Savannah’s hidden history: Mulberry Grove

Courtesy: Georgia Historical Society

It’s a place of monumental historical significance and yet the vast majority of those who live in Savannah have never been there. It’s called Mulberry Grove, a former plantation that sits on a Savannah River bluff upstream from downtown on land that is owned by the Georgia Ports Authority.

A historical marker about Mulberry Grove can be found on Highway 21 in Port Wentworth and tour guides talk about it, but it’s not open to the public.

The plantation belonged to Nathanael Greene – a general for the Continental Army in the American Revolution. After his death, his widow hosted a visitor that would become famous.

“Mulberry Grove has special interest for me because that would change everything,” said Vaughnette Goode-Walker, a historian and tour guide, about the place where a young Yale lawyer named Eli Whitney came to visit in 1793. “Eli Whitney comes to the Mulberry Grove plantation and there he would patent the cotton gin.”

Though its past is significant, its present is mostly a collection of moss-covered bricks that lack a consistent pattern.

“I think it’s really ground zero for American history, post revolution,” said Stan Deaton with the Georgia Historical Society. Deaton said it’s a place that inspires mixed emotions: a beautiful site with a tragic past.

“The ripple effect of what came out of here can’t be calculated and if you want to take it to its logical progression, you run up into the American Civil War,” Deaton said.

Whitney’s cotton gin made the crop easier to handle by removing the seeds; it created a big demand for cotton and, therefore, for slaves.

“What happens here is you get a region of the country that is dedicated to an economic system that for better or worse is going to become a major part of American politics, as people began to argue over the direction of the country: What is desirable; what is not? What is moral; what is not? It really all begins right here,” Deaton said.

Here, is a place that is off limits to the public — with no infrastructure to support visitors by land or by water.

“I think the big question is, does the state of Georgia have a responsibility to make this place accessible to more people because of the story that is to be told or the experience that is to be gained?” said Deaton. “You can understand slavery better in a place like this because it physically crawls up on you out here.”

While the ongoing discussion about the future continues, Deaton says one thing is for sure: Mulberry Grove should be preserved in some form.

“Depending on who you talk to, this is sacred ground for all kinds of reasons,” Deaton said.

That’s the case for Vaughnette Goode-Walker — one of the few to have visited the site.

“The question was put to me, ‘Do you think that this place, that these ancestors should be memorialized?’ No, they just need to be remembered,” said Goode-Walker. “If it’s gone, why rebuild it? I don’t think that that’s a good thing. I think the land itself is rich enough in its story. I just want people to remember those Africans at Mulberry Grove.”

The state of Georgia can technically do whatever it wants with the Mulberry Grove site, but the Georgia Ports Authority said there are no plans to disturb it or develop it.

Courtesy: Georgia Historical Society

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