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Trail salutes true builders

LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation

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POSTED: November 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.
People are often flabbergasted when they learn slaves outnumbered free whites 3-1 in the 1860 U.S. Census of Liberty County. But when you consider the labor needed to clear virgin timber for crop cultivation, to build the dikes to manage available water, and for planting, maintaining and harvesting rice and other crops, it’s no longer a wonder. Add to that the craftsmen needed to sustain the plantations and the domestic help pressed into service, plus the fact that a person was a “slave” before they were weaned from their mother’s breast and long after they could swing a sickle, and you begin to get the picture.
A visit to LeConte-Woodmanston and a walk over the dikes constructed more than 200 years ago can almost overwhelm a person with a sense of what it took to create the coastal rice industry, which accounted for a third of the wealth in Georgia by the time of the American Revolution. The cypress swamp has had only 150 years to grow back to its current density in the Bulltown Swamp, southwest of Riceboro. One can see more clearly what it must have been like, standing in muck up to your knees, with mosquitoes, gnats, snakes and alligators as you dredged the clay from the swamp to build the dikes once the trees had been cleared.
Spend any time at Woodmanston and you’re certain to sense the spirituality of the place. People toiled and died here, and somewhere on that original 3,300-acre plantation, their remains lay, undiscovered, undisturbed and unhonored, as they do throughout Liberty County and beyond. Grave markers for the enslaved were generally only a small rounded piece of wood, and as time marched on, these were usually obliterated.
It is difficult and expensive to locate unmarked gravesites. The most valuable tool available to us is oral history, but precious few who can pass on this and other valuable information are around today.
The LeConte-Woodmanston Foundation will honor the formerly enslaved in “The Walk: An African-American Tribute.” Scheduled for completion in 2010, this memorial is one way to pay homage. Locating and preserving these cemeteries in Liberty County is another.
A tremendous amount of research will be needed just to create the Walk. With every generation that passes, the information becomes a little more obscure. Talk with your elders. Ask questions. Record their stories.
And if you would like to help in our research, call our office at 884-6500, or e-mail us at info@leconte-woodmanston.org.

Upcoming events

Through-Dec. 31: Membership drive. New members joining at the “Friend” level will receive a signed “LeConte Sparrow” print by artist Richard Parks. A $50 donation is required to join as a Friend.
Nov. 8, 9:30-11 a.m.: LCW Foundation annual meeting. All members are welcome. No lunch will be served. Participants encouraged to support the Riceboro RiceFest after the meeting.
Year-round site hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Call us or visit our Web site for more information at www.leconte-woodmanston.org.
 

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