The Legend of Mustapha Shaw: Slave, Soldier, Rebel
The historical narrative of the American Civil War and Reconstruction has most often focused on the “promise” of the nation’s “Second Revolution” and the “splendid failure” of the federal government to secure land for and protect the civil rights of black Americans in the moment of Reconstruction. Embedded within this narrative, the story of Black freedmen and women is retold as a sorrow song – a tale of hopes raised and then dashed. Historian Allison Dorsey explains how the legend of Mustapha Shaw challenges this narrative.
Shaw - who escaped slavery and ran to the fight for freedom, who soldiered as one of the United States Colored Troops, and who, in the face of the federal betrayal, still rose to become an independent entrepreneur and landholder - encourages us to rethink the Black past. Courageous, defiant, and financially savvy, Shaw represents the often overlooked first generation of Black middle class land holders in the post-Civil War South.
Peter Schmidt : I'm Peter Schmidt in the English Department, and Allison Dorsey and I have been friends for years since she first came to Swarthmore, I think slightly over a decade ago, it's hard to believe. We've worked together in many different ways and we share some research interests in the post Civil War U.S. South. I've benefited enormously from her presence here, the high standard she sets here both as a teacher and as a scholar, and I've learned a great deal from her book, and students that she's taught that are in my classes like students from the other really stellar folks in the History Department here, they bring a lot of wonderful knowledge to classes in literature here.
We also share an interest in historical fiction, though we sometimes disagree about what makes good fiction and good history. Allison strongly believes that historical fiction's first duty is to get the facts right, then to use all the resources of the novel to blend fact in compelling characters together into a story that makes history come alive. I certainly understand this point of view, but my own position is a little different. I agree that factual fidelity is an important goal for historical fiction, but I also feel that imaginative literature's responsibility is to try to fill in the blanks that history leaves to us. To take us via imagination and empathy into what cannot be known for certain, but plausibly may have been true. I'd even suggest to you that imaginative truths about events... sorry.. that imaginative works about history have the right to change or ignore certain facts in the service of larger truths about events that did occur or that did not occur, or might have occurred. Such liberties if used responsibility can teach us to live with conflicting histories, not one true story of the past.
They can also capture the importance of legends and other accounts circulating orally that often contain truths and survival skills that should not be discounted, even if they cannot be documented in the ways that sometimes historians are really obsessive about.
Perhaps Professor Dorsey and I are not wholly in disagreement. I note that the title of her talk is "The Legend of Mustafa Shaw."
Given that we live in the United States of Amnesia, we need historians more than ever. Please welcome one of Swarthmore's and one of the nation's best, Allison Dorsey.
Allison Dorsey: Good afternoon and thank you for coming out. I'm going to apologize in advance, my voice is on vacation so I occasionally squeak, I will do my best to be as clear as possible. Thank you, Peter, for that introduction I guess. I'm going to say the legend of Mustapha Shaw in many parts because I've been looking for Mustapha Shaw my entire career — as a student, as an instructor — and pretty much had believed that the character that I was seeking was someone from fiction rather than reality. So, I was quite stunned to have him drop in my lap. We'll see if you agree.
At the beginning of the 19th century, a Mende woman from Sierra Leone was captured, possibly held on Bunce Island, and sold into slavery. Her journey to the New World was a horrific one. She undoubtedly experienced the fear and indignity of her fellow captives during middle passage, she stepped upon the shores of The Americas carrying two things: a song from home, an ancient funeral dirge in the Mende language, and in her womb the fruit of her rape. The child of the Mende woman, the first American-born ancestor of a dynamic family whose members would struggle to again become free in the Georgia low country, was given the name Catherine. At least this was the name recorded in the slave record, though we may never know the name her African mother had carved upon her heart, and whispered to her in the still of the evening as she taught her the song of the Mende people. Catherine was purchased by the Delegals' of McIntosh County, Georgia, Scottish planters whose families had secured one of the original land grants in the region.
Edward W. Delegal made Catherine his concubine. She bore him 3 children, 2 daughters and a son called Stafford. While a slave, Catherine's son gave the U.S. Army the name of "Mustapha" when he enlisted in the 33rd infantry of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Slight of stature, sandy haired, and gray eyed, 26-year-old Mustapha escaped from the Delegal Plantation leaving behind his wife Maryanne and their two young sons, Edward and Robert Charles. Running to the fight in summer of 1862, Mustapha joined hundreds of Black men from coastal lowland counties who took advantage of the first Union call for Black soldiers. Part of the valiant though exploited unit, the 33rd Infantry of the U.S. Colored Troops, he saw action in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, sustaining a brutal injury, an inguinal hernia which plagued him for the rest of his life.
