Freedmen school & monastery

Malaria & Mosquito Control

I was pretty sick last weekend, nothing unfixable, but something that definitely will have to be fixed. Immobile for 30 minutes while a machine took pictures of my insides, I contemplated 1870s medicine (and what IS that thing stuck to the ceiling?). The Benedictines at Skidaway Island’s monastery and Freedmen school were often ill from malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Father Oswald frequently writes to Abbot Boniface about the monks’ health troubles. Many religious only stayed on Skidaway for months or a year before requesting a return to St. Vincent or elsewhere, anywhere north, and away from the mosquitoes.

Studying a letter from Father Oswald at Skidaway Island to Abbot Boniface, St. Vincent Abbey, Pennsylvania, on my back porch while contemplating modern medicine.

Bro Alphons is sick in the hospital in Savannah, this day a week ago, I gave him the last Sacraments, now he is recovering, but still he will never be strong.”

Courtesy of Benedictine military school archives

Brother Alphonse Schoene is often referenced as suffering from illness but was present throughout nearly monastery’s entire existence. In August of 1878, Father Oswald administered the last sacrament, but Alphonse recovered. A month later, Father Oswald wrote, “Poor Bro Alphons is at the hospital again in Savannah, he has dispepsy in a high degree, these many years already; and the fever besides”. Alphonse’s stomach trouble (the dyspepsia) was attributed to his childhood, but not further explained.

The treatment for malaria was quinine, which is no longer very effective and therefore not recommended. Today there are stronger drugs, with pretty wicked side effects for some people. Historically, when quinine was ineffective, doctors recommended traveling north to allow the body to heal without danger of constant re-infection. This was the case with another malaria victim, Brother Ignatius. In September, 1879, Father Melchior reported, “Brother Ignatius is almost continuously sick. He has not worked one day for the last week”. By November, Father Oswald requested Brother Ignatius’ reassignment “because the Doctor told him he cannot get well again here as his system is filled with Malaria, which consists in little animals that pass from the Atmosphere into the blood and regenerate and propagate themselves in the blood, and which can be killed only by Quinine,  or a preparation of Peruvian bark”. However, quinine is not effective in everyone. Poor Brother Ignatius had been “sick continually since June” and hospitalized repeatedly. Father Oswald regretted losing him and wrote very highly of him as a modest, pious man who was the best carpenter on Skidaway. Brother Ignatius was transferred back his native Pennsylvania by the end of 1879 and spent the rest of his life working throughout western Pennsylvania including Pittsburg in 1890s and Mount Pleasant, a small town near St. Vincent around 1900.  Brother Ignatius died in 1914 at the age of 62 and is buried in the St. Vincent cemetery. 

Today, of course, we know the “little animals” are actually a parasite, which get into your bloodstream via infected mosquitos. Mosquito Control with its little yellow helicopter is not just making our lives less itchy by killing mosquitos, but reducing disease transmission by killing the mosquitos that carry malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Dengue virus, and others. While spewing nasty chemicals everywhere can give one pause, I’ve spoken with the pilots and entomologist at Mosquito Control, and they love to talk about their mission. They have a great website too, including a “Skeeter Meeter”, a mosquito forecast for the week.

** all original sources courtesy of Benedictine Military School Archives

Freedmen school & monastery

Pride Month: One Historical perspective

For nearly four years, I have been researching the Benedictine monastery and Freedmen school on Skidaway Island, first through archaeological field work in 2016 and 2017. Since I have continued my historical research with the goal to write a book. This monastery was one of several started in 1870s Savannah, with the aim to convert the African American families living and farming on Skidaway Island, teach boys in their boarding school, and train adult African American lay brothers to further spread Catholicism.

One of the richest data sources are the letters between the monks. Most, but not all, of the letters are the Skidaway mission founder Father Oswald Moosmüller reporting to his superior Abbot Boniface Wimmer at St. Vincent Abbey in Pennsylvania. In one letter, I was quite shocked to find a reference to gay sex. Really I was shocked to find any reference to sex, because these were monks. In March of 1878, Father Oswald wrote to Abbot Innocent Wolf of Kansas (honestly, the best name ever) and explained why he dismissed an unnamed African American lay brother,

“Yesterday I found myself obliged to raise a row and expel that fellow, after having heard two witnesses in his presence, which proved that he is a Sodomist etc. etc. I claimed that right for myself 1, because there was periculum in mora* 2, if I have the right to receive brothers & let them make their novitiate and take their vows so I have also the right to dismiss them; 3, moreover according to the laws of Georgia there is capital punishment on such crimes; with a nigro [sic] they do not make much ceremony in that matter”.

source: Benedictine Military SChool Archives, Savannah, Georgia

It is unclear whether Father Oswald means that homosexuality is rarely tried and punished when African Americans are involved, or whether an African American accused of homosexuality would simply be lynched without a trial. Either way, Father Oswald expelled the man without further mention. While this man lost his home and possibly his vocation, according to the contemporary laws, he could have lost much more. The punishment for having an LGBT+ relationship was capital punishment. You could be put to death. Pause for a moment and consider those implications.

