Lowcountry Mourning Beloved “Gullah Matriarch” Who Published Her First Cookbook At 89

Bestselling author Emily Meggett died last week at the age of 90.

The culinary world is mourning the loss of Emily Meggett, known as the Gullah matriarch of Edisto Island. Meggett died on April 21 after a brief illness. She was 90 years old. 

Meggett, who never once used a cookbook or recipe, shot to national fame last year when she published her own cookbook at the age of 89. Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Matriarch of Edisto Island, her first and only publication, went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

"A lot of times, we has a treasure in our head. And we will die and go to heaven, and take that treasury with us,” Meggett told WFAE back in 2022. “And why can't we just share it with somebody else here? I'll get more out of that, to share it."

Emily Meggett


Meggett was born on the South Carolina island on November 19, 1932, and lived there for her entire life. A descendant of the Gullah-Geechee people, she learned to cook from her grandmother and spent half a century cooking in the vacation homes of wealthy white families. 

Featuring 123 Gullah recipes, the cookbook Meggett initially said she never wanted to write is revered for its cultural and historical significance. But those who knew her remember the impact she had on her community. 

Chef Kardea Brown, who is also of Gullah-Geechee descent, paid tribute to Meggett and her influence on social media.

"Edisto Island has lost a true legend. What a life she lived?! What a legacy she leaves behind," Brown wrote on Facebook. "She truly paved the way for women like me... especially here in the Lowcountry! "

“My mom was a remarkable woman,” Lavern Meggett, one of her 11 children, told The Post and Courier. “Everybody that came in contact with her, they just immediately drew to her and loved her.”

Neighbors remember her making big enough batches of tomato casserole, fried chicken, lima beans, shrimp and gravy, deviled crab, and pecan waffles to feed the whole neighborhood. Meggett always kept her side door open, and welcomed everyone and anyone to dig in. 

“She was our crown jewel. She really embodied the goodness of Edisto, the sense of community, the sense of caring for your neighbors,” Gretchen Smith, Meggett’s close friend and director of the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society, told The Post and Courier. “It came naturally to her.”

Meggett’s husband of 55 years, Jesse, died in 2006. She is survived by their 9 remaining children and more than 50 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

"A little bit of light went out yesterday,” Smith said on April 22. “But the sky got brighter.”

Rest in peace, Miss Emily.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles