By Taylor Davis, JIA Historic Preservationist
The Jekyll Island Foundation is pleased to announce the award of a grant from the Friends of Coastal Georgia History to fund upgrades and enhancements to the Wanderer Memory Trail. Located at the south end of Jekyll Island in the St. Andrews picnic area, the Trail serves as an interactive, educational experience meant to interpret the event of the ship, Wanderer, coming aground on Jekyll Island. The site is designated a ‘Site of Memory’ under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Slave Route Project, an international initiative that works to discover details about and promote awareness of the transatlantic slave trade and history of slavery.
The Wanderer was the second to last documented ship to bring an illegal cargo of people from Africa to the United States and on November 28, 1858, more than 400 enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of Jekyll Island, leaving behind one deadly journey only to begin another. Wanderer survivors consisted of kidnapped children, captive warriors, ambushed traders, and African royalty, with the majority being boys between 13 and 18 years old.
In 2018, the Jekyll Island Authority enhanced a tribute previously built in honor of the Wanderer Survivors, by replacing existing historical site markers—erected in modern day St. Andrews Beach Park where the Wanderer ran aground attempting to enter Jekyll Creek—with a permanent multimedia installation that offers greater interactive opportunities for education and understanding. Made up of eight (8) individual exhibits, the Trail walks visitors through the story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on the ship, from when he was captured until he is freed. Historical information is also included along the way to aid parents/caregivers in the explanation of context and complex issues to children.
In the years since the Trail was built, the Authority has tended the exhibit, observing its usage, and seeking feedback on the guest experience. A series of enhancements and improvements were identified that take advantage of current technological advances and more effective storytelling aides to ensure visitor enjoyment as well as appropriate interpretation of complex and compelling historical and educational narratives. Improvements include an additional solar-powered audio station with new oral histories, repair of a solar panel on a current audio station, rerouting the trail to improve visitor safety while lowering the impact of visitors on the adjacent natural environment, and replacing and/or redesigning damaged (i.e., by weather) interpretive exhibits to withstand the elements and repeated interactions with visitors. Enhancements are expected to be complete by mid-spring 2022.