Gullah culture survived on Hilton Head from the end of the Civil War period to the 1960’s when it started to deteriorate. A bridge from the main land to this barrier island brought the outside in. Developers followed and Gullah peoples, who once owned 1/3 of the Island given to them by Union troops, now own less than 1000 acres.
Originating in West Africa, Gullah people were enslaved and brought to South Carolina by the British, where they were ideally suited to work the island’s rice, indigo, sugar cane and sea cotton crops as they had some immunity to the diseases that ravaged the area as well as knowledge about herbs and medicines to treat yellow fever and malaria. There are no grand plantation homes on Hilton Head as British plantation owners preferred to live in a less plagued environment.
Union troops descended during the Civil War. 1700 of them are buried on Hilton Head. Escaped slaves were considered property and spoils of war. Contrabands. They were paid to work, and children were educated, but they were not exactly freedmen until the emancipation proclamation issued by President Lincoln, January 1, 1863.
Hilton Head offers a tour of Gullah lands and culture. It was very disheartening to see how little of this rich culture survives. In our lifetime it has all but disappeared. Gullahs survived as a hunting, farming and fishing community for 100 years before modern development overtook them. Still, today, some of their language and food culture persists.
Our tour guide and driver Irvin is Gullah. We chose this particular tour because of him. Irvin, one of 13 kids and a Viet Nam veteran, is living history. He remembers when you could look from the coastal waters clear across to the Atlantic. When he is gone pretty much so will anyone who remembers the old ways. His family for the most part has held on to their Gullah lands. They own a good chunk of Spanish Wells. As he drove past golf cottages, manicured medians, retirement villas, he painted a vivid picture of his boyhood and what used to be there. There is nothing left to see but a few delightful homes his relatives own, their gardens and their kitschy yards filled with doodads and portraits of Jesus and the like. Offensive enough to newcomers that they were asked to please fence them in.
After we get back to the bus depot, the Basket Man, Micheal Smalls, is sitting in the shade weaving sweetgrass baskets. “Sweetgrass is a fine bladed, sweet vanilla fragranced perennial grass that grows behind coastal sand dunes in moist soils.” says Wikipedia. Coils of dried sweetgrass are sewn together with palmetto threads. Beautifully crafted, the baskets are a much sought after Low Country art form. Basket Man says it takes him about three days to complete one piece. I had noticed the baskets in the gift shop before the tour left. I had to have one. It was a treat to get off of the bus and find the artist there.
After saying goodbye to Irvin, we head once again to the Low Country Backyard for a lateish lunch. We so enjoyed our dinner last evening we decided to hit it up again as their sammy menu was so appealing. So many items look great on this creative menu, available all day. We opt to order and split a Nancy’s Tomato Sandwich and a Shrimp Burger. We have a choice of two sides and go with Mom’s Macaroni Salad and Collards. Ice tea, half and half (half sweet, half unsweet for the win) for me and Diet Coke for the man. Moonshine is legal in South Carolina and the Low Country Backyard has a good selection but we opt out as we would like to get to DC at some point.
The tomato sandwich comes lightly toasted on excellent white bread. Made with perfect, ripe, juicy South Carolina tomatoes, mayo and iceberg lettuce, this is the perfect hot day lunch. The macaroni salad is unremarkable except for pieces of green olive which are quite nice.
Collard greens are often overcooked or too greasy with pork fat. Backyard’s collards are the BEST EVER collards. Perfectly cooked, not over stewed, lightly sweet and sour. The Shrimp Burger will absolutely make you forget that beef burgers were ever a thing. A patty of chopped, seasoned shrimp served up in a soft, eggy bun topped with more of those South Carolina tomatoes, mayo, lettuce and butter pickle, this is a world class sammy.
The pickles are homemade and remarkable in that they are the perfect balance of salty and sweet. They come on the side but Rob slipped them onto the burger.
Lunch is a nice size, leaving room to share the home made Banana Pudding we regretfully skipped last evening. Sweet, creamy pudding with chunks of just ripe banana on a shortbread cookie base and a dollop of lightly sweet whipped cream. Perfect. Now a swim and some afternoon sun.
I wanna go back for dinner, but they will think I’m a stalker.
As it turns out it is a lovely evening to sit pool/oceanside and The Porch restaurant in the hotel, independently operated, has decent food. We order a pitcher of peach sangria made with peachshine and cava and fruit purees. Icy cold and perfect for watching the sun set. We order a few apps to chill with before deciding on dinner.
The house made pickle is creative and spicy with chilies. The pickle has a varied veg mix, including cauliflower, chiogga beet, asparagus, grape, carrots and a pepper.
The hot out of the oven, served in a well seasoned cast iron pan, corn bread was perfectly sweet and the spicy pimiento cheese was a nice foil.
Since we ate leisurely watching the sun and sea, we were not overly hungry so we ordered the half rack of ribs. Slowed cooked for 8 hours, they were very decent BBQ. Came with a spicy and a sweet bbq sauce as well as a honey mustard. The bourbon beans had neither bourbon nor were they home made, Libby’s I suspect but none-the-less tasty, as I prefer a sweeter bean. Coleslaw was decent and the soft, hot rolls were excellent.
Tomorrow we start our trek north to Charleston.