Sapelo Island: Portrait of a Place



Last week I spent a day on the small barrier island of Sapelo off the coast of Southern Georgia.  My senses and awareness of my surroundings seemed to heighten the second my cell and internet connection wafted away somewhere over the Atlantic aboard the small ferry.

The grandson of the woman whose trailer I rented picked me up from the ferry and shuttled me down the dirt roads through forests of live oak, coated heavily in Spanish moss, to my temporary home.  The next day I set off at dawn in my rusted, yet trusty F-250 extended cab pickup, rented from the same kind family I stayed with.

I explored the small bumpy roads, their deep ruts a tale of those before me.  I hiked the trails, walked dangerously far out with the receding tides, and even poked around Reynolds Mansion where the ghosts of plantation owners past reside.  When the few people and infrastructure slipped out of site in the rear-view, the island seemed simply Jurassic.  And when you are all alone, you can hear the island whisper its secrets, steeped in history and culture and pleading for a savior.

That evening I went to the one and only store on the island, where I was told the men gathered in the evening.  I bought a beer and made my way down to the small blaze held within the shell of a steel drum where I was soon joined by the same young man who sold me the beer.  We began to talk, and were soon joined by the young man’s grandfather, an elder of the Geechee people of Sapelo.  The Geechee descended from African slaves, developing a unique culture and language all their own, one that some might call endangered.  These two men told me a story – one that I knew already, but one that meant more coming from the two who stood before me.  The story was of a people native to Sapelo who were years ago relegated to a small low swampy piece of the island.  There in the community of Hog Hammock, the Geechee made their lives, kept their traditions, and raised their children.  Now our government is continuing it’s tradition of forcibly removing native people, and eradicating cultures by hiking land taxes to the point that will soon give the Geechee no choice but to succumb.

Though the residents of Hog Hammock are seeking legal help, they may be forced from their land before that help comes to fruition. To lend a voice for the community, contact Brett Cook, Joint City/ County Manager of McIntosh County 310 Northway P.O. Box 584, Darien, GA 31305 (912) 437-6686.