THE IGBO Landing Mass
On St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia, along Dunbar Creek lies a historic location called Igbo Landing or the Igbo landing mass. When Igbo captives from what is currently Nigeria were transported to the Georgia coast in 1803, it resulted in one of the biggest mass suicides of enslaved people in history.
The slave ship Wanderer brought the Igbo and other captives from West Africa to Savannah, Georgia, in May 1803. Slave traders John Couper and Thomas Spalding paid an average of $100 for each of them, with the intention of reselling them to plantations on nearby St. Simons Island.
The chained slaves were packed below deck of the York, a coastal ship that would transport them to St. Simons. About 75 Igbo slaves revolted during the voyage, took control of the ship, drowned their masters, and as a result the ship grounded in Dunbar Creek.
The sequence of events that occurred next remains unclear. It is known only that the Igbo marched ashore, singing, led by their high chief. Then at his direction, they walked into the marshy waters of Dunbar Creek, committing mass suicide. Roswell King, a white overseer on the nearby Pierce Butler plantation, wrote the first account of the incident.
He and another man identified only as Captain Patterson recovered many of the drowned bodies. Apparently only a subset of the 75 Igbo rebels drowned. Thirteen bodies were recovered, but others remained missing, and some may have survived the suicide episode, making the actual numbers of deaths uncertain.
Regardless of the numbers, the deaths showed a strong tale of resistance as these slaves overpowered their masters in a foreign nation. Many of them chose to commit suicide rather than continue to be held as slaves in the New World.
Over time, The Igbo Landing gained immense symbolic significance in the local African American culture. Many locals referred to the Igbo people’s revolt and eventual suicide as the first freedom march in American history.
Locals reported that the Igbo slaves’ ghosts haunted the Landing and nearby marshes in Dunbar Creek, where the Igbo people committed suicide in 1803.
The story of Igbo, who chose death over slavery which had long been part of Gullah folklore, was finally recorded from various oral sources in the 1930s by members of the Federal Writers Project.
While many historians for centuries have cast doubt on the Igbo Landing mass suicide, suggesting that the entire incident was more legend than fact, the accounts Roswell King and others provided at the time were verified by post-1980 research which used modern scientific techniques to reconstruct the episode and confirm the factual basis of the longstanding oral accounts.
The St. Simons African American community had a two-day commemoration in September 2002 that included Igbo history-related activities and a procession to the scene of the mass suicide.
75 people attended, representing various US states as well as Nigeria, Brazil, and Haiti. The participants declared the area to be sacred ground and demanded that the spirits be laid to rest for all time. The Igbo Landing is currently covered in coastal Georgia schools’ curricula.