Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What You Don't See Can Hurt You!

This is a typical low-country creek at low tide, viewed from the causeway onto Callawassie Island
Those mounds of "pluff mud" are covered with oysters, and their shells are sharp! If you 
hit one at speed and get ejected, there will be blood.

Our tidal creeks are beautiful and full of hazards. The swirling currents of our 6 to 9-foot tides create deep holes down to 50 feet or more--here--and oyster reefs just under the surface there. With no rhyme or reason beyond fluid dynamics, these hazards are everywhere. When a rising tide covers them with a few inches of water, they are hidden.

Mike Neal owns Bull River Cruises and gave me my start in the tour business.  He is involved with movie production and took me up Groves Creek near Priest Landing last year. He was showing me where boat scenes from Gemini Man were filmed.  We were there on a flooding tide and at idle speed. 

Mike passed on a good strategy for exploring uncharted creeks. "If you want to go exploring a creek, go in shortly after a low tide, with more water becoming available shortly to float you off if you get stuck. You can better see the layout of the bottom then. Go slow!"

I would recommend a neap-low versus a spring-low so that you have some water available shortly after the low tide, but can still see the bars, mounds, and oyster-reefs or rakes.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Having someone along to draw a picture of the creek (with the hazards noted) and the route to follow, or just to take pictures, will help you on future trips. You will want your motor trimmed up part-way, but with more up-trim available should you need to stop and back off of a rising bottom. Go as slowly as you can while maintaining control. A lookout posted in the bow can help you spot hazards before you hit them--and be mindful that oysters will destroy your fiberglass finish if you run across them. Water leaving a creek near low tide will form a deeper channel. It may be in the middle, or it may hug one bank or the other. It probably won't follow a straight line but will wind back and forth across the width of the flood area. The outside of a curve is usually deeper, but not always. 

At high tide, the creek pictured above has enough water to go where you want, but clearly, the hazards become a problem as the tide falls. You don't want to get stuck in any creek on a falling tide unless you have hours to spare. 



Since you can't see where the hazards lie at high tide, that's not really the best time to go in somewhere new. And there might be a bar or rake high enough to stop you even on a high tide. Plotting a safe course (if one exists) on a rising tide is your best bet. 

Take care, and enjoy the scenery!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Saga of Sea Island Cotton in Savannah...

It's downright fascinating how the threads of history get woven together This is never more true than when studying Savannah's history. The twists, turns, and intersections never disappoint the curious mind or the wandering eye.

My son Corey Foulds came to visit us over Christmas, and of course, we had to go riding on boats every day he was here. During one of these rides, Corey mentioned that he had flown over Mallorca (or "Majorca") an island in the Mediterranian Sea, and wanted to go there.

His comment triggered some memories I have of reading about Majorca and it's smaller island-neighbor, Minorca. Minorca figures in our family history as one of my sisters married a Minorcan man whom she met near St. Augustine, Florida during my childhood. I had heard bits and pieces of the story of how people from Minorca came to be in Florida, and today the picture became much clearer. And of course, there's a connection to Savannah's islands and her rivers.

While reading my research books (Once Upon An Island, Elizabeth Carpenter Piechocinski / A Georgia Tidewater Companion, Buddy Sullivan / Tidecraft, Rusty Fleetwood) I have come across remarks about "a letter" several times. The letter was written to the newspaper by a local plantation owner, Nicholas Turnbull, protesting published claims made by, or on behalf of, another plantation owner, Francis Levett, Jr, to have been the first person to grow black seed "Sea Island" cotton on the Georgia Coast.

I didn't know why the question of who was first was important, as in good time all of the planters became wealthy (thanks mainly to the efforts of the slaves they all owned.) Bragging rights? Prestige? Money?

I decided to read more about the history of Minorcans, and the area that they were initially brought to, which was named "New Smyrna," in Florida. Here's a link

This project was the brainchild of Nicholas Turnbull's father Andrew, a Scottish physician and consul to Smyrna, part of what was then the Ottoman Empire on the coast of the Mediterranian. The name "New Smyrna" was in honor of Andrew Turnbull's wife, who was from that area. Turnbull set out to recruit immigrants from many locales around the Mediterranian, ending up with over 1400 souls, most of whom were from Minorca. The proposed colony failed in fairly short order, and many of the Minorcan's relocated to the area around St. Augustine. This makes sense as St. Augustine was founded by Spaniards, and Minorca is near Spain. After the demise of the project, Andrew Turnbull relocated to Georgia.

While reading the story about Andrew Turnbull, the name of one of his partners in the New Smyrna venture caught my attention; that of Francis Levett. I had seen that name somewhere else. Indeed!

"I conceive Mr. Levett is not entitled to any merit, as previous to that time the quantity was made in this state and shipped to (England) by the Savannah merchants, and the character firmly established; I do not suppose the trouble was great to Mr. Levett, or cost him anything, and which any anyone could have done as well as himself...The state is not the least indebted to Mr. Levett...( Nicholas Turnbull letter to Georgia Gazette, (Savannah), November 28, 1799, via "A Georgia Tidewater Companion.)

