The Factual Basis

of the

Ebo Landing Legend

Chuwku one at a time

Takes back the left over moonbeams.

The marsh doesn’t make a sound

But for the endless pulse of death

And the laugh of a distant sea. 

                                                H. A. Sieber

  By H. A. Sieber

 In United States history, an 1803 event on St. Simons Island, Ga. Holds a special place as a mass action against enslavement by slavery-bound African captives on American soil and waters.

The documentation of a rebellion and freedom march on the island (and of the accounts by the action’s enslaved survivors) establishes Ebo Landing as the only known Plymouth Rock for an ethnically identifiable African group in the United States.

The undertaking at Ebo Landing caused at least 13 persons to lose their lives by drowning, but it also gave historical life to the rumored freedom-loving peculiarity of this West African people, the Igbo, who lost 1 million persons to the intercontinental slave trade.

 The 19th Century mystery of what happened at Ebo Landing on a St. Simons Island creek has been solved.

For almost two centuries, an unreported mass drowning of “Ibos” in the creek has been claimed by African-American residents. As it turns out, a rebellion and freedom march at the creek site took place in May 1803, involving a group of Igbo from the ancient West African civilization of Igboland.

The solution of the Ebo Landing mystery removes it from the category of legend and adds another chapter in the history books of St. Simons Island.

Ebo Landing is located on Dunbar Creek, a tributary of the Frederica River that cuts through the marshes of Glynn.

The Igbo had been captured in the late 1802 in Igboland by a notorious underworld clan from the Arochukwu community. Through arrangements made by a broker at a Gulf of Guinea seaport, they were delivered to a waiting sea vessel which brought them to Skidaway Island, just south of Savannah, Ga.

 A Savannah slave importer sold about 75 of the Igbo arrivals to two well-known coastal planters, Thomas Spalding of Sapelo and John Couper of Cannon’s Point on St. Simons Island.

The two men had been signers of the Georgia Constitution which had outlawed the importation of Africans five years earlier. They paid about $500 each for the Igbo and arranged for their delivery on St. Simons Island.

When the schooner York carrying the Igbo reached its landing place on the bluff of Dunbar Creek in mid May 1803, the Igbo reballed. In the confusion, Couper’s overseer and two sailors jumped overboard and drowned in their attempt to reach shore.

Under the direction of a high Igbo official who was among them, the Igbo went ashore, singing an Igbo hymn (“The Water Spirit brought. The Water Spirit will take us home. Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina.”) and walked in unison into the creek. At least 10 of them drowned, accepting the protection of their God, Chukwu, and death over an alternative of slavery.

Survivors of the Igbo Stroke, as I have called the event, were taken to Sapelo Island and Cannon’s Point on St. Simons Island where they passed on their recollections of the event to their children.

 Through the Igbo’s descendants in the in the Harrington community on St. Simons Island, the eye-witness accounts of the survivors had become the legend of Ebo Landing. Information collected since 1980 in Africa and the United States, including a detailed account by the slave importer who had sold the Igbo, has verified the factual basis of the legend and its historical content.

The mysterious presence of the Igbo at the beginning of the 19th Century became the namesake of three place names on St. Simons Island and an obscure African-American shout song, “Ebo, I call You.” It also generated an island ghost story about unrequited Igbo spirits and recurring reports of unsubstantiated sound and shadow in the marshes at Ebo Landing.

                                                                                         (c 1989 by H. A. Sieber)

 H. A. Sieber is a North Carolina writer and editor. He lived on St. Simons Island from 1987 – 1989.