Igbo tribesmen took a stand for freedom against those who would enslave them more than 200 years ago on the shores of St. Simons Island, choosing death over a life in bondage.
Their ultimate sacrifice in the name of liberty and human dignity has long been a treasured story among Coastal Georgia’s African American and Gullah Geechee communities.
But this poignant piece of American history will gain a more permanent place in the community’s collective legacy when a historic marker commemorating the Igbo Landing incident is installed Tuesday along Frederica Road on St. Simons Island.
The public is invited to attend the dedication, scheduled for 10 a.m. at 15 Market St., a site on the corner of Frederica and Sea Island roads.
The historic marker’s installation along Frederica Road marks the fruition of the combined efforts of the Glynn Academy Ethnology Club, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition and the St. Simons Land Trust.
“Getting a Georgia Historical Marker for Igbo Landing was truly a community effort,” said Sandy White, education director for the Coastal Georgia Historical Society (CGHS).
Igbo Landing is the story of captured Africans who rebelled against their captors, drowning themselves in chains rather than face a life of enslavement on St. Simons Island plantations. While it has gained legendary status over the centuries as an oral tradition among the Gullah Geechee, the event in May 1803 is based in fact.
Newly arrived from present-day Nigeria, the members of the Igbo tribe revolted against the crew of the Morovia as it transported them from Savannah to St. Simons Island. Three of the ship’s crewmen went overboard to their deaths in the upheaval.
But the Morovia eventually came ashore at Dunbar Creek off the Frederica River, and it was there that anywhere from 10 to 13 Igbo members walked into the waters and drowned.
Tradition holds that they chanted, “The water spirit brought us, the water spirit will take us home.”
New Georgia Encyclopedia records that a white plantation overseer named Roswell King stood witness as the Igbo people “took to the swamp and drowned.” Some scholars today believe Igbo Landing to be the source of the “Flying African” tales of humans mystically soaring above oppression and bondage.
Igbo tribal leaders, from Atlanta to their native Nigeria, gathered in 2017 on the banks of Dunbar Creek at a private site on Atlantic Avenue to consecrate the waters and break bread with old family members.
Amy Roberts, executive director of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, has long called for formal recognition of the Igbo Landing story. When students from Glynn Academy’s Ethnology Club realized no such recognition existed, they made it their mission in 2021 to see it accomplished. Historians with the CGHS stepped in to guide the students through the application process with the Georgia Historical Society.
“The kids at Glynn Academy really put a lot of work into this,” Roberts said. “It was amazing. I am so proud of them and I am so thankful that this has come about. It really makes my heart feel good.”
As the project gained momentum, Roberts and the coalition assisted with the context and background of the Igbo Landing story.
The St. Simons Land Trust readily agreed to accommodate the roadside marker along the grounds of the Old Stables Corner, which it owns.
The marker’s content and context have been in the making for the past four months. It is the first historical marker on the island that presents an event from the African American context.
“Everything about this was a team effort, from the application submitted by the students of the Ehtnology Club to the invaluable input from the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition on getting the story right,” White said. “The Coastal Georgia Historical Society is grateful to be an organizer and sponsor of this process.”