Now when you read that passage, it sounds like a story from today. Anger, jealousy, bitterness? All there.

And I'd bet it had everything to do with the economic relationship between the two fathers that was begun in 1769 with the work at New Smyrna thirty years prior. A relationship that went south just before the two men came north to Georgia.

If you are wondering what all this had to do with our creeks, rivers, and islands, well here's what an anonymous contributor wrote in the Columbia Museum and Savannah Advertiser in the fall of 1799--this is an excerpt of the letter that sparked Nicholas Turnbull's angry response a few weeks later...

"(Growers of) Sea Island Cotton (from the Caribbean Islands) gave the early planters ... a supply of that article from their own country, and completely foiled the making of indigo in the United States; but thanks to our climate, though the planters were compelled to turn their attention to something else, they recollected that cotton could be cultivated on lands that produced indigo, and included their thoughts to that article, and to this most were encouraged by a crop of black seed cotton from seed procured for Major Barnard on Wilmington Island which was raised on the island of Skidaway, 10,000 lbs. of which crop was shipped to England in the spring of 1791 by Messrs. Johnston and Robertson on account of Francis Levett, Esq. which established the character of Georgia sea island cotton; being the first shipment of any consequence; and to him (Levett) the state is indebted... (Companion, pg 98)

From a further reading of both full letters on the Jstor site (where you can enjoy the first-ever Georgia Historical Quarterly,) I can see that Josiah Tattnall (of Bonaventure Plantation) gave Nicholas Turnbull (of Deptford Hill Plantation) one-quart container of cotton seed that he had obtained in Carolina. That seed was planted on Whitemarsh Island. It was taken there by Turner's Creek or Richardson's Creek. The rest is, as they say, history.



Saturday, January 2, 2021

Now, About That Scrap Iron...

If you visit Daufuskie Island, you will surely come across the "Scrap Iron" drink made and sold at Freeport Marina's Old Daufuskie Crab Company. 


It's a delicious and seemingly harmless concoction. But if you have two or more, you may find that your gyros have come uncaged when you stand up from the bar. 

The Scrap Iron legend is one of the great Stories from the Creek. It goes like this; the government stopped the oyster industry on Daufuskie, due to pollution from the Savannah River spreading to the Daufuskie oyster grounds. This put the Daufuskie islanders out of work, so they improvised and made 'shine in stills hidden in the Daufuskie woods. They moved this product by bateau to Savannah's clubs and bars, hidden under piles of scrap iron that they were purportedly selling here. Great "cover" story, aye?

We came across another reference to "Scrap Iron" while reading "Once Upon An Island." by Elizabeth Carpenter Piechocinski. This reference, quoted from Walter "Cork" Shaaf," connects the dots between moonshine made in illicit stills by black men on Daufuskie and a little joint here on Whitemarsh Island where black men went to socialize and enjoy a cold drink. These black men would have been the sons and grandsons of slaves freed when Sherman came to town. After the civil war and into the early 1900s, they made up a large part of the island's population, having been given these lands by Special Field Order #15, and then having had it taken away from them again after President Lincoln's assassination. 

From the book..."(Walter)Shaaf went on to say that there was a man named Johnny Gray who lived near the marshes, near the bridge to Oatland Island. Close by, the blacks had a nightclub they called 'Dad's Place,' and it was there they would go to drink the Scrap Iron." (emphasis added). 

Now there is a Gray's Creek and Gray's subdivision on Whitemarsh, and I'd bet there's a connection there.

Here's another connection. If you remember the film "The Legend Of Bagger Vance" that was made here about twenty years ago, you know that it was a story about a Savannah area Golf Course and Club that fell on hard times with the stock-market crash of 1929. That story parallels the history of the old General Oglethorpe Hotel and Resort which fell on hard times in real life during that time. 

In the film, Bagger Vance, played by Will Smith, came to help a World-War-One combat-vet plagued with PTSD. This veteran was played by Matt Damon, and he struggled with his golf game and his drinking. There's a scene in the film in which Damon is drinking with some black men in an establishment...


Okay, this would have been during Prohibition, which lasted from January 17th, 1920 until December 5th, 1933. So any liquor joint would have been illegal and "undercover." (But they were everywhere!)
And the story is clearly about the General Oglethorpe's golf course. And there was a nightclub on Whitemarsh called Dad's Place where black men went to drink!

Are you feeling me?

Last night, I told all of this to Robin McMahon, co-owner of the Flying Fish here on Wilmington Island. She loved the connections and told me that she is going to concoct a Flying Fish version of the Scrap Iron and sell it to customers coming off our tour boat. 

Let's drink to that!



It Was Almost a Disaster!

I was conducting new boater training yesterday for a couple of young guys, and I wanted to show them the importance of understanding the dif...