Coastal Georgia History
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Cannons Point Plantation

CANNON'S POINT PLANTATION, home of the John Couper family, was located on the northeast part of St. Simons Island.  Some of the old coastal places grew to have a personality of their own, formed by all the lives that touched them; but the Couper plantation was a setting for the magnetic personality of its owner.  A man of distinction was John Couper, Esquire, well over six feet in height, with keen blue eyes and red hair., He was cultured, charming, witty, a great raconteur and a famous host.  With the sense of humor and spirit of mischief that had been his chief characteristics as a boy in Scotland, he used to claim that he had come to this country for the good of his native land.  And indeed the fun-loving boy must have been a sore trial to his dignified Presbyterian minister father.  John Couper might chuckle over the memory of throwing snowballs at a newly wedded couple as they emerged from his father's kirk in Lochwinnoch Parish, but Preacher Couper saw no humor in the escapade.  After a succession of such pranks it was probably not hard for young John to persuade his father to allow him to come to the new colony as so many of his fellow Scotsmen had done, and where he was to live zestfully for three quarters of a century.

When he was only sixteen years old John Couper arrived in Georgia as an apprentice to the Savannah branch of an English business firm which soon afterward moved to Florida for the duration of the Revolutionary War.  Some ten years later young Couper went into business in Sunburv where he became a prosperous merchant and a justice of Liberty County.  He married Rebecca Maxwell of the Midway community, and their first child, James Hamilton Couper, was born in Sunbury.  After the Couper-Hamilton partners bought their coastal properties, John Couper's interests turned to agriculture, and he and his wife decided to make their permanent home on St. Simons.

The Couper propertv included widely scattered tracts, some on the northeast part of the island, some along the eastern side, and others at the south end; but John and Rebecca Couper selected Cannon's Point for their homesite.  The Point, said to have been named for Daniel Cannon, one of the original colonists, lies between the Hampton River and Jones Creek, and it was here overlooking the river that the Coupers built the house in which they were to live for half a century.  Referred to in Fanny Kemble's journal as a "roomy, comfortable, handsomely laid out mansion," it was further described by another visitor as a "fine three-storied mansion with a veranda running, all around and a large portico on either side."

With a natural aptitude toward scientific agricultural experiment and the traditional green thumb of the Scotsman, John Couper became one of the leading agriculturists in the world.  Cannon's Point was not only one of the finest cotton plantations, but one of the most unusual and interesting estates in the South.  James Hamilton, whose business interests took him to the far comers of the world, sent cotton seeds and plants to John Couper for experiment on the St. Simons plantation; and under the expert and intelligent care of this master of agriculture, long staple sea island cotton was developed to its highest perfection.  Couper was also one of the first of the coastal planters to experiment successfully with the cultivation of sugar cane.

In the gardens of the Cannon's Point Plantation grew every fruit and flower, every shrub and tree that could be induced to thrive in its surroundings.  There were groves of lemons and oranges, and there were date palms imported from Persia.  When Thomas Jefferson was President he was interested in experimenting with the culture of olives in the United States, and he advised John Couper to order some olive trees from Marseilles.  Acting upon Jefferson's advice, Couper imported two hundred trees, and since olives thrive near the sea in soil rich with the calcium of shell, the grove at Cannon's Point yielded well and a fine quality of oil was pressed from the fruit.

In spite of his absorbing interest in agricultural experiment John Couper found time for varied outside activities.  One of the most influential citizens of early Georgia. he served as a member of the legislature, and in 1798 was a representative from Glynn County to the convention which drew up the state constitution.  He was one of the first vestrymen of Christ Church, president of the Union Agricultural Society, a lifelong member of the St. Simons Hunt Club, and the first president of the St. Andrews Society of Darien.  The first St. Simons lighthouse was built upon land given to the government from the Couper tract at the south end of the island, site of old Fort St. Simons.  Although he was a man of universal interests, said to have known intimately more prominent men in the United States and in Europe than any other man in the South, most of John Couper's busy life was spent at his plantation home where he delighted in his family and friends, in his gardens, his books and paintings, and his view of the river.

