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First African Baptist Church

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Found on Franklin Square, the First African Baptist Church is the oldest black church in North America. Founded by slaves in 1775, it has a history nearly as old as Savannah itself.

First African Baptist Church

From the outside, the church isn’t terribly impressive, but that changes once you step indoors. The interior is beautiful, with curved pews pointing towards the pulpit and a pair of upper balconies for busy days. The church was built by the charity and volunteer efforts of slaves who, as you might imagine, didn’t have much extra money or free time. But over the course of four years, they got the job done, coming straight from their regular labor to work through the night on the construction of this church.

Our tour was fascinating, and our guide seemed to have a never-ending series of anecdotes, which demonstrated that the First African Baptist Church was much more than it seemed.

For example, the church was built with a secret floor underneath its real floor, and operated as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Never discovered by authorities, the crawlspace hid hundreds of runaway slaves and a tunnel led them from the church to the Savannah River. To mask their true purpose, the floor’s breathing holes were bored in the shape of the Kongo Cosmogram: an African spiritual symbol often used by American slaves.

Kongo Cosmogram

Another secret in the church is found in its ceiling, which looks rather plain at first glance, like waffle squares. But theses squares represent the Nine-Patch Quilts, which served as beacons for indicating safe houses to slaves on the run, and so the ceiling is a clever tribute to the church’s hidden humanitarian purpose.

Also, on the ends of each pew, all of which are original and date back hundreds of years, the wavy lines of cursive Hebrew have been scratched into the wood. Our guide wasn’t able to translate any of the words, but he did tell us that a few Ethiopian tourists had visited recently and instantly recognized it. Apparently, it’s still used by Jewish communities in Africa.

Kongo Cosmograms, Underground Railroad Patchwork, Cursive Hebrew… now this is the kind of unexpected history which totally interests me! If you’re the same, make sure to visit the First African Baptist Church, either for the tour or for the Sunday service.

First African Baptist Church – Website
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January 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm Comments (7)

Arrrr, Matey! Dinner at the Pirate’s House

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The Pirate’s House, on the northeastern corner of Savannah, is thought to be Georgia’s oldest building, and is certainly one of its most famous. Captain Flint, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is said to have died here after drinking too much rum.

Pirate House Savannah

Now, this is a touristy place, so you shouldn’t go expecting fine cuisine. But much like Paula Deen’s restaurant, the Pirate House a Savannah institution and we felt compelled to check it out. Our food was decent, if a little overpriced. But that’s to be expected; at the Pirate House, you’re paying as much for the experience as the dinner. We started with fried pickle slices, and I had a kind of seafood lasagna bake. “Arrr, delicious! Fry me pickles and bake me fish!”

I kept up the pirate voice, having a big time, until Jürgen begged me to knock it off. “Arrrr, I be annoying to me matey!”

Legends abound in the Pirate’s House, including one that concerns the underground tunnels leading from the basement of the house into the sea. These tunnels were used to shanghai drunken sailors: villains would wait until they had passed out, then steal them away onto ships bound for unknown destinations. The “Pirate’s House” was a rough, dangerous place, and normal 18th-century Savannahians knew to stay well away from it.

After our meal, our waitress led us on a tour of the house. She explained its history, and showed us into the haunted Herb House, the oldest structure in Savannah. It’s also the the restaurant’s fanciest dining room, available for parties.

We had a good time at the Pirate’s House. It’s fun to simply be inside a building with so much history. And should you wear an eye-patch, and insist on talking in pirate-voice to your dinner companions, you’ll enjoy yourself even more. But they might not.

The Pirate’s House – Website
Location on our Savannah Map

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December 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm Comments (4)
First African Baptist Church Found on Franklin Square, the First African Baptist Church is the oldest black church in North America. Founded by slaves in 1775, it has a history nearly as old as Savannah itself.
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