From African Canoe to Plantation Crew: Tracing Maritime Memory and Legacy

Lynn Harris


Many cultures from which slaves were imported to South Carolina had extensive craft and trade skills well known to Europeans exploring or colonizing Africa. Planters made efforts to import slaves from areas of West Africa where certain valuable agricultural crops such as rice were grown. Skills like canoe building, coastal militia galleys, sailing, swimming, and alligator fighting can be added to this laundry list of less visible and neglected cultural contributions of slaves to the colonial world along the southeastern seaboard. Clearly, plantations incorporated boating and labor traditions practiced in seaports and along river systems of Africa. This article presents historical correspondences, travelers’ journals, plantation anecdotes, artwork, archaeological data, and ethnographic evidence to construct a formative vision of an African Carolinian maritime heritage.

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