David Lauderdale

Lauderdale: Daufuskie midwife carriage ‘rides again’ to celebrate Gullah heritage

Sarah Grant in 1969
Sarah Grant in 1969 Photo courtesy Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation

Gullah midwife Sarah Grant delivered 130 babies on Daufuskie Island without losing a one.

Her house calls lasted a week, and her fee was $5, later soaring to $10.

Sarah’s husband, Joseph Grant, was the undertaker on the quiet island with no bridge. When she took over the business after he died, the Gullah said, “Granny bring ’em ’n she tek ’em away.”

Heavy clouds on Saturday afternoon didn’t stop a Daufuskie celebration that her remarkable story won’t be taken away.

The little horse-drawn carriage Sarah Grant used for years was officially welcomed back to Daufuskie after being restored by Pennsylvania Amish. Ella Mae Jenkins of Daufuskie cut the ribbon. She is the mother of the last baby that Sarah Grant delivered. Modern mothers then had to cross the water to give birth.

At least two babies delivered by Sarah Grant were to speak at the ceremony: cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson and fellow Pat Conroy student Ervin Simmons, head of a foundation working to keep alive the fading Gullah presence on Daufuskie.

“We want people to know how significant the culture was here,” said Jo Hill of Haig Point, who chairs the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation.

The historical foundation raised the money for the restoration, as well as a carriage house where the carriage and information boards are on display at its museum.

Meanwhile, longtime Daufuskie businessman Wick Scurry also is trying to guide the island’s future by grasping its past. He has bought the Bloody Point Lighthouse, where he displays historical artifacts. And he is planting Carolina Gold rice, cotton and indigo so people can touch the island’s heritage. He also hopes to restore Daufuskie’s winery.

Sarah Grant was quite a figure on Daufuskie. She was the first PTA president at the Mary Field School, where Conroy taught. He turned his experience into his first writing success, “The Water is Wide.”

She was a midwife from 1932 to 1969, the historical foundation says. She also was a “box worker” on election day, and community leader. She was born in Albany, Ga., in 1888, married in 1917, and died in 1977.

When you consider that Daufuskie didn’t have electricity until 1952, phone service until 1972, and still does not have a bridge, it’s easy to see how it could be a place that time forgot, said Jo Hill. But today’s islanders don’t want the pluck of those who lived there to be forgotten.

The late Billie Burn gave Sarah Grant’s carriage to the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation not long after it was established in 2001. She wrote a history of Daufuskie, and over the years she was given many keepsakes like the carriage that islanders thought should not be thrown away.

The restoration was tricky. The old carriage was barged to the mainland and driven in a rental truck to the Leola Coach Shop in Leola, Pa., which still sells and repairs horse carriages. Because the owners are Amish, they could not communicate by email. But they could use a telephone for business purposes from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays, Hill said.

The Amish discovered a manufacturers’ plate beneath the carriage’s many coats of black paint. It was made in the 1890s by the Chatham Carriage Co. in Savannah. The spindle back runabout was light enough for Sarah Grant to easily hitch it to her horse named Tillman. She bought it in the 1930s from the Goodwin family who moved to Daufuskie from Savannah, Hill said.

The carriage restoration is the third major project for the foundation. It bought an acre of land and restored an old church building as a museum. Volunteer docents are there from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. And it leases an old one-room schoolhouse across the street, which it transformed into the Janie Hamilton School and Gullah Learning Center.

The foundation’s efforts have been recognized by the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, the S.C. Department of Archives and History, the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation and the office of the governor.

And so it is that Sarah Grant’s carriage rides again, delivering new life to old sea island stories.