Part of the forces stationed in and around Port Royal and in Savannah with William Tecumseh Sherman, Mustapha and several other members of the USCT stood at the ready prepared to claim their share of land on “Sherman's reservation,” to be distributed under Field Order 15. And for those of you who received the documents, the first document is the actual text of Field Order 15.
Mustapha, who added the surname "Shaw" in honor, no doubt of Massachusetts 54th commander Robert Gould Shaw, settled on Ossabaw Island, the largest of the sea islands off of the coast of Georgia. And it is there that I first encountered this extraordinary man. First slave, then soldier, then racial rebel Mustapha Shaw. Shaw spoke to me first from the pages of an arrest warrant in which he was charged by the Freedmen's Bureau with quote, "contempt of authority". You can see why he was, caught my eye right away.
Andrew Waters, another USCT, now a deputy for the Freedmen's Bureau, had been unsuccessful in his attempt to arrest Shaw on December 3rd, 1866. The following day Waters reported to the office of the Freedmen's Bureau superintendent John W. McGill, accompanied by a handful of witnesses to lend credence to his tale of woe. Louis, Benjamin, and Thomas Bond as well as Benjamin Harris, Andrew Munigan, and George Savage had all been pressed into service to help in the arrest of one Mustapha Shaw.
According to their account, when the men arrived at the home of Robert Delegal, they were met by Shaw, the brothers Robert and Lee Delegal, and Pauldo Brown, who had armed themselves with three guns. The witnesses said Shaw took a Bowie knife and a pistol and with the parties above armed, defied said officers and threatened to kill said officers. Waters and his deputies were driven back by threats of violence and showered in a hail of curses, for all Blacks on Ossabaw who willingly worked for white men, while Shaw and company made their escape from the island.
Why were Mustapha Shaw and Andrew Waters, both former members of the U.S. Colored Troops, on opposite sides of the law within a year of mustering out of the Union Army? Defiant and in possession of his service pistol, Shaw, who had been discharged from the 33rd in April of '65, violently resisted arrest while damning fellow soldier Andrew Waters, who had just been mustered out of the 103rd Infantry in that same April. Waters had secured continued government employment by working on behalf of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned lands, the Freedmen's Bureau. Whereas Shaw who resided on the island with Brown and the Delegal Brothers, who for the record are probably his cousins, the Delegal Brothers, clearly rejected such government service. Clues to this opposition of alliances lay in the testimony of David Bond, the father of Louis, James, Benjamin, William and Thomas Bond and the elder of the Baptist Church on Ossabaw Island. Elder Bond gave testimony which corroborated that of his son Louis. Shaw and company, they argued, had repeatedly threatened to kill Louis Bond, William McKiver, George Savage, and all other persons working for whites on said plantation on Ossabaw Island.
The plantation in question was Middle Place, owned by Alexander McDonald and later his wife Georgia. David Bond had a long history with the place, identifying himself as quote " the oldest colored man on the McDonald place." He, along with his sons and some 60 other Black men, women, and children including John Lundgen who had been held in bondage by Alexander McDonald on Ossabaw Island prior to emancipation. At the close of the war McDonald's land as well as those of fellow white planters, George J. Kollock and Benjamin McQueen Morell, had been confiscated under Sherman's special Field Order 15 and redistributed in the spring and summer of 1865 to emancipated Blacks in 10- to 40-acre allotments. The new landowners were soon to discover that the nation was to make good the promise of Sherman's Field Order. Indeed, these former slaves including U.S. Colored Troops who had taken up arms to fight for their freedom, found themselves engaged in another battle on Ossabaw: one to retain their newly acquired property.
Having fought to transform the social and political landscape of the nation, these freedmen now found themselves aligned against the federal government, most of the white citizenry of the South, and some fellow Blacks as they sought to secure their hard-won freedom manhood rights and lands. By May 1866 a white-owned agricultural farm was running a plantation on the island growing sea island cotton under a sharecropping system. Middle Place as well as Kollock's Plantation, South Ed, and Morrell's plantation North End, had in fact by May 1866 been restored to Confederate owners after being wrenched from the hands of Black men and women who had been awarded promissory title to the lands of Ossabaw Island in the spring and summer.
