New Wanderer Memory Trail Honors Survivors of One of Last Slave Ships to Land in U.S.

The Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, from coastal Georgia, perform during ceremonies opening the new “Wanderer Memory Trail” Nov. 17 on Jekyll Island. The Ring Shouters – entertainers who are all descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the U.S. – epitomize a vibrant culture that survivors of the slave ship Wanderer and other illegal slave ships fostered along America’s Southeastern coast. Photo courtesy Jekyll Island Authority

It was a stirring afternoon of remembrance here November 17 as representatives from the Jekyll Island Authority officially opened the Wanderer Memory Trail, which tells the moving story of the survivors of the Wanderer, the last known slave ship to land in Georgia and also one of the last known slave ships to arrive in the United States.

Located on the southern end of this Georgia barrier island, the Wanderer Memory Trail is nestled along the banks of the Jekyll River, near the point where the Wanderer illegally came ashore on Nov. 28, 1858, with more than 400 enslaved Africans on board.

The new trail walks visitors through the true story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on that ship 160 years ago this month. Through a series of interactive exhibits along the trail, the pieces of Umwalla’s journey – from capture to freedom – are unveiled.

The slave ship Wanderer originally was built as a stately and swift luxury yacht, which helped disguise its secret, illegal transport of enslaved Africans from West Africa to America. Physical changes had been made internally to the ship, so that hundreds of slaves could be callously packed into the vessel.

In October 1858 – a half-century after the United States Congress outlawed the importation of enslaved Africans – the Wanderer departed the coast of West Central Africa, bound for America with more than 500 enslaved Africans crowded inside the hold. The vessel was ill-equipped to carry so much human cargo, and the conditions on board were gruesome and dangerous.

About 100 of the slaves perished during the harrowing transatlantic voyage; their bodies were thrown overboard. Those who survived the ocean journey were unloaded at Jekyll Island and then sold across the South. The end of slavery would not be declared until the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863.

Late last Saturday afternoon, the captives who were put through that horrific crossing to the States were remembered during the dedication of the Wanderer Memory Trail. The Nov. 17 ceremonies at the Jekyll site featured singing by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, a troupe of performing artists who themselves are descendants of African slaves. When the public was invited to enter and experience the new trail for the first time, each guest was given a lighted candle, to honor the survivors of the Wanderer, as well as those who died at sea. At trail’s end, visitors observed a moment of silence before extinguishing their candles, just before the sun set over the Atlantic nearby.

“This trail is an important and poignant reminder of the conditions these enslaved people suffered through during their journey to the United States, and the unthinkable hardships they faced after they got here,” said Dr. Deborah L. Mack, associate director, the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, National Museum of African American History & Culture. “It also references their path to freedom and it vividly reminds us that despite the circumstances of their arrival, the dynamic culture these brave people brought to America continues to influence coastal Georgia and countless places beyond.”

The new Wanderer Memory Trail is the second memorial to be placed on the south end of Jekyll Island in tribute to the enslaved passengers of the Wanderer. In 2008, the Jekyll Island Authority dedicated the first Wanderer Memorial, a large, metal sculpture honoring the ship’s survivors. When the sculpture began to deteriorate from exposure to the coastal salt air and had to be removed, the opportunity to design a new type of memorial emerged. This led to the creation of the Wanderer Memory Trail, situated in the same general location as the original memorial, in the St. Andrews Picnic Area on Jekyll Island.

“We are very pleased that Jekyll Island will continue to remember and honor the ship’s survivors with this beautiful trail,” Mack said. “It adds new chapters to this indelible story of cruelty and courage and survival, as well as to the story of cultural transformation that endures to this day.”

The Wanderer Memory Trail expands the original memorial into a larger educational experience for all ages. Through its individual, interactive stations, the trail seeks to give visitors a deeper understanding of the contributions the Wanderer survivors made to the communities in which they lived, as well as the lasting impact the survivors had on coastal Georgia and across the United States.

“This updated, larger exhibit tells the story much more comprehensively than before. In adding to that legacy, the Wanderer Memory Trail and the lessons it provides also enhance the educational experience that comes with a visit to Jekyll Island,” said Cheltsey Vann, Jekyll Island Museum Educator. “We are very proud of this new island landmark and anticipate that families and various groups most of all will want to add this trail – and the journey of Umwalla – to their Jekyll itineraries.”

The Wanderer Memory Trail is designed to be easily toured by all ages and group sizes. Though visits normally are self-guided, tours also can be included as part of special programming.

The Wanderer Memory Trail was designed by longtime exhibit design veteran Curt Bowman, of Artaventure, in Richmond, Virginia. The trail’s elements were produced and installed by Bowman and Jekyll Island Authority staff and volunteers.

Contributors to the development of the trail have included the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture; the State of Georgia Historic Preservation Division; the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission; the Old Slave Mart Museum, in Charleston, South Carolina; and various descendants of known Wanderer survivors.

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Source via PR Newswire

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