As isolated as Mathews is from the main stream--and trust me, it is--there is a section of nearby Gloucester County where isolation has been elevated to legendary status. That area, of course, is Guinea.
Much has been said but very little written about Guinea. Most of the stories, folktales, rumors and legends revolve around the rough-and-tumble nature of the people: their fierce temper; their unique dialect; and in some versions of the stories even webbed feet, which may explain their affinity for boots.
(My family, like everyone else around here who is at or below sea level on a good day, owns several pair of Guinea boots. They come in very handy, especially during nor'easters. I've even seen Chesapeake Bay Mother wearing Guinea boots to feed Gustav the Killer Goose. But this isn't really about Guinea boots, Gustave, killer geese or webbed feet. At least I don't think it is.)
I'm not here to state that any of their reputation is true--especially that part about the webbed feet--but the stories persist.
Let's now pause for a public service announcement intended to protect CBW from bodily harm from an irate Guineaman.
Dear Reader Who May Be From Guinea,
I love Guinea and spent many a happy weekend there in my youth riding a pony named Satan. I'm sure that name had nothing to do with anyone's temperament or anything. Surely it was just a quirky coincidence
Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I'm not suggesting anyone in your midst has
OK, now that we've taken care of that, let's continue.
Someone who interviewed people from Guinea in the 1960s contacted me recently after coming across this blog. We have been e-mailing back and forth about the rumors and stories. He's trying to pinpoint the genesis of the Guinea reputation. Although he's heard many possible theories, he's not convinced any of them are 100% accurate (or even 25% for that matter). He also says the stories keep "popping up like prairie dogs out of their holes."
Below is an excerpt from an e-mail he sent on the topic of how Guinea came to be:
"The best story is that they were deserters from the Cornwallis gang--mercenaries for the British at Yorktown. What bull. Think of all the German names handed down in Guinea. Total laugh. They were more than likely just British immigrants. Since a lot of them had English names they could have been ex-British guys from that army but I don't think they would necessarily have been welcome locally.
Another story involves some kind of ship--pirate or something--that wrecked off Big Island. Supposedly the guys had to walk ashore and then went on to settle there. But where is that wreck and why isn't the location and bones of it passed down in oral history? Folks up county were trying to explain why the guys down there were different."
Wikipedia postulates the following about Guinea:
One area of Gloucester County is known as Guinea, which includes the unincorporated communities of Achilles, Bena, Severn, and Big Island. Located near Gloucester Point, the area has historically been the center of the seafood industry of the county. Founding families of Gloucester, such as Shackelford, Rowe, West, Jenkins, Green, Kellum and Belvin, were long involved in the industry. While the industry has declined over the years, it still remains the cultural core of the community. The watermen are known locally as "Guineamen." Guineamen speak a distinct, heavily accented form of non-rhotic Southern Vernacular English.
The name "Guinea" is of uncertain origin. A commonly held but incorrect explanation is that it was named "Guinea" to deride Loyalists who quartered Hessian mercenaries during the Revolutionary War, soldiers who were paid one guinea per day. The Hessians were attached to Cornwallis' army. They were believed to have occupied lower Gloucester during the closing days of the Revolutionary War or deserted their service fighting for the British. Cornwallis sent British troops and cavalry to occupy Gloucester in October 1781, and Hessians may have been a part of that contingency and were sent to secure lower Gloucester due to its strategic importance at the mouth of the York River.
But, the area in the upper part of the neck was called "Little Guinea" prior to the Yorktown campaign. The marshy, somewhat isolated peninsula was a haven for British deserters. After the surrender of Cornwallis, British prisoners in Gloucester County were allowed to wander about without confinement or guards.
My mother, who hails from Gloucester, has shared some of her Guinea stories, one of which I wrote about on this blog back in January. (Click here for that trip down Memory Lane.) That post pretty much covers their reputation
and webbed feet but doesn't delve into the questions of how Guinea came to be and the origins of that reputation.
If there is anyone reading who has stories--even shreds of information--related to Guinea, please leave a comment. You may also e-mail me at ChesapeakeBayWoman@gmail.com if you wish.
What do you know about the early inhabitants of Guinea, and where did you hear/learn the information?
How did Guinea get its name?
What stories have you heard and who told you?
Can anyone cite specific incidents that might have spawned the reputation so commonly associated with the area?
Are they descended from pirates? Mercenaries?
Aside from the physical isolation, what may have contributed to the legends and reputation that persist about the temperament of the people?
p.s. As far as the temperament of the people go, most anyone will say (in the same breath as telling you the stories) that people from Guinea are "as good as gold." My personal experience with anyone from Guinea (ponies named Satan aside) supports that gold theory.
And lest anyone think I'm picking on Guinea and Gloucester County, rest assured Mathews is merely North Guinea or Guinea Extended. We are quirky, we're different, we're isolated, and we are proud of our unique way of life. We may be a cast of characters--oh, what a cast--but you won't find a more generous, giving, close-knit community, even if
Have a great weekend.