The armed resistance and violent curses of Mustapha Shaw were but one response to what emancipated Blacks saw as new assault on their hard-won freedom and independence.
For African Americans the goal of the Civil War was freedom, the complete destruction of slavery, and a chance to recreate their lives as autonomous people. They sought the freedom to reunite and to protect their families and to make their own way in the world. Meeting with the Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in January of 1865, some 20 Black leaders of Savannah, Ga., had made clear their belief that true freedom required access to land, quote "to turn it, and to till it as our own."
Historians have long focused their attention on the bright promise of Field Order 15. Sherman's response to the urgent quest of these leaders, and I cannot stress enough that this is his response; he says to them "what do you need to be free?" And they say back, quite literally, "we need land in order to be free".
The land that was claimed, the Sea Islands and a swath of the south eastern rice coast of Georgia and South Carolina, was distributed to Black freedmen and women. Yet the greatest hopes of these new freed people proved ultimately to be the briefest of dreams. And much has been written about the federal abandonment of African Americans, spearheaded by President Andrew Johnson and forced upon Freedman's Bureau commander Oliver O. Howard.
Circular 15 revoked the right to land promised in Field Order 15, and confiscated properties were soon returned to Confederate owners. I contend that insufficient attention has been paid to the experiences of those freedmen who leapt at their chance to start their lives anew in the Georgia Sea Islands. And who struggled to maintain land ownership.
My current research on Mustapha Shaw began when I was invited to participate in the Ossabaw Island Foundation Conference, which took place in February of this year. The original work was designed to analyze the process of settlement, community development, and institution building by the freedmen and women of Ossabaw Island, Ga., beginning in June 1865 and ending at the end of the century. The goal was to flesh out "first freedom," offering insight into the mindset of freedmen and women as they exited slavery as evidenced by the nature of community they established on the island. Part of the Golden Isles situated off the coast of Georgia, Ossabaw is roughly 20 miles from Savannah. It takes about 45 minutes by boat through the rivers. Abandoned by fleeing Confederates and claimed by the Union, Ossabaw along with other Georgia Sea Islands was resettled by newly emancipated slaves. Camp followers and refugees joined emancipated men and women who had previously resided on the land and remained through the tumult of the war. The community of freedmen thus combined, resettled refugees whose lives had been uprooted by the recent conflict and those who remained in place during the war, and was of course a microcosm of a far larger movement of black people.
For following Sherman's edict, the Freedman's' Bureau and the newly emancipated themselves moved quickly to resettle land on the island and surrounding area.
My chance encounter with Mustapha Shaw has changed the direction of my research. I found myself fascinated by the defiant freedmen with the interesting Muslim name. My interest grew when I first discovered that he acquired 10 acres of land within two years of fleeing Ossabaw Island. And in 1882, purchased with $1,000 cash, an additional 20 acres of land. By the time I met and interviewed his 89-year-old granddaughter — not great-granddaughter, granddaughter — Mary Ella Dolly Moran in Savannah, I was hooked. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, so let me begin with a brief retelling of Field Order 15 and its aftermath on the island.
In March 1865, Black New Jerseyan Tunis Campbell was appointed as agent of the Freedman's Bureau, for Burnside, Ossabaw, St. Catherine's, Sapelo and Colonel's Island with orders to organize and establish governments on the island, to protect freedmen and refugees for 30 miles back from the seashore. He held that post until he was dismissed under duress the following March, during which time he established two schools on St. Catherine which were designed to serve 250 Black students, recruiting both his son and stepson to work as teachers.
The Black population on Ossabaw was relatively small and fluctuated appreciably. Freedmen' Bureau Commissioner Captain Alexander P. Ketchum, in his October 1865 report to the bureau, notes the presence of only 60 blacks on Ossabaw, and more importantly only 10 men and 50 women. A much smaller population than pre-Civil War numbers. This skewed sex ratio is undoubtedly the result of the draft of Black men from the families of Ossabaw in the summer of 1863, as the Union Army recruited to form all Black fighting units. Or the sex ratio may in fact reflect the population of female camp followers, who were settled on the island while the Union Army was making use of their mates as laborers. Certainly, slaves held on Ossabaw took advantage of the chaos of the war to elope to other islands, and some Ossabaw planters helped to safeguard their human property by relocating or purposely refugeeing their slaves to other properties. The idea being that when the war was over, slavery was going to continue, so I'm going to hide my people on one plantation then move them back when everything goes back to normal.
