Week 3: Slavery and Emancipation

Dr. David Blight’s discussion on memory and emancipation

Dr. David Blight, professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, was week three’s visiting scholar. To listen to his lecture, click below.

Part 1
Part 2

To see the audio index, click here.


Sapelo Island

The group set out early during week three’s trip down to Sapelo Island, an hour’s drive south of Savannah and home to the Geechee community of Hog Hammock. Sapelo Island is one of Georgia’s many barrier islands and is remote, only accessible by a 20 minute ferry ride.  Upon arrival at the island’s ferry dock, we were taken by bus to meet and hear from Buddy Sullivan, manager of NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System on Sapelo, who gave us a history of the island. Sapelo, now owned by the state of Georgia, was formerly owned by the tobacco millionaire R.J. Reynolds Jr. and we were given a tour of his mansion and estate, part of which now houses the University of Georgia Marine Institute. After the tour, we arrived at Hog Hammock to have lunch with Cornelia Walker Bailey, a leading preserver of Geechee culture on the island. The Geechee, also known as Gullah in other areas, are the direct descendants of West African slaves, brought to the island by plantation owner Thomas Spalding, who have been living on the island with a culture that has remained relatively unchanged because of the islands’ isolation. As the group ate lunch, everyone listened to stories that Bailey told about how life used to be on the island, how the religion of the Geechee’s is a mix of Islamic and Christian beliefs and how they are fighting to preserve their culture against development and a dwindling population that is forced to leave to find education and employment. After enjoying our lunch and saying our goodbyes we made a short stop at the beach to soak up views of the Atlantic, and returned to the dock for the ferry and van ride home.

Cornelia Walker Bailey, from the Geechee community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island, talks about tracing her ancestry back to Bilali, an African Muslim slave who served as island owner Thomas Spalding’s head slave manager.


From the Collection


Owens and Thomas family papers, 1837-1954

The February 5, 1865 edition of the Savannah Republican newspaper. The front page article gives an account by U.S. General Rufus Saxton at the Second African Baptist Church in Savannah on the meaning of emancipation and the results of the meeting between U.S. General William T. Sherman and U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. The meeting resulted in the issuing of Sherman’s “Special Field Orders, No. 15”, which confiscated 400,000 acres of coastal land in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina for redistribution to former slaves.

MS 5915

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands records, 1865-1869

This collection contains photocopies of letters and lists from the Bureau of Refugee, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands’ branch in Savannah, Georgia from 1865 to 1869. These records detail the efforts of this agency to assist the newly freed slaves throughout coastal Georgia including Chatham County, McIntosh County, Glynn County, Liberty County, Ossabaw Island, and St. Catherine’s Island. The originals of these documents may be accessed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


Abraham Lincoln commemorative ribbon – 1892

Abraham Lincoln commemorative ribbon, image of Lincoln with a scroll labeled ”emancipation proclamation” below. The inscription at the bottom, ”With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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