Carolina
arrived through Ports located in Charleston.
The slaves labored to build Charleston,
and were eventually taken into the interior (up Country). My South Carolina
Family Surnames are, Baxter, Bonaparte, Darby, Boyd, Ruth, and Warner, to name
a few. They lived in the Low Country, and by the Ogeechie
River, in the Up Country of South
Carolina.They grew Rice, Indigo, and Cotton, all labor intensive crops. The low
country slaves tended to grow Indigo and rice, while Up Country Slaves worked with
Cotton. However, there was no hard and fast rules, especially in the beginning
of slavery. Rice was grown around the waterways and swamps of South
Carolina. The slaves not only grew the crops, they
cleared the swamps and planted, and picked the crops. All of the hard,
demanding labor was done by slaves, working in inhumane conditions. All of the
benefits of slavery went to their owners, whether a person or a
The Up Country ancestors in my family worked the cotton fields for no wages
during slavery, and little wages afterward. Along the Ogeechie
River and other waterways, the
slaves grew rice. Growing Rice in snake
infested water, not to mention Alligators, and every bug known to man, was a
feat unto itself. After the Civil War, even those who received lands were
relegated to a life of poverty, because of Institutionalized Racism.
One of our ancestors, Great-Great Grandmothers, Leah Warner was born in
Guinea in 1818,
and lived there the first twelve years of her life. The story passed down from
Leah to me (by my mother), is that she was the daughter of a King in Guinea,
and they lived along the river. Leah's people were Muslim, and my belief is
that her father was an Imam (Muslim Holy man). The tribe she belonged to were
the Malinke, and the founder was Sandiata Keita. The Malinke entered Guinea
sometime around 1300 AD, and eventually engaged in a war with the Baga. They
were the original inhabitants of Guinea,
and fierce opponents of the Mali
intruders. The wars between the Baja and Malinke resulted in a merger of sorts.
There was an uneasy peace, but Guinea
continues to be divided along ethnic lines.
Great-Great Grandmother Leah, stated that they (the Kings' Children), panned
for Gold in the River. That is probably where they were the day of the
kidnapping. That was the last day Leah saw her home in Guinea.
She was then twelve years old, and her siblings were at the river, along with
some guards. She stated that the slavers took them five miles down river, and
they were brought to America
on board a Dutch Ship.
It is amazing to hear the details of her ordeal, given the trauma they
endured. The year of 1830 is important; because that is the year, Leah was
taken. Yet, selling African slaves in America
was outlawed in America.
Southern States got around the law by having the slaves, "seasoned"
in the Caribbean. Leah and the others on the voyage were
taken o Bermuda to be seasoned. There are events that
she does not recount, but we can image the ordeal she suffered through there.
By the time she was sold in Charleston SC,
her name was Leah. There is no mention of what her name was in Guinea.
The man who purchased Leah was Robert Ruth, who owned a small farm in Beaufort
District South Carolina.
Beaufort is part of the Low Country of South Carolina, which includes Hilton
Head Island. In the 1850 census, Robert Ruth has about seven
slaves on his farm. There is Leah, and about five children, including my
Great-Grandfather, Samuel Ruth. Several of Leah's children belonged to Robert
Ruth, and even carried his last name. It was a mixed blessing for Leah to live
on a small farm, as she primarily worked in the house. However, that put her in
close proximity to the man who owned her, and exploited her.
In 1857, Leah was sold to a Plantation
on Hilton Head South Carolina. Her children watched her being sold on the
auction block. Then while Leah watched, her children were sold on the auction
block in front of her. Leah told of watching as her red haired daughter, was
put in a wagon and taken from her. Cousin Ida Ruth-Jones depicted the moment in
one of her paintings. Leah is standing in the background with her arms up in
the air. Leah was taken to a Plantation
in Hilton Head, and would remain there for the next twenty-three years.
Although she worked the fields, Leah became part of the Gullah community there.
She married her husband, Jack Warner, and bore two children by him. Plantation
life was harsh, but they had the advantage of forming families and communities.
Leah meant friends from Guinea,
who knew her family, and made friends with other Africans. The Gullah are a
cohesive community of people, who maintain the beliefs brought from Africa.
In one story Leah tells of being whipped as they went into the fields. Mr.
Fields was the overseer, and he ran the slaves into the fields on a horse. Leah
often felt the sting of the whip on her back, even though she ran as fast as
she could. After slavery ended, Fields continued as if nothing had changed.
Finally Leah asked if the end of slavery meant that Fields could not whip them.
She was told that, Fields had no right to whip them. Leah waited until the next
day, when Fields came after her, and lifted his whip, "She grabbed him,
and pulled the whip out of his hand, and he landed on the ground. There she proceeded
to whip him, nearly to death. She was stopped by the other slaves, and the whip
taken out of her hand. That was the last time she saw Fields."
Leah remained in Hilton Head after the Civil War, in the community she had
been a part of building. She learned that her children were alive and well, and
made contact with each one. Daniel was married and living in Georgia,
as was Emma. Samuel Ruth had been rescued by the 54th Massachusetts United
States Colored Troops, and taken to New Jersey,
where a black family adopted him. Samuel was thirteen when the Civil War
started, and was sold to Savannah Georgia,
along with his light-skinned brothers, and sisters. They were house servants
there in Georgia,
for a wealthy family. Samuel remembers being whipped, and abused by the family
they lived with, when he cried for his mother.
In 1889, after the death of her husband Jack, and son Georgy (she said
Georgy was killed), Leah moved to Pennsylvania.
Samuel Ruth, her son took a trip to Hilton Head on a Rickety Boat to find his
mother. When he landed at Hilton Head, he asked for Leah Warner, and the
message was passed to his mother. She ran to her son, screaming his name,
Sammy, Sammy, Sammy, and fell to her knees. He told her, Momma, you do not have
to bow any more. Sammy helped his mother pack her belongs, and say goodbye, and
they left for Pennsylvania.
When they arrived in Pennsylvania,
Leah met her daughter-in-Law, Maria Pinn-Ruth, and her Grandchildren. Her son
Samuel was a prominent Farmer in Chester County Pennsylvania, and built a house
for her on his property. Leah lived to be ninety-seven years old recounting her
story to her Grandchildren, and Great-Grandchildren. She continued to believe
in her Muslim Faith, although her son was a Christian Minister. She died
peacefully, sitting on her front porch, and joined the family that she had been
taken from as a child.
This is a Black History Tribute, in memory of the
Baxter/Bonaparte/Warner/Ruth/ Boyd/Christ Berger, ancestors, who endured so
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