Campbell's December 15, 1865, report to the Freedmen's Bureau noted that the death of a 68-year-old man and the December 8th birth of a male child, resulted in a whole number of 78 on the island. That population of 78 resided in 32 homes, shared between the Morell, Lyman, and McDonald plantations. To this population, Campbell distributed bureau-provided rations, which consisted of per household: one pound of bacon, one pound of hominy, 2 ounces each of salt and sugar, 7 pound of meal, 3 and 1/4 pounds of beef, 21 boxes of bread, 1/4 keg of vinegar, and 1/8th bottle of soap.
Although it is rich in detail, Campbell's 1865 report also obscures as much as it reveals. None of the freedmen or women were identified by name, and it's impossible to determine the origin of the population Campbell reported as residing on Ossabaw. Were these 78 people refugees who had been relocated to the island? Were they longterm residents? Or a mixture of both?
So I started off with the Freedmen's Bureau records and was able to determine some small details about the people. What we recognize is that the land, previously held by three confederate slaveholders, Kollock, McDonald and Morrell, (Lyman is still in the wind we haven't figured out who he is yet). George Kollock, one of the previous owners, purchased South End in 1849. He identified his 800-acre Ossabaw property as quote, unquote "a bachelor's retreat", which may have something to do with his wives' reported objection to his buying the property.
While he spent most of his time on the mainland, he kept detailed records of his Ossabaw property. He noted in his plantation books of Ossabaw, ownership of at least two slaves that are significant to this story; Big and Little Primus, most likely father and son. May 24th 1865, after the end of the American Civil War, Kollock instructs Big Primus to ferry his white family members to the mainland. Big Primus returned in four days having completed his job, but according to Kollock quote " ran away" 15 days later. He's having difficulty letting go. The following day as Kollock noted "Yankees came to the midlands and carried off six of my Negroes, including little Primus." Little Primus returned to the island at the end of 10 days, though there is no way to know if he was released from Yankee service or if he eloped in order to return home. Perhaps his return was in anticipation of the rumored land distribution. There was little doubt that the Primus Stewart awarded that Kollock land in July, is in fact one of these two freedmen.
Others who received Kollock land include Myra Woodruff and her husband Larch. She and husband were both South Carolina-born but resided in the state long before the Civil War, as their 40-year-old daughter Charlotte was Georgia-born. Moses George received 20 acres, and was married to Susan George who received 10 acres of the Kollock land. Both the Woodruffs' and the Georges' would pursue their dream of land ownership, ultimately off the island like Mustapha Shaw. Among those receiving land on the McDonald place: Frederick Miller and Cooper Turner were most likely soldiers as is also the case of Cyprus Brown who received land on the Kollock place. Freedmen given land titles were not the only Black residents on the island. By the spring of 1866 the population of Ossabaw Island was rising. Shaw's arrest warrant identified some of the share croppers working on the island for Fly, Mcgill and Middleton. Skeet Baker as well as Prince Brown, as well as David Bond an all of his sons, Benjamin Harris, William McKiver, George Savage and their families, William Delaney, William George, James Mack et cetera, all continued to live and farm for shares for George Kollock.
The man and women who received land in the summer of 1865 were not for the most part, locals. Which is to say they had not lived on the island before the war and more significantly they did not remain on the island once their land was seized and restored to confederate owners.
James Mack stands as an important exception in as much as he was part of a network living on Ossabaw before the war, was given land title under Field Order 15 but remained on the island to sharecrop after his land was formally restored to George J. Kollock.
As demonstrated in the warrant for the arrest of Mustapha Shaw, some tension existed between those outsiders who had secured land on Ossabaw and those local freedmen who had not. Historian Paul Cimbala notes many freedmen displaced by the war returned to their home island in early 1866 to find local plantations already divided amongst strangers who had been given promissory title.
