The Gullah are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes both the coastal plain and the Beaufort Sea Islands.
The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African-American community in the United States. They speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords and significant influences from African languages in grammar and sentence structure; Gullah storytelling, cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions, all exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures.
Most of the Gullahs' early ancestors in what is now the United States were brought to the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry through the ports of Charleston and Savannah as slaves. Charleston was one of the most important ports in North America for the Transatlantic slave trade. Up to half of the enslaved Africans brought into what is now the United States came through that port. A great majority of the remaining flowed through Savannah, which was also active in the slave trade.
The semi-tropical climate that made the Lowcountry such an excellent place for rice production also made it vulnerable to the spread of malaria and yellow fever. Fearing disease, many white planters left the Lowcountry during the rainy spring and summer months when fever ran rampant and they left their African "rice drivers," or overseers, in charge of the plantations. Working on large plantations with hundreds of laborers, and with African traditions reinforced by new imports from the same regions, the Gullahs developed a culture in which elements of African languages, cultures, and community life were preserved to a high degree. Their culture was quite different from that of slaves in states like Virginia and North Carolina, where slaves lived in smaller settlements and had more sustained and frequent interactions with whites.
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The largest group of enslaved Africans brought into Charleston and Savannah came from the West African rice-growing region. South Carolina and Georgia rice planters once called this region the "Rice Coast", indicating its importance as a source of skilled African labor for the North American rice industry. Once it was discovered that rice would grow in the southern U.S. regions, it was assumed that enslaved Africans from rice-growing regions in Africa would be beneficial, due to their knowledge of rice-growing techniques. By the middle of the 18th century, the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry was covered by thousands of acres of rice fields. African farmers from the "Rice Coast" brought the skills for cultivation and tidal irrigation that made rice one of the most successful industries in early America.