I drove off my beloved St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation on Saturday as I have done thousands of times before. This time my journey was in my own home county and not out onto the open highway that I had just come from a week before and where I would be heading in another week to continue the “Gullah/Geechee Land & Legacy World Tour.” As I went out over the bridges, I was singing as I often do. The songs uplift my soul and keep me moving on my journey as I am sure they did for my ancestors too. The waters in the marshes seemed to be in the same flow and I kept right on to where I had to go.
After running errands, I came back across the Parris Island Bridge and could see an unusual site in the waterway. Immediately, I recalled the planning for the 450th Santa Elena celebration that many of the fellow members of the Beaufort Historic Resources Committee had done and I realized that the El Galeón is here today! This ship is a 175-foot, 495-ton authentic wooden replica of a galleon that was part of Spain’s West Indies fleet. She is retracing the voyage by Pedro Menendez de Aviles from St. Augustine to Santa Elena in 1566. I thought of how the birth of the first African children in North America is said to have been from the Africans that were part of some of these early explorations to my home island that is embossed with the name Saint Helena to this day. These births are said to have taken place before the settlements in Virginia and other places. These and the Africans that were aboard many vessels of exploration during the time period that this galleon sailed are mostly faded away as if washed over by the salty waters of the ocean over all these years. Many of their stories like our ancestors bones have been buried in the waters of the Middle Passage.
As I thought of my ancestors, I change my route and navigated my way to the dock at Port Royal where I had sailed from via shrimp boat some time ago to only see that same location was where this galleon was now docked. The excitement that the families had going on this replica reminded me of the feeling that my own people had aboard the replica of the Amistad when it came to the Harbor Fest in the Gullah/Geechee Nation many years ago. We celebrated our ancestors then and made sure that their story of battling the enslavement that brought many of them to this side of the Atlantic was to be kept above water and brought onto the land and into people’s minds and not be submerged as it once was.
After taking a few glances at this visiting vessel and walking back to my vehicle where inside I was playing the song, “Sailing,” I sang and I reflected on how I was just there at the St. Helena Branch Library to witness the unveiling of the diorama of the US Naval Station, Port Royal at Parris Island which includes a replica of the USS Olympia on Tuesday.
Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com) was one of the “Friends of Fort Fremont” at the unveiling of the diorama of the US Naval Station, Port Royal at Parris Island which is housed at the landmark St. Helena Branch Library.
Seeing the miniature brought back to mind the blessed opportunity I had to have a two time America’s Cup winner guide me through the replica of the Coronet while I was in Newport, RI for the “History Above Water Conference” before he took me over to the New York Yacht Club. All I could think of was the message in why no matter where the roads were taking me, I continued to be led to the waters and to these historic sailing vessels.
I drove back over the bridges onto St. Helena once again, I gave thanks as I have done thousands of times. I gave thanks for my family members that build and built boats and sailing vessels for centuries. I gave thanks for being a founding member of the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association to honor them and those of our community that are still navigating the waters and keeping our traditions alive. I gave thanks for the messages embedded in my journey. I gave thanks for being a St. Helena Gullah/Geechee gal still smoothly sailing along and being a part of the ships that are rising with the tides to tell the stories of generations. De wata bring we and de wata gwine tek we bak! E sho dun tek disya Gullah/Geechee bak ta de sho fa sho! Tenk GAWD fa sailin!