Without means of support, deprived of their portion of the old homestead and without access to rations, the near starvation and starving population was undoubtedly hostile toward those Blacks they only recognized as interlopers. Perhaps lack of access to land on his home island drove Ossabaw native Phillip Young to relocate to nearby Skidaway Island, along with Jason Jacob Tyson and his wife Haagar and their five children. In addition, local Blacks themselves may not have been soldiers, were well aware of the antagonism Southern whites harbored towards former U.S. Colored Troops. Perhaps those who testified against Shaw and who sought to distance themselves from those of his ilk, were fearful of white retribution. In either case intra-racial tension between locals and other freedmen, mirrored the greater tension between black freedmen and the nation, manifest as progressive forces in the federal government, lost ground to recalcitrant conservatives, who sought to maintain white supremacy as the order of the day.
President Andrew Johnson's decision to pardon Confederates who begged his favor, and Circular number 15 issued September 12th 1865, designed to restore all lands, save those specifically identified as abandoned to the very whites who had fought for the dissolution of the Union, set the stage for the reversal of fortune on Ossabaw Island.
Susan Maryanne Johnston Kollock, wife of George J. Kollock took her necessary amnesty oath in 1865, thereby securing a pardon and the family's Woodlawn plantation on the mainland. She wrote her son John in June of 1865, urging him to encourage his father George to travel to Savannah to quote " secure his Ossabaw plantation, which will be given up to him the first of January, provided he has taken the old amnesty oath or will take the new one, which only differs in that you swore your land and property is not worth over $20,000 , you have not yet been since or under government employed in the Confederate cause, all of which your father can swear to as all he has done is patrol duty, which does not count.
Now the interesting thing here is, this is a man who owns two plantations on the mainland and on Ossabaw Island, and has a live Oak timber business. So how he could be worth less than $20,000 is beyond my mathematical abilities. But nonetheless, he gets all of his property restored. The process of restoring lands to white Southern landowners was fraught with tension on all sides. Black freedmen challenged the decision and resisted the actions of federal actors. Freedman's Bureau officers themselves struggled with the decision and ultimately resisted and complied with President Johnson's commands.
Black freedmen who has secured land, objected to what they understood as change in the rules of engagement, and the face of efforts to invalidate their land titles and more importantly to work for old white planters.
Blacks on Ossabaw had worked to sustain themselves. They obviously could not have survived on the rations that Tunis Campbell was distributing, for example.
They hunted, fished, dug oysters, planted some plots of rice and corn, and made improvements to their properties in their 6-8 months of ownership. Nonetheless, bureau agents pressured them to both relinquish title and to sign contracts guaranteeing that they would work with white planters or their agents.
The bureau finds that in spring of 1866, African Americans on Ossabaw are reluctant to follow the edicts of the bureau. John. W. McGill who is the McGill of the agency that is sharecropping on the island, also gets himself appointed as Freedmen's Bureau agent on the island. So the person who is supposed to look after the whites and Black freedmen, is in fact running the sharecropping business on the island. But in his capacity as agent, he writes to the Savannah office to complain that Blacks on the island are quote " defiant" of his authority. Quote: " the freedmen have a blatant and very slackened performance of their labor et cetera, and pay no attention to orders of the bureau which have been sent to the social agent. Now is an important time of the season and it is necessary that the freedmen should faithfully, and industriously perform their part of the contract. This they are not doing. In addition to setting their own work schedules, freed men and women took their liberty of the island when and where they saw fit. And apparently were not above appropriating the means to do so, as Miss. W. Neil Habersham of Savannah complained that a large six-oared boat, painted bright green and black, had been purloined by the freedmen of Ossabaw Island.
Captain J. Kerry Smith stressed that McGill should do all he could to quote “keep order" and give the Negroes to understand that they must not leave the island without permission, if they do so they will be arrested and locked up. Clearly out of his element and overwhelmed, McGill requested an officer of the bureau be sent to Ossabaw. His plea generated a visit by First Lieutenant Nelson Bronson, no doubt accompanied by at least a few soldiers from the Savannah office. Bronson's report to the Savannah office detailed the firm’s operations on the island. “They have,” he says “about 300 acres of cotton under good cultivation, mostly and looking finely, although some of it is inferior, owing to Mr. McGill said to bad work on the part of the hands. They will probably realize that 150 bales, there are about 60 freedmen working under contract, and 11 working on their own account. I carefully estimated the crops of corn, cotton, and potatoes cultivated by those 11, and feel confident that they will not realize $50 each. Those working under contract besides their third of the cotton, have over 100 acres of corn on their account and will average 20 bushels to the acre, perhaps more so than each freedman ought to realize about $200 clear, provided he has worked well and lost no time.”