From time to time early nineteenth century newspapers carried items of interest from the Cannon's Point Plantation.  In an old copy of the Georgia Gazette under the heading "Rapid Vegetation" we are told that "Some English Peas brought by a British brig from Liverpool were planted by Mr. Couper of St. Simons Jan. 10.  On the 27th of Feb. that gentleman sent the captain of the brig a peck of fine peas from the same seed." And in the columns of the Darien Gazette: "There is an old liveoak stump on Mr. Couper's plantation (St.  Simons) from which the original sternpost of the Constitution was taken.  Shortly after the capture of the Guerriere by that vessel a Bay Tree sprung up from the centre of the old stump-and has continued to flourish ever since-and as an evergreen may be seen at all times of the year constantly increasing in beautv and strength.  We are told that Mr. C. guards it with uncommon care." A later newspaper relates that Mr. Couper was so impressed by the symbolism of a bay laurel crowning the Constitution Oak that he expressed his thoughts in an article and some original verse which brought interested letters from many people in this country and abroad.  As a number of the writers requested souvenirs, the genial master of Cannon's Point had paper weights, inkwells, vases, and other small articles carved of wood from the famous stump to be sent to all who wished them.

Far from being the dour and penurious Scotsman of tradition, John Couper was one of the jolliest and most generous of men, the kind of individual who might have been described by Dr. Johnson as the "most unscottified of his country's men." His quick wit and humor, his wide knowledge of nature, of literature, and of life, and his inexhaustible store of anecdotes made him a delightful companion.  Visitors came from far and near to see his orchards, fields, and gardens, and stayed to enjoy his witty and learned conversation and his lavish hospitality.  The fabulous dishes concocted by Sans Foix of Cannon's Point are legendary.  This famous cook's method of preparing a boned turkey that retained its original appearance was a secret never revealed; a spotless white cloth always at hand concealed the mystic rites from anyone who dared invade the sanctity of the kitchen.  The master of Cannon's Point taught his fiddler Johnny to play the pipes for the entertainment of visitors; and once when a committee was meeting to discuss the purchase of an organ for the church the incorrigible Mr. Couper arrived with his man Johnny, complete with bagpipes, and suggested him as a substitute for the organ.

The five Couper children were taught at home until each in turn went away to school; but even when some of the sons and daughters were absent the house at Cannon's Point was always full.  When the Basil Halls visited the Coupers their little daughter Eliza "was much pleased with the number of children at Cannon's Point and not five minutes after her arrival went scampering about the passages with them." Relatives and friends came to spend a week with the hospitable family and were made welcome for a vear, while their children shared the tutor who taught two generations of young Coupers.

Although the Couper boys spent their school and college years away from the plantation, all three inherited their father's love of agriculture.  In a letter to his family in Scotland John Couper humorously outlined plans for one of his sons: an education in New England followed by a period of study in Europe, after which he was to return to St. Simons "to plant cowpeas and pumpkins as his father has done."

As for the girls, they received the usual education for young ladies of the day.  When the eldest daughter was enrolled in Miss Datty's Boarding School in Charleston her curriculum included French, drawing, music, and dancing; and her love of pretty clothes is seen in bills for "disbursements made by Miss Julia Datty on account of Miss Ann Couper." One such bill lists eight pairs of shoes at a dollar and a quarter a pair, innumerable gloves at fifty cents a pair, a net handkerchief at two dollars and a half, and a tortoise-shell comb three dollars.  "Ribbands" were a large item, as was embroidery silk.

In 1815 dainty Miss Ann was married to young Captain John Fraser of the British Army, and the couple lived in London for a few years.  Some of her letters enclosed curls from the heads of their first two babies, curls which still gleam brightly between the time-yellowed pages of the letters.  She enjoyed the gayety of London social life, and still with her girlhood love of pretty clothes, wrote her mother in 1820, "I am in want of a Pelisse silk velvet but the price is so enormous in this Country.  Knowing that those articles are comparatively cheap with you I must beg if convenient you will send me twelve yards of Royal Purple-also one pair white, one pair black silk stockings."

Even after the older Couper children were grown, the household at Cannon's Point grew larger instead of smaller.  When the Frasers returned to the United States to live, they remained for some years with the Coupers, and several of their nine children were born at Cannon's Point.  Also the place was a second home for the eight children of the James Hamilton Coupers of Hopeton.  A mutually enjoyed companionship existed between John Couper and his grandchildren.  Descendants tell how the master of Cannon's Point, a lover of nature in her every mood, would march around the veranda during the wildest storms, arm-in-arm with one of his young granddaughters who shared his exultation in the elemental fury of the wind; and he and his grandsons were sometimes the despair of John Couper's eldest son, dignified James Hamilton Couper, whom they called "the old gentleman."

