Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday 2/4/2014 St. Helena back roads

"Captain Cripp" - St. Helena Island

     Another overcast day, so there were no good shots on the water to be had.  Pat made some lunch which we took over to "Captain Cripp," one of the last hand-weavers of fishing nets.  I recorded him talking for about an hour - his Geechee dialect so thick that I could only catch about one word in three that he spoke.  He turns 90 in a few weeks, and he shared a bit about his experiences over the years.  When I get set up to edit video, this is one I will definitely share with you as the accent itself is really something to hear.

Melvin Chaplin; St. Helena Island

     Pat had errands to run, so after leaving Captain Cripps I hooked up a fellow I met Sunday night, Melvin Chaplin.  Melvin is another lifetime resident of St. Helena Island, with the exception of his military service in the 1960's in Vietnam. 

     Melvin drove me through all the dirt roads and gave me a hands-on historical tour of the island.  I learned many things of interest.  The island had (by my count) seven plantations.  Many of the blacks on the island were trades-men, and many earned their freedom and owned land long before the civil war.  In fact, there were a few blacks in South Carolina that owned their own plantations, and some had white indentured servants.  

     After the civil war, the plantation owners gave each black an amount of acreage that he could handle farming, and the blacks continued to farm the remaining plantation acreage as well.  This led to an interesting sub-division of properties.  The different black families that owned acreage formed themselves into little hamlets, while the plantations themselves became villages.  Each hamlet had its own small church, referred to as "praise houses" - of which I posted a few photos yesterday.  These churches were used for weekday services and smaller family events.  Each "village" then built its own church and had its own general store.  Melvin pointed out many structures in various stages of decay that pre-dated the civil war.  He said there are many structures long forgotten to be found out in the various wooded areas.

    Melvin said he never experienced any form of racism until he left the island for the military.  He said there were very clear unspoken rules that governed both white and black behavior, and no one infringed upon the other's space.

     One of Melvin's early memories was just post World War II when Parris Island tore down their barracks.  He remembers going for row-boat load after load of timber from the barracks which was used to build several houses for his family.

House built with materials from torn down barracks

     The white plantation owners did have one church on the island, but not all of them agreed on religion.  The Catholics and a few Methodists went to a church that was built in 1740 - well prior to the Revolutionary War.  The church was named St. Helena Church - I presume the island took its name from the church.  The white families of other religions commuted into Beaufort to attend their various churches.  The ruins of St. Helena still stand along with a few mausoleums.

St. Helena Church ruins; St. Helena Island SC

     Asked about superstition, Melvin said there were odd happenings on the island that concerned both blacks and whites.  One stretch of road would develop a brilliant light at night from time to time.  Everyone agrees there is a mysterious light that appears on a spooky oak and Spanish moss draped stretch of Land's End Road, but there are many theories as to what it is. There have been at least two fatal traffic accidents caused by people "chasing the light" in their cars.

     Also, bootleggers are still alive and well on St. Helena.  When you go to a boot-legger's house, you drink your fill and are fed.  It seems that the number of boot-legger's houses just about exactly mirrors the number of churches.

    Well, enough from me tonight.  I hope all had a good Tuesday, and Happy Wednesday !!


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