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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Georgia Coast & Okefenokee

By Richard J. Lenz

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.



Sherpa Guides > Georgia Coast & Okefenokee> Southern Coast > St. Simons Island > St. Simons: the Northern Half

St. Simons: the Northern Half

Ebo Landing

[Fig. 19(5), Fig. 20(14)] The murky, haunted waters of Ebo Landing are where a group of West African slaves chose mass drowning rather than submit to a life of slavery. In May of 1803, a group of Igbo (the "g" is silent) tribesmen, captured in Igboland (now Nigeria), rebelled as their boat neared the shore in Dunbar Creek, a tributary of the Frederica River. The story goes that led by an Igbo chieftain, the proud tribesmen resolutely marched into Dunbar Creek, chanting an Igbo hymn, and trusting their God Chukwu instead of submitting to slavery in the New World. Survivors were taken to Cannon's Point Plantation, where the story was recounted and passed down to become a well-known legend. Some say that on quiet nights, the ghosts can be heard chanting in the marsh.

Fort Frederica National Monument. Fort Frederica National Monument

[Fig. 19(3)] Visitors who want a full picture of Georgia's founding must visit this serenely beautiful national park, an archeological site that quietly tells the story of a British settlement that successfully defended the colony in wartime, but quickly reverted to nature in times of peace. Reclaimed by historians, today it is the enchanting site of an excellent park and museum with many stories to tell about Georgia's colonial past. Shaded by some of the island's oldest Live Oaks, the historic site overlooks the winding Frederica River and windswept marshes of Glynn, which murmur past the silent ruins of the eighteenth century ghost town.

Naturalists will enjoy viewing wildlife in the park and adjacent marsh. Live oaks estimated to be between 100 and 200 years old dominate the site, accompanied by laurel oaks, pecans, red cedar, cabbage and sago palms, and holly. Most impressive may be the century-old giant muscadine grapevine, located near the town gate, and a tremendous loblolly pine, located across the moat from the barracks ruins. Wildlife in the park includes pileated, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, songbirds, deer, raccoon, armadillos, and flying squirrels. The marsh is home to alligators, river otters, and a variety of shore and wading birds.

Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, long regarded as the founder of Georgia, first visited the area in 1734 and selected the site of an abandoned Indian field for the fort's future location. Strategically located on a modest bluff overlooking a tidal tributary of the Altamaha River, the site enjoyed natural defenses that made it virtually impregnable against enemy attack. Both the river and the town were named Frederica, in honor of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, the only son of Britain's King George II.

The arrival of Oglethorpe with 116 settlers in March 1736 marked Fort Frederica's birth. As the southern-most settlement in British North America, it guarded not only St. Simons Island, but the entire colony of Georgia against the Spanish in Florida. The settlement of Frederica consisted both of a town laid out in a grid pattern much like Savannah and a fort to defend the approaches on the Frederica River. The town consisted of 84 lots, 60 by 90 feet, divided into two wards by orange tree-lined Broad Street. Settlers built palmetto huts to provide temporary shelter, but these were soon replaced by regular wooden-frame structures and even more substantial two-and three-story houses made of brick and tabby. Oglethorpe built the only house he ever owned in Georgia, Orange Hall, a short distance away.

Prominent among Frederica's early residents were two Anglican ministers, John and Charles Wesley, perhaps best remembered for their role in establishing the Methodist Church. Charles Wesley, who later wrote more than 6,000 hymns, including Hark the Herald Angels Sing, served as Oglethorpe's secretary and Frederica's first minister. John Wesley paid five brief visits to Frederica between April 1736 and January 1737 to preach and minister to the needs of the people there.

A moat and two wooden palisades separated the star-shaped earthen fort from the town. In its final form, it consisted of an officer's quarters, a powder magazine, two storehouses, and a blacksmith shop where the armorer of the regiment worked. A spur battery supporting six or seven cannons, including several 18-pounders, projected into the river. Although the town was not initially fortified, following the outbreak of war between Britain and Spain in 1739, a six-foot deep moat and two ten-foot high cedar palisades were built surrounding it. Fort Frederica was connected to a sister fort on the south end of St. Simons Island by the Military Road, a narrow path that led through the island's dense forests.

On a trip home to Britain in 1737, Oglethorpe secured command of a 630-man regiment of regulars, the 42nd Regiment of Foot. These soldiers added muscle to Georgia's defense and made Frederica Georgia's first military town, many years before Columbus, Warner Robins, or Hinesville came into being. The money the soldiers spent became the lifeblood of Frederica's economy, providing many of its citizens with their principal source of income. At its peak, 400 to 500 people called Frederica home, which had attained the appearance of an English village.

Wartime activity at Frederica culminated in the summer of 1742 when Spain, retaliating for a British attack on St. Augustine, Florida two years earlier, launched a full-scale military invasion of the Georgia colony. Comprising approximately 1,500 soldiers and a fleet of thirty-six ships, Spanish forces had reason to be confident in the success of their mission to destroy the colony. Although safely landing their entire army on St. Simons Island on July 5-6, 1742, the Spanish did not bargain on the spirited British resistance that they encountered. In two battles that occurred on July 7, Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh, the British managed first to surprise their opponents amidst the island's dense foliage and then repulse them entirely despite their superior numbers, thereby effectively ending more than a century of rivalry over the territory (See Bloody Marsh Monument).

