Walking back to Africa: Story of Slave Rebellion

Special Report

To most people, the best-known slave rebellion is that which occurred under the leadership of the ex-slave Toussaint L'Ouverture on the island of St Domingo between 1791 and 1804. That revolt became a revolution and secured the island’s independence from France. But there were numerous other acts of slave rebellion and slave resistance all across the Americas and beyond.

One of the most dramatic was, the Igbo slave rebellion of 1803 that occurred in the American State of Georgia, on St Simons Island at Dunbar Creek. About 75 Igbo captives, raided from modern day Nigeria were involved. Chained as a matter of course, the Igbos were transported on the slave ship Wanderer. When the ship arrived in Savannah, Georgia, the chained slaves were reloaded and packed under the deck of a smaller vessel, that would take them to St Simons where they would be resold at great profit.

Packed like sardines, abused, exhausted and homesick, the Igbos contemplated their fate. It was a fate worse than death. They took matters into their own hands, rose in rebellion, cast away their chains, and overpowered their captors. They became masters of their own fate.

Led by their chief, the Igbos marched ashore, singing, celebrating a victory that though transient, was real. At their chief’s command and fully aware of their action, the Igbos walked into the waters of the Dunbar Creek, and drowned themselves.

A white overseer on a nearby plantation witnessed what happened. His name was Roswell King and he became the first person to record the incident. He and another man identified as Captain Patterson later recovered thirteen bodies. The others remained missing. Some are believed to have survived the mass suicide.

For centuries, uncomprehending historians have cast doubt on the event, suggesting the entire incident was mere folklore. But a post-1980 research verified the accounts Roswell King and others provided at the time. Using “modern scientific techniques to reconstruct the episode and confirm the factual basis of the longstanding oral accounts”.

In September 2012 the St. Simons African American community designated the site of the Igbo landing, holy ground. For coastal Georgia schools, Igbo Landing is now part of the curriculum.

Floyd White, an elderly African-American interviewed by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, said of the Igbo landing: “That was the place they brought the Ibos over in a slave ship. And when they [Igbos] get here, they did not like it. And so, they all start singing and they marched right down in the river to get back to Africa. But they weren’t able to get there. They got drowned”.

Beyonce – Love Drought