Off to Goose Creek

Posted by Rhoda Green

The Barbadians were in town for the opening of the “Spirit of Place” Exhibit which is still running at the City Gallery, Waterfront Park, through October 6, 2013. The Barbadians visited Charleston before, on a number of occasions, but never ventured to Goose Creek. Well, I thought it would be a new experience for them…so off we went to Goose Creek.

First, I contacted Mayor Michael J. Heittzler. He again welcomed us with unabashed warmth. The hilarity and spontaneity of his hospitality, I thought, was surely how some of the native tribes greeted the early settlers at Albemarle Pointe. A lot of attention is paid to the history of areas along the Ashley and downtown Charleston, but I don’t recall the same to be so for Goose Creek. Now I’m astounded by the breath of history that surrounds Goose Creek and the Goose Creek men.

We got on US I-26. At the Ashley Phosphate Exit I headed for Rivers Avenue. You may ask me why? Well, do you know that Rivers Avenue was formerly called the “Goose Creek Path?” The Goose Creek Men owned plantations all along this area now known as North Charleston. Today many who live in these neighborhoods are unaware of the area’s rich and complex history. By the way, there was also the “Cherokee Path” near to where native tribes traveled, lived, hunted and traded with the British. The history, as recorded by Mayor Heitzler in his two Volumes of Goose Creek, is all encompassing and riveting.

As we made our way up Rivers Avenue to Goose Creek, I paid very close attention to the traffic lights – no tickets for me. But my mind’s eyes were roaming the terrain. I recalled reading that at this time period blacks outnumbered whites, and the blacks were mostly from Barbados/Caribbean. That account of history captured my attention. Native tribes interacted with the enslaved and the indentured class. Some of these very tribes were captured and taken to Barbados and other Caribbean islands to work on plantations there. Then I recalled reading about the earliest settlers from Barbados – in “The Original Lists of Persons Of Quality 1600-1700” edited by John Camden Hotten. As we continued along Rivers Avenue juxtaposed in my mind were two images: one of the Goose Creek men, and the other of “generic people” of native tribes, enslaved and perhaps some indentured, nameless and faceless. Many of these people of ‘no quality,’ by deduction, their very existence and presence have faded into oblivion. Erased…. Today as we visit and research the histories of old plantations and the people who owned them – as we consider their architectural relevance to our history, consideration should also be given to the nameless and the faceless.

Case in point: After my first visit to Goose Creek and subsequent comments, I received calls from two young people with Native Indian ancestry. They too are aware of historical links to Barbados. But here where they have ancestral ties, they have to defend their ancestral kinship to native tribes. Why? Because the early laws determined who they were and which group they should fall under. (“The Negro Law of South Carolina (1848)” by John Belton O’Neall. These descendants should have a voice and should be heard as they seek to honor the memories of their ancestors, whoever they are. Today descendants of the original lists of “persons of quality” walk, work, govern and hold office. Today descendants of the “generic people” also walk, work and travel along the known thoroughfares of Rivers Avenue, Dorchester Road, and other connecting roadways and highways. They live in communities like Hanahan, Chicora, The Oaks, Otranto which can be traced back to plantations owned by the Goose Creek Men.

We finally got to Goose Creek City Hall. After introductions, Mayor Heitzler packed us into his SUV and we were on our way to Goose Creek St. James Anglican Church. What a coincidence? Or is it? You see in Barbados there is St. James Anglican Church as well. As we continued our tour, I made mental notes that in Barbados and in Goose Creek, bridges were important intersections of trade and commerce. In Goose Creek the Goose Creek Bridge was traversed by plantation owners, the enslaved and Native tribes. In Barbados we had the Indian Bridge. Barbados’ capitol, Bridgetown, derived its name from the “Indian Bridge” a bridge used by Amerindians when they occupied the island.

Call this farfetched…but “the bridge” suggests to me a symbol – an opportunity to explore and better understand our different parts of an intricately connected story – a pathway to understand the past – a past that impacts the present in so many ways.

On our ride to Goose Creek St. James Anglican Church, we learned the importance of this place of worship and the prevailing politics of the time. It was here where many of the Goose Creek men worshipped. We were told about the Society For the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) whose mission was to introduce Christianity to the “pagan Indians” and the enslaved. Interestingly, that was also the mission of the SPG in Barbados, and with the Anglican Church left an indelible stamp on Barbados’ religious life and practices.

Visitors can’t just drive up and enter the church grounds or premises. With the mayor as our guide, we had no problem. Two contractors were busy at work on this historic church, and it was readily obvious how painstakingly careful they were as they worked on the exterior of the building. We walked around the churchyard and viewed graves sites of the “persons of quality” interred in aged tombs. Many of the legible names were reminiscent of similar names found in churchyards in Barbados.

Entrance into the sanctuary was another moving experience and history lesson. Being in this enclosed space meant for worship was a stark reminder of man’s interaction with God, faith, and their fellow man.

We left there for a Rotary lunch as guests of Mayor Heitzler before we headed back to Goose Creek City Hall where we ended our memorable tour of the City of Goose Creek.

It will be a memorable and lasting experience….

By Rhoda Green

Anna Joyner