Black agriculturalists on Ossabaw took advantage of Bronson's presence to express their concerns to what they hoped might be a more impartial representative of the Freedmen's Bureau. Most of them ultimately could not agree with Bronson's analysis of their situation, a fact he was forced to admit in their report. In his report quote "notwithstanding, their projected profit which with the exception of about fifteen, they seem to have manifest a great deal of dissatisfaction, and say they could have done better if they had land and planted on their own account. The majority were inclined to be impudent and intractable, they are not absolutely mutinous but their conduct is such as to intimidate the actions of the agent of the bureau. They work when they please, and at such time as they please and the only remedy the planter has is to charge them with lost time.”
Lieutenant Bronson quizzed McGill about his less than forceful action as bureau agent, as he reported in his letter to the Freedmen's Bureau Major Officer W.W. Dean. “I asked McGill why he did not enforce his authority as agent of the bureau. He said that the few men whom he could depend on were afraid to arrest the more turbulent ones. That he had no means of sending them to Savannah and he could only manage by humoring them. Upon his representing that some of the freedmen were stealing cotton and other property, and that freedmen not living on the island were frequently in the habit of visiting the island in boats when they please, and staying sometimes for several days. I issued an order that no boat should land or leave the place except middle landing, and by permission of the agent of the bureau. This order they refused to obey. I told them that unless they did obey this order and all other orders from the agent of the bureau, I would send down upon them soldiers and enforce said orders. I think they can be easily managed if the agent of the bureau will exercise his authority, and with firmness make one or two examples of the worst of them. The present difficulties arise from too much kindness, and indulgence on the part of Mr. McGill, which they fail to appreciate or manifest gratitude for."
Black resistance to authority of the Freedmen's Bureau, along with the Bronson's law and order instructions to McGill, results in the December 1866 arrest warrant for Mustapha Shaw, his allies the Delegals and Pauldo Brown. Despite this approach, Black freedmen across the Georgia Sea Islands continued to register complaints with the bureau and to resist seizure of their lands. The second document in this stack of primary source documents you have, is a letter written by Captain Shigg to Oliver O. Howard in January of 1867. If you read through it quickly you will see that not only does Captain Shigg understands Field Order 15 backwards and forward, he is also familiar with the American Constitution and knows what his rights as a citizen are. And he's quite defiant in his response to the Bureaus' effort to move people off their land.
Despite their best efforts the Black freedmen of Ossabaw Island, like those of St Catherine's, Sapelo and Skidaway, as well as those along the Ogeechee Neck, lost their land as they were restored to former Confederate owners. Each of the Confederate planters on Ossabaw Island regained formal possession of their land by way of Special-Order No. 6, signed by Major General Davis Tillson, January 19, 1867.
Tunis Campbell, having been removed from his post, jettisoned the dream of Sherman's Reservation, then investing $1,000 of his own funds, Campbell made a down payment on the Belleville Plantation in Darien, McIntosh County, Ga., and encouraged freedmen on the island to relocate to this property on the mainland in December of 1866, ending his formal affiliation with the Freedmen's Bureau and the Georgia Sea Islands.
The decision to settle in Darien was in intriguing one. Major Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the legendary all-Black Massachusetts 54th had under orders, given by Colonel James Montgomery, overseen the burning and destruction of Darien, Ga., in June of 1863, though no military resistance had been offered by the citizens of the town. Which is to say that Durian is not Atlanta, right? Atlanta resists and Sherman's argument is first and foremost; we didn't set the fire, it was an accident. Followed by; but if we did set the fire, you resisted total destruction is a fair response. Darien offers no resistance, it is in fact, compliant and peaceful.
Shaw who objected to this use of his Black troops in a manner he deemed dishonorable and immoral, made his objections known to Colonel Montgomery at the moment, and later wrote letter of protest to members of his family and others. It is interesting that Tunis Campbell within the face of this history, sought to relocate to the Darien area. Cash poor planter Charles H. Hopkins, who sold his McIntosh County Belleville plantation to Campbell, facilitated Campbells' location to the mainland.
Campbell had agreed to make payments of $5,000 until the property was paid in full, which was undeniably much needed financial support for Hopkins. Hopkins would later argue in a court that Tunis Campbell was a squatter, that he had agreed to a rental agreement, not a purchase agreement, and this is the backdrop for Campbell, Campbell's arrest and his time on the chain gang in Georgia.
