Religion in Mitchelville
Before Mitchelville was established, African slaves on the island congregated at impromptu religious services under trees. The churches built in Mitchelville were the center of religious, social, political, and educational life. Following Reconstruction, when legal avenues were increasingly closed to African Americans, the church became the legal foundation for the community. Residents of Mitchelville founded the First African Baptist Church in 1862. In 1865 AME Missionaries and residents founded Queen Chapel AME Church. Both churches continue to serve the spiritual needs of Hilton Head Island.
The vibrant religious practices of African Americans of Gullah descent, former Sea Island slaves, such as the ring shout, were little understood by outsiders, especially the Northerners on Hilton Head Island. A reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer described religious meetings February 1862: Their meetings, are held twice or three times on Sundays, also on Thursday and Friday. They are conducted with fervent devotion by themselves alone, or in the presences of a white clergyman when the services of one are procurable. They close with what is "a glory shout," one joining hands with another, together in couples, singing a verse and beating time With foot.
Mitchelville was the first town in the South to make school mandatory. All children, ages six to fifteen, attended schools taught by northern missionaries. Children were only excused if they were needed to help their parents and if the teacher approved. Parents in Mitchelville were very involved in their children's education and they often chose one school over another if they thought a teacher was better suited to their children's needs. Parents gave presents to teachers and donated supplies to encourage certain teachers to remain in their community. Schools also had night classes designed for adult students.