Peering Into Pin Point - A Visit to the Pin Point Heritage Museum in Savannah Georgia

Dear Henry,

Last year, when I went to Savannah, I stumbled upon one of the funnest little heritage sites in the area. The Pin Point Heritage Museum. The town is one of the last Gullah settlements in the country and the birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and has quite a story.

The Gullah people are an American Ethno/Cultural group that developed from the descendants of the enslaved African people brought to the coastal rice plantations of Southern South Carolina and Northern Georgia. 

Most of the Gullah people were acquired from the West and Central rice-growing region of Africa and imported specifically for their knowledge and skill in growing rice. I will admit, it really bothered me to learn this. Up until this point, I had believed that slave acquisition was more haphazard and accidental. It wasn't. Slave traders knew precisely where to find the right people for a plantation.

This allowed some commonality among the enslaved people in the rice plantations and allowed them to form a community, the Gullah, and a unique language, Geechee.

After the Civil War and the hurricanes in the 1890s, the Gullah abandoned the rice plantations and organized along with the coastal areas of Northern Georgia / Southern South Carolina, and began to focus more on seafood harvesting.

One group, known as the "Hinder Me Not" Congregation - the Gullah seem to have created communities around their church congregations, rather than familial lines, which makes sense, given how fractured enslaved families were - purchased land on Ossabaw Island, and this became the Pin Point Community.

The Pin Point economy got a boost in 1929 when the A.S. Varn and Son Oyster and Crab Factory was built in the community. It became the primary income source, and most people from the community worked at the factory at some point during their lives. The factory was hugely successful and exported nearly 1,500 lbs of crab meat every day.

The factory began to struggle in 1965 when the Diamond Causeway was built, and the ocean flows around the area changed. So in 1985, it finally closed its doors.

In 2010, the factory got a new life as a heritage museum when Dallas-based Crow Holdings purchased the land and began the restoration.

Visiting this museum was really one of the highlights of my Savannah trip, and I can't recommend it enough.

My guide, Gail, grew up in Pin Point and was a great storyteller. The tour starts with a rough overview of the Gullah people and their customs and music before touring the facilities and learning the labor-intensive processes of shucking oysters and shelling crabs. The oyster house was built low enough and close enough to the shore that water would move into the factory during high tide. The water didn't slow down the workers, who just put on boots. I got cold thinking about trying to work in those conditions.

Gail also touched on the specifics of Geechee, the language of the Gullah people, and its development is interesting. While primarily based upon English, the language contains quite a few African continent phrases. It was also developed to share information between community members, information that community members didn't want to share with their Euro-American owners, so the language is based upon metaphor and parable, much like the Darmok in Star Trek. Coupled with the regional accent, the language is impossible for an outsider to gather more than a word or two. The language is still in use today.

I also learned that the Moon River from the Johnny Mercer song was the waterway that flowed near the factory and that this river was the sight for the Pin Point's baptisms.

Finally, I watched a short film called "Take Me To The Water - The Story of Pin Point" which, in addition to summarizing the history of the area, contained the interviews of many former employees, and it was a great way to round out the experience. It put a human touch to the buildings.

Before I left, I stopped by the gift shop and picked up a print of "Shucking Oysters," painted by Jonathan Green, a Gullah painter who hails from a nearby community.

After I left, and in honor of Pin Point, I went for crab cakes. Unfortunately, I don't think they followed Gail's recipe and used saltines, not Ritz crackers like she said you must.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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