Igbo Landing stands as a solemn and historic site on St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia, bearing witness to one of the largest mass suicides of enslaved people in 1803.
Captives of Igbo descent, hailing from Nigeria, were forcibly brought to the Georgia coast aboard the slave ship, the Wanderer, arriving in Savannah, Georgia, in May 1803.
John Couper and Thomas Spalding, slave merchants, purchased them at an average cost of $100 each with the intent to resell them to nearby St. Simons Island plantations.
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Chained and confined below deck of the coastal vessel, the York, the captives were destined for a life of unfathomable suffering. However, during the voyage, approximately 75 Igbo slaves rose in rebellion, seizing control of the ship, and ultimately drowning their captors, causing the ship to ground in Dunbar Creek.
The exact sequence of events following this uprising remains somewhat unclear. It is known that the Igbo slaves, under the leadership of their high chief, marched ashore singing. Upon his direction, they walked into the marshy waters of Dunbar Creek, choosing to end their lives in a mass suicide rather than endure a life of enslavement in the New World.
Roswell King, a white overseer on the nearby Pierce Butler plantation, documented the incident, and the recovery of some of the drowned bodies was carried out by King and another man identified as Captain Patterson.
Though 13 bodies were recovered, the actual number of deaths remains uncertain, as some may have survived the tragic event.
The deaths at Igbo Landing, regardless of the exact numbers, conveyed a powerful story of resistance and courage, as these captives defied their oppressors in a foreign land.
Over time, the significance of Igbo Landing grew immensely in local African American folklore, with many regarding the mutiny and subsequent suicide as the first freedom march in U.S. history.
The site and the surrounding marshes in Dunbar Creek were believed by local people to be haunted by the souls of the deceased Igbo slaves.
For centuries, doubt lingered among historians about the authenticity of the Igbo Landing mass suicide, with some considering it more of a legend than fact.
However, post-1980 research, using modern scientific techniques, has since verified the accounts given by Roswell King and others at the time, confirmed the historical accuracy of the longstanding oral narratives.
The tale of Igbo Landing continues to resonate deeply, serving as a poignant reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the enduring quest for freedom, even in the face of unimaginable hardship.
The sacrifice and resistance displayed by the Igbo people stand as a testament to the strength and resilience of those who endured the horrors of slavery, leaving an indelible mark on the collective memory of the nation’s history.