While this financial arrangement was temporarily supportive of Campbell's goal to assist freedmen in their struggle for land ownership, there remains the question of what it meant for Black freedmen, some of them former colored troops who returned to the site of what whites in McIntosh County understood to be a racial crime of war. The move was nothing if not bold and defiant and perhaps a little foolhardy.
Mustapha Shaw joined Campbell in the move from the islands to the mainland. Shaw had been born on the Delegal plantation and he returned to the community of his birth in Harris Neck, McIntosh County. He joined other Black freedmen who were acquired land from their former white plantation owners in the region, purchasing 10 acres from his brother for a dollar in 1868. By 1870, Shaw resided on a farm valued at $250 with his wife and four children, and his mother Catherine (which I'll get to in a second), though she doesn't show up on the census records.
He would later purchase an additional 20 acres of land from a former slave owner Charles Spalding. As lands on Ossabaw were restored to white landowners in January of '67, those freedmen who received promissory title under Field Order 15 vacated the island. The whites, the Moses's, the Steward's and the Shaw's all leave the island. The Stewart's and the Georges, the Woodruffs resettle in nearby White Bluff. They will all acquire land, in fact they will buy land right next to each other, they are lot 1888, 1890 and 1891.
The Moses' and Woodruffs will both pay poll tax which will secure their right to vote, and they will be land holding men through the 1880's. So, Shaw, Stewart, and George become property owners once again. Unfortunately for those who remain on Ossabaw Island, they don't own land on Ossabaw Island. In fact they won't own land anywhere in any county in the state of Georgia before 1900.
The consequence of the Freedmen's Bureau revocation of promised land is that those who stay share crop, and they share crop to the turn of the century they are poor to the turn of the century, and they are poor after the turn of the century. Those who had gotten land who had a taste of land ownership, who improved land and created wealth. When that land is taken away they leave and pursue land ownership again immediately. They are disproportionately successful, which gets me back to Mustapha Shaw. One of the bold and fortunate few who did purchase land in 1868 and again in 1882. My research based in Freedmen's Bureau records, census data and county land deeds has been greatly enhanced by chance. By an act of kismet.
A young man from McIntosh County with an interest in history came to the Ossabaw Island symposium in February of this year. After I concluded my remarks I began to take questions from the audience he began to squirm in his seat waving his hand in the air to get my attention. When I finally acknowledged him he posed the following question: Have you shared your research with the descendants of Mustapha Shaw? I replied that I was not sure that there were living descendants, and if there were I had no idea if they lived in the county or how to find them. His casual reply, "well, I can take you to meet the family if you'd like" literally made me weak in the knees and I recall leaning against the podium for fear that I would faint. Meeting the Morans, the direct descendants of Mustapha Shaw's youngest daughter, was a revelation. Mary Ella Dolly Moran is Shaw's granddaughter, born late in life to his younger daughter Rachel Amelia Shaw. Rachel Amelia was born to the second of Shaw's three wives. The first wife Maryanne Gignilliat, mother of his first four children, died in 1870, whereupon Shaw married her younger sister Octavia Gignilliat.
Octavia Gignilliat gave birth to six children before her death in August of 1890, including Rachel Amelia who was born December 12th 1880. Shaw also has a third wife, Florence who is 36 years his junior when he marries her a year before his death. Shaw's daughter Rachel Amelia married young, and gave birth to three sons in quick succession, all of whom died in infancy. Tragically she was told she was the cause of her son's death, due to her salty milk, and I'll explain that later if people have questions. She became pregnant again at 41 and gave birth to a daughter, Mary Ella Dolly Moran, in 1921. Rachel Amelia was not allowed to nurse her child; instead the child was raised quote on " canned eagle milk" and survived to be both her mother's legacy and to carry the story of the Shaw family and the song of the captured enslaved Mende women to the 21st century.
When Mustapha Shaw goes back to Harris Neck, he buys a plot of land known as Nephew's Hammock. And Nephews’ Hammock is a small island that sits in the river. The only way to get there in that moment in time is literally to row out and row back. I'm assuming after Ossabaw he wanted to be as far away from whites as was humanly possible. And he acquired this land, and when he went to, when he buys the original plot of land from his biological half-brother, since his plantation owner is in fact his father, he takes his mother away from the slave owner who had owned her all these years, and they escaped to Nephews’ Hammock, and the whole family and extended family live in the area.
What this means is Catherine, the daughter of the Mende woman who has learned the Mende song, teaches it to the children on the island in this cultural isolation. Mary Ella Dolly Moran, who is the last child of what is then considered an elderly woman, grew up with only her mother as her playmate. And her mother taught her the song that she had learned from her mother, that she had learned from her mother.
Now the significance of this story in terms of tracking this is that in the 1930's Lorenzo Down Turner, who is a linguist and anthropologist, recorded a Black woman singing this song that she had learned as a child. In the 1980s an anthropologist had found that recording and did two things with it; one, went back to Sierra Leone to see if they could identify where the song comes from. After many, many years of searching and a lot of Kismets and divine will, they actually find the village where the song comes from. They then come back to the United States, hoping against hope that the woman who had been recorded in the 1930s was alive, and they found Mary Ellen Dolly Moran! And the story, that part of the story can be found amazingly on this DVD, "The Language you Cry In," which was one of those films that I was always going to show in class and when I got to it and whatever.
But when I was taken out to the Moran’s in February of this year, we had an exchange. Their family legend was that when Mustapha returned home for land and to get his mother, his father had refused him land and his mother which is probably true. What they didn't know was that his brother had sold him for a dollar 10 acres of land. So, the family legend is, he squatted on the land and that's why it was eventually taken away. It was eventually taken away in the 20th century but it has nothing to do with squatting. So, I was able to say to them, “Well actually here's the original deed, he didn't squat on the land he purchased it, and he purchased it from his brother. And by the way do you have his Civil War pension record?” And so, in exchange they gave me a copy of a video.
There’re two real quick things and then I'll end, one the story of naming in family it seems to me is really important, and it's why I stress that her given name is Catherine. I doubt that her Mende mother named her Catherine. But her name is lost. We know that Catherine names her son Mustapha because the family is Muslim from Mende country, right, so she is carrying on that mother's tradition in naming her son Mustapha.
His white father calls him Stafford, but when he leaves the space, when he escapes slavery and goes to the Union Army, which is for me where he becomes a free man, he enlists as Mustapha Shaw, which was the first thing that threw me. And when I first came back with a census I just knocked on [now-retired history professor] Bob Duplessis' office and said "Can you just look at this census record, just look, just tell me what this person's name is", because I thought I was projecting, this man's name is not Mustapha. But it is in fact Mustapha and for logical reasons. They are Mende people.
Naming is very important in the Shaw family. Mustapha Shaw has two sons and one of his sons suffers from a physical deformity. It's very similar to Toulouse Lautrec. He has a normal body from the waist up, normal length of arms, normal chest width strength. But from the hips down he has withered legs. So, he was disabled. His father comes back from the war and he does two things: one, he changes his son's name from Robert to Micanopy. And I thought, okay that's special, there must be a meaning. And sure enough, Micanopy was a Seminole Chief in the 17th century who refused to cede his land to the U.S. government.
SO: He gives this disabled child this gigantically powerful name, and he builds him a variation on a wheelchair. And when he's on land he lives in the wheelchair. But he also gives him a job, and his job is to row the children from the island to the mainland to go to school, back and forth every day.
SO he has a job, and he has a mission, and he has a name of power, right? Mustapha also names his last son Mustapha Grant, as in Ulysses S. Grant, Shaw as in Robert Gould Shaw. Okay?
The second thing I want to note is what Mustapha does with the land that makes him so wealthy. Instead of growing rice, instead of growing sea island cotton, he instead grows fruit trees. He plants pecans, he plants peaches, he plants pears, he grows fruit, giving him a niche market. He also creates cash surplus by hunting and selling furs and crocodile skins. He is by the end of his life even if we take away the$8-supplement for his pension, a very wealthy man in his own right. He is able to hand land onto the family, and the extended family for the duration.
I struggled when I needed to title this piece, and came up with "The Legend of Mustapha Shaw", because as I noted he's my fantasy character. Hh is the person I was looking for my entire life when studying slavery. He was not overtly a Christian. He was not overtly forgiving. He was not fearful. He was not cow towed. He was fierce and independent and defiant, more like a legend than anything real to date. But hopefully my biography, forthcoming, eventually, will impact and aspire a whole new generation of Mustapha Shaws.