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Abbie Christensen and the Gullah Tales
of Port Royal, S.C.
The papers of the Christensen Family document over 175 years in the lives of several generations of individuals with ties to South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Denmark. The collection chronicles the lives of the family of Niels Christensen (1840-1909), a native of Denmark and a Union soldier, and his wife, Abbie Holmes Christensen (1852-1938), a native of Massachusetts who settled in Beaufort with her family at the close of the Civil War.
Newspaper clipping, "Uncle Mingo's Bridge Scheme," circa 1880s
Abbie Holmes Christensen realized the importance of preserving the Gullah folktales of lowcountry South Carolina.
The family was very active in the civic and business community of Beaufort, South Carolina. They were also active in the temperance, suffrage, and civil rights movements in both South Carolina and Massachusetts and were founders of the Port Royal Agricultural School, a school for African Americans in Beaufort.
The papers reveal Abbie's role in the evolving ethnic and social fabric of low country South Carolina immediately following Reconstruction, as well as her involvement in the suffrage movement and her interests in holistic medicine and alternative religions. The papers also document Abbie's career as a folklore writer.
Views of Beaufort, S.C., during Abbie Christensen's day. Left: "An antebellem residence," circa 1930s
Right: "Bay St. looking East," circa 1920s
Read a detailed description of the Christensen family papers in the Library's 1999 Annual Program
describing recent acquisitions.
As a young woman, Abbie pursued her formal education at the Ipswich Female Seminary and later at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. The liberal education and strong support base she received at these two prestigious institutions provided encouragement for her to pursue her interests in writing and folklore. Abbie transformed a childhood fascination with Gullah culture and an interest in African-American folklore into a writing career. She compiled and recorded the folk tales she heard on a daily basis in Beaufort - something she had started to do at Mount Holyoke.
Left: Handwritten text of a tale.
Right: Newspaper review of Abbie's book, Afro-American Folk Lore Told Round Cabin Fires in the Sea Islands of South Carolina, circa 1892.
Her first story, "De Wolf, De Rabbit An' De Tar Baby" was published in The Springfield Daily Republican on June 2, 1874. With encouragement from her family and former professors, she continued seeking publication for the tales. Abbie hoped to share her fascination with the allegorical tales with an audience outside of Port Royal and the South. She realized the importance of preserving and disseminating the oral tradition and legacy of Gullah folktales. Her success at capturing the Gullah dialect enabled her to publish the stories fairly regularly throughout the 1870s and 1880s.
Abbie's writing career culminated in 1892 with the publication of Afro-American Folk Lore Told Round Cabin Fires in the Sea Islands of South Carolina.
-- Meg Moughan
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