Mitchelville: The Gateway To Freedom

by | Jun 27, 2005

The Unitarian Fellowship of Hilton Head Island hosted a service by Johnnie Mitchell this morning. Mitchell is a native islander who is passionate about the preservation and promotion of the Gullah culture. As part of her efforts, she has written extensively on Native-Gullah history and culture, and she co-owns De Gullah Creations at The Mall at Shelter Cove.


The church service was part of a larger celebration this weekend honoring Mitchelville—the first Freedmen’s village in the United States, formed in 1862 and called for by Union General Ormsby Mitchell. Descendents of the Mitchell family were in attendance this morning.

According to Organization of American Historians, former Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt, on a visit to Beaufort in 2000 challenged community leaders to work together to provide opportunities for the public to learn more about Reconstruction era sites in the county. Including:

– the Penn School for former slaves founded in 1862 and located on St. Helena Island

– the Old Fort Plantation on the Beaufort River where the first African Americans assembled on 1 January 1863 to hear the reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation

– the Freedmen’s Bureau housed in the recently restored Beaufort College

– the Beaufort Arsenal where free slaves in Beaufort voted for the first time

– the first Freedmen’s Village of Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island

– many other noteworthy historic buildings and archeological sites associated with the Civil War hero and Reconstruction leader Robert Smalls