Following the formal restoration of peace between Spain and Britain in 1(912) 748, Frederica's military role ceased. Its garrison was disbanded and many of the townspeople, now lacking a source of income, moved away. Largely abandoned by the mid-1750s, the town's destruction was completed by a fire of unknown origin in 1758.

With Fort Frederica all but forgotten in the years to follow, the effort to preserve its ruins began at the turn of the twentieth century. A group of local citizens led by historian Margaret Davis Cate saw their efforts rewarded in 1936 when Congress officially established the national monument. The park was formally dedicated in 1945.

Touring Fort Frederica today, one can wander the old streets, view house foundations, and read signs that explain the significance of each site. Still visible is the foundation of the Hawkins-Davison House where John Wesley encountered the wrath of Mrs. Beatre Hawkins, who attacked him with a pistol and a pair of scissors. He made good his escape, but not before she had bit him and torn his shirtsleeve with her teeth. The trace outline of the fort still guards the Frederica River as it flows to the sea. Although erosion over the years removed much of the original earthworks, recent stabilization of the riverbank has brought a halt to that process. Still standing despite the ravages of time is only a remnant of the large tabby fort, a silent witness to the former grandeur of British imperial ambitions in North America.

Christ Church is the fourth oldest church in Georgia. Christ Church

[Fig. 19(4), Fig. 20(2)] A must see for anyone visiting St. Simons Island is Christ Church, a charming house of worship nestled in a peaceful, quiet glade of the oldest Live Oaks on the island. The church, adjacent graveyard, and nature walk across the road are well worth an hour of contemplation of the spiritual and natural world.

Not only are the Live Oaks amazing, but the visitor is also treated to excellent examples of magnolia, sweetgum, crape myrtle, dogwoods, azaleas, yucca, and cedar. Growing on the Live Oaks are Spanish moss, resurrection fern, lichens, and orchids. Woodpeckers, flickers, and sapsuckers are commonly observed birds.

The gabled, white-framed church is the second oldest Episcopal church in Georgia and the fourth oldest church in the state. Famous hymn-writer and Methodist founder Charles Wesley preached to settlers and Gen. James Oglethorpe under a large live oak near the church on his first Sunday on St. Simons in 1736. After two months, Charles Wesley returned to England after encountering trouble with parishioners. His brother, John, took over clerical duties until he also left, "with an utter despair of doing good there" in 1737. Taking over religious responsibilities were George Whitefield and others until Frederica was abandoned around 1766. In 1808, the congregation was given a grant of 108 acres, and in 1820 a church was built. It served the St. Simons community until the Civil War, when Union forces stationed on the island used it as a headquarters, nearly destroying the building. They smashed the organ, broke the windows, burned the pews, and used the altar as a chopping block. In 1884, the church was rebuilt by the Reverand Anson Green Phelps Dodge Jr., who became the central character in Eugenia Price's The Beloved Invader, the first book of her trilogy on St. Simons Island. His church is cruciform in design, with a trussed Gothic roof, wooden interior, and beautiful stained glass windows illustrating the life of Christ.

The beautiful graveyard contains many of the famous names of St. Simons and Georgia history, and is like a walk back in time. Eugenia Price and many of the people she based her stories on are buried here.

Across the street is Woodland Walk, a short nature trail to the Wesley Memorial—a large Celtic cross—in the woods. In spring, the blooming azaleas are gorgeous. On this trail, visitors will see a second growth forest of pine, bay, and oaks, and in wetter areas red maple, sweetgum, blackgum, and red bay. At the entrance is a large, ancient muscadine vine.

Taylor's Fish Camp

[Fig. 19(2)] This small marina offers a glimpse into St. Simons's recent past, when it was a sleepy community of fewer than 5,000 people. The marina is reached by heading north on Lawrence Road, where travelers will see second-growth forest and many historical markers that tell the stories of plantations and settlement on the northern end of St. Simons, most of which is owned by the Sea Island Company. The entrance to Taylor's Fish Camp is on Cannon's Point Road, the right fork off Lawrence road 3 miles north of the turnoff to Fort Frederica. A drive down a sandy road leads past a tabby slave cabin on the left, which currently is being used as an art studio by Peggy Buchan, who paints coastal scenes in oils and acrylics (phone (912) 638-5731). The movie Conrack, based on the book The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy, was filmed near the sleepy marina, and the ruins of the schoolhouse featured in the movie are located nearby. The marina provides access to the Hampton River and features a hoist, ramp, bait and tackle, and refreshments. For more information, phone (912) 638-7690.

Hampton River Club Marina

[Fig. 19] With access to the Hampton River and a full slate of amenities, Hampton River Club Marina has everything you need for a saltwater fishing experience or nature tour. Travelers to Little St. Simons Island leave from here. It is located at the north end of the island. Go north on Frederica and go right on Lawrence Road. Where the road splits, go left until the road ends at the marina. Dry storage and wet slips, hoist and fork lift launching, boat rentals, gas and diesel, bait and tackle, charter fishing and nature tours, and general boat repairs. Open 7 days a week from 7-7. Phone (912) 638-1210.

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