Coastal Georgia History
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St. Clair and Black Banks Plantations

BLACKBANKS PLANTATION was the property of James Gould, a native of Massachusetts, who came to St. Simons in 1807 in connection with the building of the first lighthouse.  He lived upon the island until his death in 1852, and the plantation was for many years the home of his descendants.  The owners came back to Blackbanks after the War Between the States, and there was, still the old time hospitality as the young people of the coast gathered for parties and dances.  In later years the property was owned by various people.  Remodeled and rebuilt, the beautiful columned house overlooks the little Blackbanks River for which it is named.

St. Clair, sometimes known as New St. Clair, and Black Banks were the plantations of the Gould family.
James Gould, a native of Granville, Massachusetts. built the original St. Simons lighthouse. Descendants believe that he arrived in 1794 in connection with the shipping of timbers for the United States Navy. Later he operated a lumbering business on the St. Marys River, which separated south Georgia from Spanish east Florida. In the early 1800s he and his wife, the former Jane Harris of New Providence, with their children and slaves, narrowly escaped with their lives when their house was burned by marauding Indians.
While he and his family were staying in Savannah with Jane's relatives, Captain and Mrs. Samuel Bunch, James Gould learned that the government was taking bids for the erection of a lighthouse on St. Simons Island. He submitted a bid which was accepted on May 25, 1807. The lighthouse was to be constructed at the south end of the island on a four-acre plot of land that had been sold to the govenment for the sum of one dollar by John Couper of Cannons Point. Specifications called for an octagonal tower 75 feet high topped by a 10-foot iron lantern. or light chamber, equipped with a set of oil lamps suspended by chains. ln addition to the light tower, the contract included a keeper's cottage with detached kitchen.
The lighthouse was completed in 1810 and was formally established in 1811. James Gould was appointed by President Madison to serve as the first keeper, a position that he was to fill for twenty-seven years. He lived with his family in the keepers cottage at the foot of the tower. and leased adjacent land for cultivation. Since no assistant was appointed, James Gould trained some of his slaves to keep the lamps cleaned and filled with oil, and to take their turn at the nightwatch in the light chamber. One helper was so devoted to his work with the lamps that his fellows nicknamed him "Lamp Black."
Soon after the end of the War of 1812 James Gould bought his first St. Simons property, a tract that included land purchased from the Commissioners of Confiscated Estates and acreage from the estate of Major Samuel Wright. The entire 9oo~acre plantation, known as St. Clair, or New St. Clair. lay across the center of the island from Black Banks River to Dunbar Creek.
Research has uncovered no record of any of this property ever having been claimed by Archibald Sinclair, and tithingman at Frederica, whose Sinclair tract on the northeast side of the island was known in plantation days as St. Clair. It is possible, however, that part of the New St. Clair land had also been claimed by Archibald Sinclair and that it. too. had been called Sinclair in the early years.
On the New St. Clair Plantation, James Gould built a spacious two-storied tabby house with one-story wings at either side. and in the surrounding fields he planted sea island cotton. His two sons, James F. and Horace Bunch. were sent to preparatory school in New Haven and afterward to Yale, and his daughters, Mary and Jane, were educated at the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
ln 1820 James Gould's wife died, leaving Mary, as eldest daughter, to take charge of her father's home, with the help of her mother's sister, "Aunt Caroline." From an unpublished manuscript written by a member of the family, we have a word picture of the beauty brought to St. Clair by Mary's love of roses: "The house stood on a slight eminence, and Mary planted roses so successfully and in such abundance that the place took the name of 'Rosemount.' Cloth-of-gold and Marschal Neil roses covered the south side of the house, and multiflora bloomed on the garden fence. Blossoms were cut in the rose garden daily and sent by the basketful to the house."
The from approach to Rosemount, through a grove of live oaks, magnolias, and cedars, was a winding tabby walk bordered by century plants. crape myrtles, oleanders. and orange trees. In the orchard were figs, pomegranates. seedling peaches, plums, and bittersweet oranges.
In addition to the management of his plantation and his duties as lighthouse keeper, James Gould was active in the parish of Christ Church. Frederica, and was one of the first wardens when the church was built in 1820, an office to which he was elected time and again over the years. During one of his terms as warden, his two sons. James F. and Horace B., served as vestrymen.
Adjoining St. Clair to the south was a tract known as Black Banks. which before the Revolutionary War had belonged to loyalist John Graham. By purchase from the Commissioners of Confiscated Estates. James Gould added this tract to his holdings, making his entire property more than 1,500 acres.
Black Banks was later deeded to the eldest son, James F. or Jim, who had married in New Haven after his graduation from Yale. On his plantation Jim Gould built a two-and-a-half-storied tabby house surrounded at the second floor level by a broad columned piazza. His New England wife was not happy on the island. and eventually Jim sold Black Banks to his brother, Horace, who was married to Deborah Abbott, niece of George and Mary Abbott of Orange Grove.
As James Gould grew older, he suffered greatly from rheumatism, and in 1837 he was forced by ill health to give up his position as keeper of the St. Simons light. He died in 1851. The younger daughter, Janie, was married and living in Baltimore.
The St. Clair Plantation was left mainly to Mary Gould, who proved to be as capable at managing the cotton fields as she was at growing roses and managing household affairs at Rosemount. She was so devoted to the plantation that it was difficult for Horace and Deborah to persuade her to leave when the island was evacuated in 1861.
Like other residents of St. Simons, the Goulds packed boats and flats with a few choice pieces of furniture, with boxes of clothing and foodstuffs, with a pen of hogs and coops of chickens. Then Mary, Aunt Caroline, Horace, and Deborah, with their children and a few house servants, set out for the safety of the mainland. Half way across the sound one of the flatboats capsized, sending hogs, chickens, and furniture overboard. Perhaps the hogs saved themselves by swimming to a nearby island, later given the name of Hog Island, and perhaps the timbers of a wreck, visible when the water of the sound is clear, are those of the Gould flatboat that overturned in t861.
On the mainland Horace was not able to find quarters large enough for the whole family, but he found a dilapidated cottage in Burneyville for Deborah and the children, and a small furnished house in Blackshear for Mary and Aunt Caroline. who were later joined by Janie when her husband went into the Confederate Army. Although Horace Gould was almost fifty years old, after the women and children were safely housed he. too. joined the Confederate Army. where he served under General Joseph E. Johnston, and as captain of infantry under General Hood in the Battle of Atlanta.
When the war was over Horace Bunch Gould was one of the first planters to return to St. Simons Island. He found the St. Clair house, Rosemount, burned to the ground and Black Banks in the possession of a group of freedmen. He managed to buy back the Black Banks property, and with the help of some of the former Gould slaves part of the land was cleared and cultivated again. With her beloved Rosemount gone, Mary Gould lived with relatives in New York until 1870. when she returned to St. Simons, two years before she died. A carved granite rose marks her tombstone in Christ Church cemetery.
During the postwar years, when the communicants of Christ Church parish had no house of worship, Horace Gould held services each Sunday at Black Banks. He died in 188I, a short time before his young friend, Anson Dodge, rebuilt Christ Church. In the following years, Horace's daughter, Anna, became Anson Dodge's devoted second wife.
Most of the St. Clair and Black Banks property passed, over the years, into other hands. The St. Clair residential development and the Sea Palms Golf and Country Club were located on the acres that were once St. Clair Plantation. Part of Horace Gould's land was eventually divided into building lots for the Black Banks subdivision, while part is still in the possession of members of the Gould family.

1850 Census Data

 

  Jim Bruce Collection