In May 2022, St. Johns County received official designation as the southernmost point of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor for its role in providing refuge for freedom seekers before the United States was founded.
Spanning 8 million acres, the corridor stretches down the coast from North Carolina into St. Johns County where the town of Armstrong champions its Gullah heritage and Fort Mose honors those who escaped slavery.
By an act of Congress in October 2006, the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor was designated as a National Heritage Area to protect the historic and cultural contributions of captive Africans brought to the lower Atlantic coast from Wilmington, North Carolina down to St. Augustine, Florida.
The Gullah Geechee are descendants of enslaved West and Central Africans who worked on coastal rice, indigo, and Sea Island cotton plantations. Due to the isolation of the plantations, sea, and barrier islands, they were able to retain many of their indigenous traditions, as reflected in the arts and crafts, foodways, and spiritual practices we see today.
Generally, those in Georgia were Geechee (after the Ogeechee River) and those from the Carolinas were Gullah (derived from Angola in West Africa).
They created a new creole dialect known as “Gullah,” a language that isn’t spoken anywhere else in the world.
St. Augustine is recognized as the southernmost site in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
The Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission promotes the area with the aim to recognize, sustain, and celebrate this culture and history, and to assist public and private entities to interpret and preserve the folklore, arts, crafts, and music, and identify and preserve sites, historical data, artifacts, and objects with Gullah Geechee people for the benefit and education of the public.
Seeking refuge from slavery in the English colonies of the Carolinas, freedom seekers would brave the difficult and dangerous route to Fort Mose in St. Augustine, Florida.
Established in 1738, Fort Mose was the first free Black settlement in what would become the United States. Florida’s Spanish governor chartered the community of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose for those seeking freedom. The journey from the Carolinas to Florida is considered a precursor to the Underground Railroad.
Enslaved people were granted freedom if they pledged allegiance to the King of Spain and converted to Catholicism. This colony of freed people included blacksmiths, carpenters, farmers, and other skilled workers.
Each year, Fort Mose hosts Flight to Freedom — a unique, immersive, and interactive reenactment of the perilous flight of Africans seeking freedom in St. Augustine, circa 1738.
Visit the historic site in February 2023 to enjoy this free event.
On Saturday, December 3rd from 12-5 PM at Armstrong Park, 4950 Harvey Avenue in Elkton, Florida, celebrate more than 450 years of West African influence in St. Johns County at the 9th Annual SEA Community Gullah Geechee Heritage Festival.
Enjoy performances by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, Doug Carn, Nan Nkama Pan-African Drum & Dance Ensemble, and Amy Alysia & the Soul Operation.
Chef Matthew Raiford, author of Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer, will provide a cooking demonstration followed by a book signing.
This event is free to attend with food and beverages available for purchase and will benefit the SEA Community Help Resource Center.
Serving the Spuds, Elkton, and Amstrong (SEA) community, the Resource Center provides food, clothing, books, and more to over 5,000 residents annually to fight hunger and homelessness. The organization works with local partners to organize events that bring awareness to the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, Rails to Trails, and Gullah Geechee heritage in the St. Johns River region.
Chef, Farmer, and Owner of Gilliard Farms, Matthew Raiford is a 6th-generation farmer who preserves the coastal Georgia foodways through traditional and tweaked Gullah Geechee family recipes.
He shares his knowledge of how the Geechee people survived on barrier islands and along the coast to create dishes using resources like rice, shrimp, field peas, and more.
Coiled basket weaving is a tradition brought to the American South by enslaved Africans in the 1600s, utilizing palmetto leaves and sweetgrass to craft tools for work and daily life.
Today, families sell their functional and ornamental baskets at homemade stands along Route 17 in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a town across the river from Charleston.
Andrea Cayetano-Jefferson of Gullah Sweetgrass Baskets will present a Basket Weaving Workshop at The Waterworks, 184 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine, on Friday, December 2nd.
Please email email@example.com for more information.
On December 3rd she will demonstrate her technique and display her work, which will be available for purchase, at the SEA Community Gullah Geechee Heritage Festival in Armstrong.
The Ring Shout is one of the oldest surviving African American performing traditions in North America that combines counterclockwise dance, singing, clapping, and drum-like rhythm on a wooden floor. Its influence resonates in music genres including jubilee, gospel, Jazz, and hip-hop.
The Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters embrace, preserve, and protect the Gullah Geechee legacy through authentic song and dance as one of the world’s top performing artists of the Gullah Geechee culture.