Poplar Grove Plantation provides a culturally rich opportunity to explore local and regional Gullah Geechee history as it relates to the Foy family; Foy family slaves; agricultural practices, including the cultivation of peanuts, sweet potatoes, and melons; and the heritage arts, such as basket-making, weaving, and blacksmithing. Poplar Grove Plantation, as part of the National Register of Historic Places and as part of the Gullah Geechee Corridor established by the National Park Service, reflects the traditions of a diverse slave community in southeastern North Carolina.
Linking the history of the Foy family household with the history of the Gullah Geechees offers a lens through which to view the daily practices of a self-sustaining farm with the appropriate language of its operation. Blacksmithing, weaving, and basket making, among other trades, were the skills and practices of Foy family slaves and their descendants passed down from generation to generation dating back to the Colonial period, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights eras.
Through the efforts of the National Park Service to establish this Corridor, “the Gullah Geechee story represents a crucial component of local, regional, and national history. Preserving and interpreting Gullah Geechee culture and its associated sites is significant to people of all racial, regional, and ethnic backgrounds and is vital to telling the story of the American heritage” (NPS 2). Only recently has Pender County, North Carolina, and St. Johns County, Florida, been included in the expansion of the Corridor.
What is the Gullah Geechee Corridor?
“The Corridor represents a significant story of local, regional, national, and even global importance. The Corridor encompasses a cultural and linguistic area along the southeastern coast of the United States from the northern border of Pender County, North Carolina, to the southern border of St. Johns County, Florida, and 30 miles inland. This area is home to one of the country’s most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by enslaved Africans brought to the southeastern United States from the primarily rice-producing regions of West and Central Africa” (GGCHCC 8).
Who are the Gullah Geechee People?
“Gullah Geechee ( \ˈgə-lə\ \ˈgē-chē \ ) people are direct descendants of Africans who were brought to the United States and enslaved for generations. Their diverse roots in particular parts of Africa, primarily West Africa, and the nature of their enslavement on isolated islands created a unique culture that survives to the present day. Evidence of the culture is clearly visible in the distinctive arts, crafts, cuisine, and music, as well as Gullah Geechee language. The culture is embodied in diverse patterns of social organization reflecting the intimate and private ways communities and families meet the challenges of life.
The culture is manifested in a system of practices/principles that emerge from: (1) the diverse African origins of Gullah Geechee peoples, (2) intense interaction among people from different language groups, and (3) generations of isolation in settings where enslaved Africans and their descendants were the majority population. The isolation continued after the Civil War ended in 1865. A hostile society led Gullah Geechee communities to remain unto themselves for almost another century. Customs, traditions, and beliefs continued to develop, often in opposition to segregation and oppression from the dominant society” (GGCHCC 5).
The heritage arts most associated with the Gullah Geechee culture include basket-making, weaving and blacksmithing. Trade Relations among European and Africans, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, notes that as early as the 15th century, and “Contrary to popular views about precolonial Africa, local manufacturers were at this time creating items of comparable, if not superior, quality to those from pre-industrial Europe. Due to advances in native forge technology, smiths in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa were producing steels of a better grade than those of their counterparts in Europe, and the highly developed West African textile workshops had produced fine cloths for export long before the arrival of European traders” (www.metmuseum.org).
This page and corresponding links are currently under construction.
Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission (GGCHCC). Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Management Plan. Prepared and published by the National Park Service, Denver Service Center, 2012.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York, New York, 2000-2014.
National Park Service (NPS). Low Country Gullah Culture Special Resource Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement. Atlanta, GA: NPS Southeast Regional Office, 2005.