“Good colored people, you have a great work to do, and you are in a position of responsibility. This experiment is to give you freedom, position, homes, your families, property, your own soil. It seems to me a better time is coming … a better day is dawning.”
With these words, Union General Ormsby Mitchel proclaimed that the land the people of Mitchelville, South Carolina, had once toiled under the chains of slavery was now their own.
The triumphant and touching post-Civil War story of the rise of the first self-governed settlement for freedmen in the United States took place right here, on Hilton Head Island.
It’s a story as old and as rich as the soil itself; a testament to the sacrifice, resilience and perseverance of our nation’s very first freedmen, and thanks to The Mitchelville Preservation Project, today, America can relive it.
In 1862, shorly after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed -- while most of the African-American slave population was still trying to adjust to the idea of their new post-war freedom -- the people of Mitchelville were busy creating a completely new, self-governed culture that would be the guidepost for generations to follow.
These industrious new citizens built homes on neatly arranged streets, elected their own officials, developed laws, built an economy, and implemented mandatory education for their children. In fact, the reports of the success of Mitchelville were so glowing, that the famous Underground Railroad freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, was sent to Hilton Head to see this bustling town, so she could share the story of Mitchelville’s self-governed success with future freedmen towns.
Situated on Hilton Head Island, SC, Mitchelville represents a jewel within the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that forms the roots of the African-American's contribution to the heritage of freedom in America.
Today the Gullah, direct decedents of those who settled on Mitchelville, still live and continue the traditions of their ancestors.