Tag Archives: Spring Bluff GA

Front Gable House, Spring Bluff

This vernacular house form, once quite common, is endangered today on the coast. Though it was a widespread utilitarian form, in Georgia it’s most associated with Geechee-Gullah people. Similar examples survive on Sapelo Island, among other historic Black communities.

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Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Bluff

Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church is an historic congregation, but other than its association with a tragic unsolved murder case, I haven’t been able to locate any of its history. It’s one of several important early Black churches near the Satilla River in Camden County.I determined it’s an old congregation due to the historic cemetery.

Though the congregation has not allowed itself to be defined by a well-known tragedy, and has thrived in fact, Rising Daughter has been known to the outside world for the events of 11 March 1985. At a missionary meeting on that date, a white man interrupted the proceedings and senselessly shot and killed Deacon Harold Swain and his wife Thelma inside the church, with no apparent motive. Witnesses noted that the intruder pointed to Harold Swain and specifically asked to speak to him. As Mr. Swain walked toward the entryway to speak to man, his wife followed. She was shot once and Mr. Swain was shot four times. The only real evidence was a pair of glasses left by the shooter at the scene, and a composite sketch made by descriptions from some of the ladies who were in the church for the meeting. No one was arrested for nearly 15 years.

A new investigator came on the scene in 1998 and his focus turned to Dennis Perry, who was arrested and ultimately convicted of the crime in 2000, an election year. Perry had been an early suspect, based on an identification made from the composite sketch and the presumably false testimony of a woman (now deceased) who collected a reward, unbeknownst to jurors at the time. Fast forward to 2020, and Dennis Perry has been exonerated, thanks to the work of the Georgia Innocence Project and irrefutable DNA evidence. Today, he is a free man.

A possible DNA match is being investigated by those who have reopened the case and hopefully justice will finally be done, most importantly for the loved ones of the Swain family.

Rising Daughter Cemetery

Rising Daughter Cemetery has quite a few important vernacular monuments, including two of the Madonna monuments detailed here. A few random examples are documented below.

Butler Baker (23 March 1906-11 December 1970)
David Scott (22 March 1895-15 August 1958)
Bertha Ann Hampton (20 May 1952-17 September 1952). The headstones of the two Hampton children feature a cross made from readily available bathroom tile. A nice touch is the pink tile for the daughter and the blue tile for the son.
Michael E. Hampton (5 July 1952-18 July 1958)
Sylvia Scott (6 January 1860-27 March 1938)
Ester Flagg (9 December 1915-1 July 1943). The name on the headstone is “Easter”.

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African-American Madonna Monuments of Camden County

Detail of Green Monument, Clinch Chapel Cemetery

I recently documented an eclectic collection of Black cemetery monuments at three locations in Camden County with Cynthia Jennings. Remarkable testaments to African-American ingenuity, they date from the 1920s to the 1940s and are all in the form of a European version of the Madonna (Mary). [I have identified them as “African-American” because of their appropriation by these historic communities].

They appear to have been made using a cast, though all have slight variations. Whether made by a local funeral home or an individual, the monuments have at least one vernacular element: the handwritten identifications of the decedents. While some appear to be distinct, it’s more likely the effect of nearly a century of exposure to the elements.

A review of active black funeral homes in Camden County in the 1930s might be a clue as to their history. Chrissy Chapman has documented these amazing memorials, as well, and has located at least one more, in a plantation cemetery, which we hope to explore after hunting season. Chrissy’s photographs, made a few years ago, reveal a possible maker’s name, which I hope to share later.

It is my hope that by preserving these places photographically, they will be of some use to historians and genealogists in the future. It seems certain that they will all be unreadable within the next decade or so but they should be added to the growing list of important African-American vernacular landmarks in Georgia and celebrated as such.

The Monuments

Grace Scarlett/Scarlott (1855-17 December 1936), Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Bluff. Like the next monument pictured, this one is paired with a secondary marker, perhaps indicating that Grace Scarlott died in childbirth and the secondary marker represents her lost child. It is believed that the two visible “bumps” atop Grace’s monument are evidence that the figure was once topped with a crown, as is typical in depictions of Mary.
Flossie/Flossy Scott Fisher (1899-7 November 1939), Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Bluff. Cynthia Jennings discovered that Mrs. Fisher died in childbirth and puports that the second stone memorializes her infant, also lost at birth.
Maggie Green (Birth and death dates unknown), Clinch Chapel Cemetery, Tarboro.
Sina Green (Birth and death dates unknown), Oak Hill Cemetery, Camden County. Cynthia Jennings has discovered that Mrs. Green’s husband, Anthony Green, served in the United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War and received a pension. The churchyard is located near the Rains Landing Community.
Detail of Green Monument, Oak Hill Cemetery

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