A drawing by Deborah Goff, forensic artist with SLED, shows how the young man may have looked.

NC - Young man’s death helps bring story of Gullah-Geechee fishing village to life By Charles Swenson|

The dead man’s soul reunited with its maker long ago. Researchers now hope they can return his body to his family. In the process, they have brought to life a new understanding of a Gullah-Geechee community that lived on the shores of Winyah Bay in the decades after the Civil War.

But the currents that carried the body of a young Black man to the shore of South Island sometime around the turn of the 20th century are shifting and threaten to erode the tangible evidence of that community before it can be fully documented.

“No one thought about African-American land ownership here,” said Jodi Barnes, Heritage Trust archaeologist for the state Department of Natural Resources, as she looked over the bay about two and a half miles from where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. “This was something that they built.”

Old maps of the area label it as a fishing village. It is now part of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve, 24,000 acres on the south side of the bay that its namesake gave to the state in 1976.

“Natural and cultural resources, especially on South Carolina’s coast, come all meshed into one,” said Jamie Dozier, who heads the Yawkey Center for DNR.

It was in the fall of 2017 that those resources came together in an unexpected way. A fisherman pulled up along the beach at South Island to collect some fiddler crabs for bait. He found a human bone.

“Just a little bit of leg bone,” Dozier said.

DNR officers and the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office investigated. It was immediately apparent that the body that had been exposed by erosion was not recent.

“He was well preserved,” Barnes said.

He lay face down. One arm up, the other down, “as if he washed up on the shore,” she said.

The investigators contacted Bill Stevens, a deputy coroner for Richland County and a forensic anthropologist. He had worked with Georgetown County investigating the remains of 22 people of African descent that were found when house construction cut into an unmarked cemetery near the cite of the former chapel at Hagley Plantation.

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