Legree, Jr. Joseph
A living legacy in the St. Helena community, Joseph “Cap’n Crip” Legree, Jr. has spent his life preserving the cultural values and traditions of his Gullah ancestors. A community partner with Penn Center for more than 20 years, Legree contributes to the oral history and folklife of the Gullah people by demonstrating the craft of cast net weaving as a presenter at the Center’s annual Heritage Days Celebration. For decades Legree has demonstrated the connection between Gullah culture in South Carolina and West African art forms to dozens of groups of all ages.
Legree was born April 4, 1924, the second of Joseph Legree Sr. and Geneva Brown Legree’s 14 children. He attended Frogmore School until third grade, when he began working the fields to help support his parents and siblings. He learned how to crab from his father, and began working the river by the time he was seventeen. He learned the art of cast net making from a fellow St. Helena resident, Mr. Harry Owens, when they worked together on an oyster boat. Legree weaves nets for fishing and shrimping and bases the size of the net on the height of the caster. Admiration for Legree’s skill led local author Pierre McGowan to include him in two books about life on the barrier islands.
Nearing 85, Legree has survived both his wives, Jannie Holmes Legree and Clara Byas Legree, and is the father of 6 living children. Legree has 23 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. While one of his nephews and one grandson have learned how to partially construct a net, none of his family members have fully cultivated Legree’s skill. He would like to ensure a family member is able to construct a cast net from start to finish. Fortunately, one of Legree’s grandsons has shown an interest in learning the art form and hopes to begin working as his apprentice this summer. Today, Legree volunteers much of his time driving family and friends to appointments and other activities. He still spends time on the water, but now he does it for pleasure rather than necessity. Though he lives independently, he takes pride in being surrounded by family. He still finds joy in making cast nets and sharing his recipes at family gatherings. Legree received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2009.