President, Larry Holman Chairman, Marion Burns
BEAUFORT COUNTY GUIDE to the Gullah Geechee Heritage
Editing, Design & Layout: Pathfinders Travel Magazine 215.438.2140 / www.pathfinderstravel.com
Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce
Cover Photo Credits: Clockwise: Shrimp-Jeff Ferguson© Baskets-PTM©
Crabs on plate-Rustmb© Fishman throwing net-Wirtgasem© Artists-BCBCC©
GULLAH GEECHEE HERITAGE GUIDE IS PUBLISHED BY THE BEAUFORT COUNTY BLACK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
P.O. Box 754
Beaufort, South Carolina 29901 843.986.1102 firstname.lastname@example.org/ www.bcbcc.org
Twelfth printing June 2014; The guide is distributed through area visitor centers, the Savannah Hilton Head Airport, businesses, and area attractions. The Guide is also available upon request from the BCBCC. The design, concept and content are copyrighted and may not in any manner be reproduced in part or whole without the publisher’s written permission.
Every attempt is made to provide dependable information, but the publisher does not guarantee that the information presented is complete or current. Any rates, special offers, etc. are subject to change and are not guaranteed by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce.
Beaufort County Guide
Gullah Geechee Heritage
} CITY OF BEAUFORT
} TOWN OF BLUFFTON } DAUFUSKIE ISLAND
} HILTON HEAD ISLAND } ST HELENA ISLAND
3 - 4 6
7- 9 10 - 14 20 - 23 24 25 26 - 28 -
The Lowcountry Experience Lowcountry Lingo and Culture About The Chamber
Discover Town of Bluffton
Festivals and Events
Discover Town of Hilton Head Island Discover Town of Port Royal
The Mather School
Discover Daufuskie Island
Your Guide to the
AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
In South Carolina’s Lowcountry
￼BCBCC · Contents 1
Manuscript of the Family History of Portuguese Jews, secret religious rituals and old stories passed down to modern-era Descendants in America in a non-fictional unpublished manuscript based on our mother Fannie Green, her life as a Secret Jew, family traditions she practiced and taught her seven children, and family stories told “over and over again” in “Geechee” southern dialect linguists trace to West African oral traditions resembling the trade language of “Kissi” people of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
Her stories always took place in Georgetown, South Carolina. She always recited them “by rote” leaning forward with right fingers balancing her chin, before beginning the repetitive story of her birth, as she sat at our kitchen table in East Harlem, New York.
“Grandmother Adele (b. 1875) came and got me, as a baby. I was born in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland in 1927. My mother (Virginia Smith) and my twin sister Virgie died in childbirth (the same year). Mother was born in Georgetown, South Carolina (in 1898) and so was my father Louis Green. Grandmother Adele Pyatt changed my name from Fannie Green to Edna Smith. I was raised by her, and my grandfather Richard Smith (b. 1875) in Georgetown, South Carolina. At age seventeen, (circa 1944) I came north to Freeport, New York to live with Aunt Sadie (b. 1906), mother’s sister, and her husband "Uncle (James) Grant".
Our mother’s story was written down from my recollections of old family stories, and ritual traditions we practiced at home in secret. Fannie Green (our mother) was the great-great granddaughter of Percilla Cohen (b. 1809), great-granddaughter of Grace Cohen (b. circa 1840), granddaughter of her son Richard Smith, and the only child of Virginia Smith (b. 1900) and Louis Green. Her family story centers on Portuguese Jews (Secret Jews), and their “complicated” family relationships with enslaved “Geechee” people and Free Persons of Color in Georgetown, South Carolina who share the surname (last name) Cohen; including Rosa Cohen Roberson (Robinson), great-grandmother of the first lady of the United States, Mrs. Michelle Robinson Obama, and grandmother of Capers Funny (e), a cousin, born in Georgetown, South Carolina, but raised in Chicago, who became a Rabbi.
Mother's storytelling encompasses several low country historical events in the colonial and reconstruction eras, and tells the lesser-known tale of Portuguese Jews (hidden Jews) in the low country. The narrative takes readers on a journey of five hundred years of family history from the first (Portuguese Jews) Cohen family to arrive in Charleston, to modern-day African American descendants born and raised in East Harlem. The manuscript begins in 1497 during the Inquisition in Portugal, and continues on to tell the story of a Portuguese Jew named Moses Cohen, a Merchant (storekeeper) from London, England and his arrival into the port of Charleston, South Carolina with ten-year-old son Abraham Cohen circa 1750.
He was among a small group of Portuguese Jews who prayed at home, later Moses Cohen (b. 1709) “with zeal” led the religious group in worship in a “building made of wood” in Charleston, the group was called, Kahol Kodesh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation of God).
Abraham Cohen, the first son of Moses Cohen moved to Georgetown, South Carolina in his early twenties, a couple of years before his father’s death to become a Planter. He acquired a farm, cattle, Blacksmith shop in town, twenty-one slaves, and had worked as an Auctioneer selling ‘Geechee” slaves and property off loaded from ships to the highest bidder. He also served in the militia at the “Siege of Charleston” during the American Revolutionary War of 1776. Towards the end of his life Abraham Cohen welcomed George Washington, the first President of the United States and fellow Mason to Georgetown, South Carolina as Washington “toured the south” in 1791, while living on Prince Street less than a mile away with his companion (concubine) and our mother's ancestor, “Free Peggy” McWharter, a Free Person of Color.
Our mother repeatedly said she was from the Cohen, Smith and Pyatt families of Georgetown, and generations of (Portuguese) Jews (from Northern Africa), and “Geechee” people from Africa and Cherokees of South Carolina. Her compelling story is an effortless embrace of these three different cultures, traditions, and religions in Georgetown County, though mother lived as a secret (Portuguese) Jew all her life. It is a family story of mother's people, which took me over thirty years to research, four years to compile, write, and edit, and reluctantly share with the public, centuries of hidden generational religious traditions, and tell her less known story of Portuguese Jews.
The story of our mother Fannie Green reveals a hidden "portion" of Jews who fled Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition, but continued to worship in secret in the southern coastal town of Georgetown, South Carolina. Old religious traditions of Portuguese have continued to be practiced five centuries later in the ethnically mixed Catholic community in East Harlem, New York were she raised her children. This long awaited Cohen of Georgetown, South Carolina narrative covering three hundred years was written for daughters and granddaughters; because not much has been written on familial relationships of Portuguese Jews, Free Persons of Color, or enslaved “Geechee” people of West Africa on low country plantations, or modern-day Cohen descendants, who faithfully continue to practice ritual traditions many generations later. Our mother a Cohen descendant continued to light candles before dark on Friday, and cleaning her home in East Harlem in preparation for the most important day of Passover, and kept a Hebrew Calendar though hidden, though most meaning had long ago been lost of Portuguese Jews (Crypto-Jews, Marranos), forced to become “Secret Jews”, after the Inquisition.
Author's Copyright 2010
Sadie Day Pasha, Professional Genealogist
Independent Researcher for Hire
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC
- Syracuse UniversityInformation Studies, Public Communications
- Boston UniversityDental Science
- National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DCResearcher for Hire, presentProfessional Genealogist and Family Historian specializing in the family history of descendants of Sephardim (Secret Jews) of Spain and Portugal living in America.
Independent Researcher for Hire National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC