Gullah/Geechee Land Legacy pun Edisto wid de Freedmen’s Bureau

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (

Edisto Island is nestled amidst a chain of South Carolina Sea Islands draped with Spanish moss that cloaks the oak trees lining the way to this place that is uniquely part of both Charleston and Colleton Counties.  Edisto has the story of bring people of different people together no matter what pages of history or ourstory that you turn to read about the island.  However, sometimes those groups were not brought together to celebrate even when they thought that they might have been….

Gullah/Geechees came together with General Oliver O. Howard served as commissioner of the “Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands” which is also called the “Freedmen’s Bureau” that was headquartered on James Island, SC in 1865.  After the assassination of United States President Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson took his place and vowed to restore lands that had been auctioned to and homesteaded by the previously enslaved Africans now called “freedmen” to those who had been the enslavers of these plantations.  He then mandated that General Oliver O. Howard go to those remaining on the lands on Edisto Island and let them know that they would need to return it.

General Howard did deliver the message to the numerous families that came to the meeting.  No doubt those in attendance included those listed on these rolls: which document the land distribution done by the Freedmen’s Bureau.   The meeting immediately became disrupted and there was no silence until a Gullah/Geechee woman began to sing a spiritual.

The men of Edisto Island formed their own committee to deal with the news that had been brought to them and the unkept promises of the government.  The committee wrote to General Howard and the letter also made its way to Capitol Hill:

[Edisto Island, S.C. October 20 or 21, 1865]
General It Is with painfull Hearts that we the committe address you, we Have thorougholy
considered the order which you wished us to Sighn,

we wish we could do so but cannot feel our
rights Safe If we do so,
General we want Homesteads; we were promised Homestead’s by the government,

If It
does not carry out the promises Its agents made to us, If the government Haveing concluded to
befriend Its late enemies and to neglect to observe the principles of common faith between Its
self and us Its allies In the war you said was over, now takes away from them all right to the soil
they stand upon save such as they can get by again working for your late and thier all time
ememies.–If the government does so we are left In a more unpleasant condition than our former
we are at the mercy of those who are combined to prevent us from getting land enough to
lay our Fathers bones upon. We Have property In Horses, cattle, carriages, & articles of
furniture, but we are landless and Homeless, from the Homes we Have lived In In the past we
can only do one of three things Step Into the public road or the sea or remain on them working
as In former time and subject to thier will as then. We can not resist It In any way without being
driven out Homeless upon the road.
You will see this Is not the condition of really freemen
You ask us to forgive the land owners of our Island, You only lost your right arm. In war
and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree & gave me 39 lashes & who stripped
and flogged my mother & my sister & who will not let me stay In His empty Hut except I will do
His planting & be Satisfied with His price & who combines with others to keep away land from
me well knowing I would not Have any thing to do with Him If I Had land of my own.–that
man, I cannot well forgive. Does It look as If He Has forgiven me, seeing How He tries to keep
me In a condition of Helplessness
General, we cannot remain Here In such condition and If the government permits them to
come back we ask It to Help us to reach land where we shall not be slaves nor compelled to work
for those who would treat us as such
we Have not been treacherous, we Have not for selfish motives allied to us those who
suffered like us from a common enemy & then Haveing gained our purpose left our allies In thier
Hands There Is no rights secured to us there Is no law likely to be made which our Hands can
reach. The state will make laws that we shall not be able to Hold land even If we pay for It
Landless, Homeless. Voteless. we can only pray to god & Hope for His Help, your Infuence &
assistance With consideration of esteem your Obt Servts In behalf of the people
Henry Bram (or Brown)
Committee Ishmael Moultrie
HLS yates Sampson

The stand to own land was no minor thing and should not be taken lightly!  As indicated at this link: the attempted restoration of lands to those that had been enslavers during the chattel slavery era was only the beginning of an on-going systematic process of “Black land loss.”  There are many within the Gullah/Geechee Nation that continue to work to insure that people are aware of their land rights and methods by which to continue their land ownership and protect their heirs property.  Two such entities that provide workshops to families and communities are the “Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition” (Email and the Heirs Property Law Center (

The oak trees of Edisto Island can tell many stories of whose hands have remained on the plow over these decades.   Hunnuh chillun gwine hafa keep hunnuh han pun um fa hol de lan fa de chillun wha da cumin lik hunnah ancesta dem be dun dun fa hunnah.  Hold on!

Keep hunnuh hand pun de plow! Hold on! Hold on!

Tune in to the “Gullah/Geechee Riddim Radio” broadcast on this topic at


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  2. Robert Haddon Terry

    My great grandfather, Captain John Darling Terry, worked with General Saxton at the Freedmen Bureau until he was demoted for missing a leg he loss in battle three years prior. His demotion was made by allies of President Johnson that set out to removed all officers working to retain lands distributed under general Sherman’s S.O. 510. When these officers like Saxton, Wild, and Terry refused to let former owners reclaim lands they loss positions and rank but they did delay long enough for some lands to be saved by the July 1866 new bill for Freedmen Bureau. Last year we succeeded in having my great grandfather’s rank restored by the U.S. Army. Now, I’m doing what I can to carry on the effort and looking for information to help. If you can help email me at

    thanks in advance

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  1. Gullah/Geechee Land & Legacy Part 3: Rights & Reconstruction by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation | Gullah/Geechee Nation

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