A Norish video on Gullah Geechee food traditions by 2015 Next City Vanguard Dr. Howard Conyers
The Gullah Geechee descended from enslaved Central and West Africans who worked the plantations of the Southeastern United States. After the abolition of slavery, the Gullah Geechee settled in remote areas, in particular the barrier islands stretching from North Carolina to Northeast Florida, where they formed a unique culture and strong communal ties that still remain today. In recent decades, some communities in the Lowcountry region, such as Charleston, South Carolina, have developed a strong tourism base around the history and contributions of their local Gullah Geechee population’s language, arts, crafts and cuisine.
Though typically overlooked, the Jacksonville area’s affiliation with persons of Gullah Geechee descent trace back as far as 1513, 94 years before the founding of the British colonies and 157 years before the establishment of Charleston. Now, over 150 years after the end of the American Civil War, Jacksonville has become the Lowcountry’s largest urban area and home to the largest concentration of people of Gullah Geechee descent in the United States.
Here are five things you’ll find in abundance in Jacksonville that tie directly back to the region’s Gullah Geechee heritage.
Shrimp and rice at Celestia’s Coastal Cuisine.
Rice may be the most common Gullah Geechee dish in the country to emerge in the Jacksonville area. With Jollof rice being a staple in West African dishes and the Lowcountry being an ideal environment for the production of rice, planters used the cultivation and tidal irrigation skills of their enslaved laborers to make rice production into one of early America’s most successful industries. Commonly associated with the American colonies of Georgia and South Carolina, rice production was also a major crop in Northeast Florida, which was under Spanish and British rule through the 18th and early 19th century. Rice growing plantations of the period included Jermyn Wright’s White Oak Plantation in Nassau County, James Grant’s Mount Pleasant Plantation near the headwaters of Guana River in St. Johns County, and Zephaniah Kingsley’s plantation on Fort George Island.
The settlement of Cosmo took shape following the Civil War when families of former enslaved Gullahs made a life for themselves by establishing a community around hunting, farming, mullet fishing, crabbing, shrimping and harvesting oysters at Mill Cove. It included 40 acres deeded to James Bartley as a part of the Southern Homestead Act passed by Congress in 1866. This property was a part of more than 40 million acres of land that was set aside for free blacks and whites that had been loyal to the Union. At its height, the community boasted a post office and school.
Cosmo remained in isolation until the construction of the Mathews Bridge and development of Arlington during the 1950s. During the following decades, river dredging negatively impacting Mill Cove’s marine line, displacement and suburban gentrification has led to Cosmo’s decline. Now known as Fort Caroline, remnants of the rural 19th century fishing community include the Palm Springs Cemetery, the Alexander Memorial United Methodist Church and a few houses scattered in heavily wooded areas tucked between modern subdivisions.