The respect which the world of agriculture felt for the experiments made by the master of Cannon's Point was not always shared by his own household.  During a time when every known variety of grape had been imported from Europe in an attempt to revive the region's early interest in wine making one of the children wrote plaintively to an absent member of the family that the garden was "very grapy."

In spite of all the experiments, cotton remained the principal source of income at the Cannon's Point Plantation.  The exposed situation of the fields improved the quality of the cotton, but at the same time made it more vulnerable to the tropical hurricanes that sometimes struck just before the crop matured or before the mature cotton could be picked.  John Couper had been able to take in stride the loss of a hundred thousand dollar crop in the hurricane of 1804 and to recoup the heavy losses suffered by embargoes and seizure of a large number of his slaves by the enemy in the War of 1812.  In the hurricane of 1824 the "loss at Cannon's Point was incalculable, as the sea broke in and deluged the whole Point, sweeping away buildings, undoing the labor of years;" and when loss of the 1825 crop by an unprecedented plague of caterpillars was followed by a drop in cotton prices, the Cannon's Point Plantation found itself in serious financial difficulties.

Since the acres that had supported scores of people were now scarcely making expenses, the planter was faced with the problem of providing for all of those who were dependent upon him, his family and his "people," as he always called his slaves.  With wry humor he commented in a letter, "8% compound interest I found to be the real perpetual motion." A practical man, a man of sound judgment and calm wisdom, with the philosopher's reasonable attitude toward the triumphs and disappoinnnents of life, he saw that he must relinquish the greater part of his coastal holdings.  After the larger part of his property was sold to his partner, James Hamilton, a letter to his brother in Glasgow is typical of those characteristics which distinguished the man: "I saw no hope of paying my debts and retaining my property.... I thought it best during my life to meet the storm." And just as John Couper had marched exultantly in the teeth of the gales that swept in from the sea, so he met the storms of circumstance - a "man of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows."


Their financial problems solved, the Coupers retained their beloved Cannon's Point, where they lived happily past their golden wedding anniversary.  After his wife's death in 1845, John Couper spent his remaining years with his eldest son's family at Hopeton Plantation.  He died in 1850, having lived for ninety-one years in what he always considered the best of all possible worlds.  He and his wife are buried in old Christ Church Cemetery on St. Simons as are many members of his family.  John Couper's epitaph, all but indecipherable in the time-stained marble of his monument, says "his long life was devoted to the duty of rendering himself most acceptable to his Creator by doing the most good to His creatures."

The plantation at Cannon's Point continued to be planted in cotton and was used as a summer home for the James Hamilton Couper family.  And so another generation of young people grew up in the beautiful old place, with the long happy days for horseback riding, boating, and picnicking, and the moonlight nights for music and dancing.

After the war Cannon's Point Plantation was rented to various tenants, but there was no successful cultivation of the land that had once been famous for its abundance.  In 1876 when the Reverend James Leigh was at Butler Island, he and James Maxwell Couper of Altama spent a day at Cannon's Point.  The house was untenanted, and the fields and gardens were overgrown.  Old Rina, one of the family servants, was delighted to have company and she served a meal of Scotch broth, cold beef, duck, potatoes, hominy, and rice.  The two men wandered about the deserted place and talked about old times, and James Maxwell Couper dug some roses and bulbs from his grandfather's garden to take back to Altama.  The bulbs were later transplanted to the garden of the Couper residence on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta where they multiplied and bloomed fragrantly each spring for half a century.  When the Atlanta house was razed to make way for progress, the bulbs were moved again and planted in the gardens of old John Couper's great-great-grandchildren, from where some of them finally found their way back to Altama through a gift to the owners of the plantation.

Cannon's Point eventually passed into other hands, and the fields were again cultivated to some extent.  It is related that the olive trees were still bearing, and that oil made from the fruit was exhibited at the Exposition of 1898.  We are also told that the remaining part of the old Constitution stump was sent to Atlanta to be displayed at the Exposition.  The Cannon's Point house burned near the turn of the century, and all that remained of the Couper home was the kitchen fireplace and chimney where Sans Foix cooked his fabulous meals.  Great oleanders bloom around the crumbling foundations of the old house; a few silver-green olive trees mav 0still be found in the tangle of undergrowth; and the long fronds of John Couper's Persian date palms rustle in the breeze from the Hampton River.
Cannon' Point is now a Land Trust property.

1850 Census Data


  Jim Bruce Collection