The English began to populate the Charleston area in the late 17th century and their numbers multiplied in the early18th century. Most came from Barbados – another English colony – because Barbados had become all used up; the land, that is. Plantations had grown and the tillable land was under ownership and planted. Charlestowne and the surrounding islands were new land and opportunity awaited those who chose to come to this new frontier. These people were knowledgeable about what they faced; forests and swamps. To clear the land and to drain the swamps they needed labor and they brought some labor in the form of slaves, but they needed many more slaves. Thus, the slave trade brought the labor and the planters borrowed money to buy them.
Creating a working and profitable plantation was no easy task. The problems the plantation owners faced were numerous and daunting. One problem – who was going to oversee these workers – was quickly solved. The English looked to Scotland for help. They recruited young Scotsmen to train the slaves, to teach them a new language. The young Scots were most successful. That is why the language known as Gullah has such a Scottish brogue.
The tale I am relating to you was told to me in 1949 by Mr. Ben Brown who was then 98 years old. (At the time, I was 11 years old.) He had been a slave living at Mullet Hall. He had belonged to Simon Legare, owner of several plantations on John’s, Wadmalaw, and Edisto islands. He and I were friends and I learned much from Mr. Brown. Things have changed since those days; the really important things remain the same. We all spoke Gullah. We were passengers on the same ship. This tale is told how I heard it, in Gullah. There will be no translation at the end:
Gal, she beena kinda diffent she ain hanged out wit she kind. She ben a loner eber since she 3 or 4 year old. By en by she git de repetaton she mus be crazy. By de time she ben about 20 year no body see she for de longest. It come to de concluson Gal mus be ded in de wood das wher she stay. Mr. Legare ax for people to look fo em. She was a commoty an he wan she back. No body fin em. He start fo turn cold en de peoples go in de wood to get rack for to mek fire. Eny how Labode find en a tiket, Gal she be ded. Him tel eby body what tiket Gal be ded in.
Eby body in dem day eats all kina ting. Eby body had gun shoot coon sqrel an possom. De hunter mans know afta de body lay fo a long time possom favorite place were up in the rib gage. De possum out de rain he out de cold. He home. All de hunter man needs is a crocus1. He put de crocus over de hole where de possom comes and go. Den him git a pole en he beat on the hide over de rib. Mr. possom wake he sef and run out de hole right in de crocus. Hunter man grab de crocus en he gots a nice supper.
De way you cook possom is he got to be swinge git him by de tail, bil fire, hole em oder fire, swing all he hair til him look like bald head man. He ready fo pot.
Some yongstr tink dem wanta be hunter man. Dem git a crocus dem get a pole. Dem tink he be mo funnr ef dey goes at night. Dey find a lighter tot makes a torch. De moon, he be full. By en by dey find Gal. De tiket been so tick dey haffa use torch to see em good. Gal leg bones aint got no skin on em, neder. She hed de teet tat shine; Gal had goop teet. Dem yongst be kina skeret. No body say notin. Sonny Boy, he be de instagator. Eby body look at Sonny Boy. Him get de crocus put em ober de hole. Sonny Boy tell Remus Lee to use de pole and beat de ribs. Remus Lee ain move him scaret to beat Gal rib. Him tink a haint2 be in dem rib. Bot dat time de torch, him go out. Sonny Boy knows no turn back. Efen he do de people laff on him. Sonny Boy gits de pole rise em up jes den a cloud cross de moon. Whack go de pole. De rib shake an shudder. Den de crocus start fo mov dey gots em. Dem de moon shine gain Sonny Boy grab de crocus. Dem start fo home only trouble den go de wrong way. De tiket were bery tick all de time de possom wer playin possom. By en by de moon come back out en dey see de pasture an bout haf way cross de pasture de possom stir. Sonny Boy don say notin. He gots de possom in de crocus. De moon ben rel ful en the pasture light up. Dey, the other res, was way ahead of Sonny Boy. Eby body bena skert Sonny Boy cant look like him skeret so he walk a lettle slower. Bout dat time de moon close ober by cloud. It be dark gain. Dem oder res hold on each oder. Dey was bout 20 step from de rail fence. By en by dey hears Sonny Boy wakkin real slow. Unbenonst to Sonny Boy dey was a hole in de crocus and by en by de possom fine em. Sonny Boy had him a big coat and a big hat on he hed. De possom crawl on top Sonny Boy hat. Sonny Boy fel somen on he head en stop dey other res hea when he stop. Bout dat time de moon come out gain no real out bout a liddle dey, the other chillen look where dey tink Sonny Boy been. In de haf light dey see dis monsta. De possom ben a top Sonny Boy hat. He teet white as snow.
De nex monin de ober seer tell eby body must run de cow back in de pasture cause de bull done knock a big hole in de fence and de cow in de cotton field. No body say notin. After de war Sonny Boy go to school. He only stay one year. He learn how to write him name. He quit. People start fo tease he for de possom on he hed. Him go to New York. Work in big hotel. In New York people don know about de possom. Eny body ax Sonny Boy to do foolishness, Sonny Boy tel dem he done beat one cow ded with a stick. He ain gonna do dat no mo.
1Crocus: a burlap sack, or gunnysack.
2Haint: ghost, apparition, lost soul.