This document leaves so much unexplained. Nothing is mentioned of his partner. Presumably, it was not someone in the monastery, as no one else was expelled. So his partner was likely another person on Skidaway Island. Further, since we do not have the man’s name, it is nearly impossible to trace his life further. Did he leave the island? Did he leave the Catholic faith? How did he make a living? Did he ever get married or have children?

*Latin for “danger in delay”

Backyard History, Kiah House

Happy 108th Birthday, Virginia Kiah!

To celebrate Virginia Kiah’s 108th Birthday and kick-off renewed efforts to memorialize her legacy, we are hosting a series of events leading up to June 3rd, Mrs. Kiah’s birthday. The “we” of this are: Friends of the Kiah House Museum, Center for the Study of African and African Diaspora Museums and Communities (CFSAADMC), Historic Cuyler Brownsville Neighborhood Development, Inc., and Savannah Archaeological Alliance. Please feel free to attend all or some of the events. If you can’t attend, consider buying a t-shirt to support the cause. Money from the t-shirts will go towards a Kiah House historical marker.

Caring for Creation: “Art is in Everything”

A Birthday Celebration for Virginia Kiah, Kiah Museum Founder

Caring for Creation Then and Now:

Georgia Black Museum and Black Folk Remedies Exhibition

Friday May 31, 2019 Exhibit Reception, 4-7pm

Savannah State University, Social Sciences Building‘s Social Science Gallery

Exhibit runs June 1- June 30, 2019

About the Exhibition: Savannah State University students from the Introduction to Anthropology class and CFSAADMC members’ research of Georgia Black Museums in partnership with the St. Joseph’s Candler African American Health Center project on Black Folk Remedies present their results in an exhibition featuring the ethnographic fieldwork of students and others to collect the oral history home remedies among African American Families in the Georgia Low Country. Also learn about the proposed Museum Administration Certificate Program.

Exhibition Curator (s): Tina Hicks, Ella Williamson (AAH) Black Folk Remedies, Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon- SSU Anthropology

Contact(s) Otilia Iancu -Director MPA at SSU, iancuo@savannahstate.edu 


Caring for Community Cultural Heritage:

Cuyler-Brownville Living History Walk

Saturday, June 1, 2019, 10:00 AM- 3:00 PM

Join us on a walking tour of Cuyler-Brownville’s historic sites, including Dr. & Mrs. Virginia Jackson Kiah’s home and museum, followed by picnic in Floyd “Pressboy” Adams Park (32nd and Cuyler Streets). The walking tour will begin at 10am at the park and end in the same location. The walk will help show community support for a historical marker.

Contact(s):

Jan Fox – Historic Cuyler Brownsville Neighborhood Development, Inc.

Laura Seifert- Savannah Archaeology Alliance (SAA)

Youth Organizers

Essence Irvin

Shanell Byfield


Caring for Church Religious Heritage:

Worship at Asbury United Methodist Church

Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 11AM

Contact(s): Pastor Debora Shinholster Richards, (912) 236-4792

Organizers: Juanita Tucker, Carolyn Fletcher, Vincent Hamilton

1201 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31401

Come and worship at the home church of Dr. Calvin and Virginia Kiah. A program insert is being prepared with collected birthday wishes a special memories of Mrs. Kiah.  Also, a handout of her favorite song that can be taken by those attending the service who want to go with the Friends of the Kiah Museum to wreath-laying at the gravesite. Mr. Vincent Hamilton, former student of Mrs. Kiah and Asbury Lay Leader has been asked to officiate the gravesite ceremony.

The Gravesite Visit and Wreath Ceremony is at Hillcrest Abbey East, 1600 Wheaton St, Savannah, GA, immediately following morning worship.


Image from https://www.savannah.com/savannahs-history-beach-institute/

Caring for Family and Ancestor Knowledge:

Genealogy Research Support Center (GRSC) at the Beach Institute and Cultural Center 

Monday, June 3, 2019, 10:00 AM-3:00 PM

Genealogy Workshop

Contact(s): Ron Christopher, 502 Harris St, Savannah, GA 31402

Finding Family – How Hard Can It Be?

Historic Savannah Church Historians and Family Historians, You’re Invited! It’s a time for caring and sharing your family stories and learn about the newest place in town that wants to care for your family stories from Savannah and throughout the African Diaspora. Schedule for the workshop is forthcoming.

Workshop experts include:

Genealogy Specialist- Mrs. Dorothy Tuck, (Celebrated Researcher of Megan Markel Georgia Ancestry) Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties-The Brown House, McDonough, GA

Amir Jamal Touré, J.D., a professor at Savannah State University (SSU) in the Africana studies program.

Library Specialist – Sharen Lee, Bull Street Library Genealogy Room Savannah, GA

Dr. Alena Pirok– Public Historian GSU-Armstrong Development of Free and Enslaved People of Savannah Database