Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Slave Made African American Folk Art Figure ? Civil War Jekyll Island Georgia Collection Jim Linderman

A little Civil War man from Jekyll Island, Georgia.  Circa 1865, made as a whimsey from lead, I believe, and I assume the same lead used to make bullets.  That is a guess.  When I obtained the little fellow, he was in two parts, which is not surprising as lead is soft and he was buried a long time.  I have rejoined him temporarily for the photo.  You can see what he was found with below…relics.  Relics of a war we have still not come to grips with. How can we?  African American Slave Made Folk Art Figure? Or Mere Whimsey.

When I purchased this fellow, I had not mere whimsey in mind.  I was thinking of the famous slave-made iron figure also unearthed, but from a blacksmith's shop and slave quarters in Virginia, not a Civil War resting place.  The figure which has been written about by scholar John Michael Vlach is frequently used to illustrate African craft, sculptural traditions and skills which were transmitted across the Atlantic…setting the stage for a war fought over freedom and commerce just before the industrial revolution.

The similar stance, diminutive size and presence was evident immediately.  Were there slaves (or African-American freedmen) around the campfire in Jekyll Island when this fellow was melted in a spoon and shaped in the sand?  Or was this simply a way for a bored soldier, of either side, to spend some time.

Jekyll Island is called "an affordable Georgia Beach family vacation spot" today.  As with much of the low-country along Georgia and South Carolina, what was once plantation is now golf course.  Fifty years AFTER the importation of slaves to the United States became illegal, they were still coming to Jekyll Island.  The second to last shipment of slaves imported to the states arrived there in 1858…some 450 men torn from their homes and made to work.  I do not know how many men were on the boat when it left Africa, but one source says the ship Wanderer arrived with 409 slaves.  The mortality rate for passage was 12 percent, so that would be about right.

The people who arranged the illegal shipment knew what they were doing and knew the rewards.  They choose to profit. 

The Union Army arrived on St. Jekyll Island in 1862.  By that time the plantation was deserted, but after the war the man who owned the island returned and split it up among his sons.

So is my mere whimsey a more profound object now?  It is to me.  Did it just happen to be found during the same dig, but made earlier by an African-American man who lost his home but retained his esthetics?

"Relic" man  Metal (lead?) circa 1860  Height 4"  Collection Jim Linderman

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  1. GREAT post Jim! I knew nothing of the full history of Jekyll Island or of thee slave figure. Very interesting!

  2. Jekyll Island has quite history, as does this little figure! I just wish his history could be told definitively.

  3. Wow, interesting story. This might be a bit of a stretch but the figure with the flat head and short arms could represent an African-American version of the akuaba, or Ashanti fertility doll.