Coastal Georgia History
Return to Index

Sinclair Plantation

Sinclair, the property that was developed in Oglethorpe's time by Archibald Sinclair, was known in plantation days as St. Clair, evidently a corruption of the name Sinclair.
In 1745 this tract was named as one of the successful plantations on St. Simons Island. However, the property was not listed in the 1755 Entry of Claims, which indicates that the family had left the island and that the Sinclair grant was vacant.
In 1765 the land was granted to Donald Forbes. Forbes sold to Lachlan McIntosh, whose son. Major William McIntosh, lived in the old plantation house until his death in 1799. A headstone placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution marks Major McIntosh's grave, and nearby are the little brick tombs of his two Children.
The property was bought from the McIntosh estate by Major Pierce Butler, who sold to Alexander Wylly; and Sinclair, known at that time as St. Clair, was included in Wylly's Village Plantation. When Mrs. Wylly's mother, Mrs. Ann Armstrong, came from the Bahamas to make her home on St. Simons, she lived in the old St. Clair house where she died in 1816. And when the Wyllys' daughter, Frances, was married to Dr. William Fraser, "late of the Royal Navy" and brother of John Fraser, the couple lived for a time at St. Clair before moving to Darien, where Dr. Fraser served as mayor.
The house was later used as a meeting place for the bon vivant St. Clair Club. It was also headquarters for the Agricultural and Sporting Club organized by island planters in 1832. The old plantation house burned in 1857. Over the following years the place belonged to various owners and in 1954 a bronze marker was erected on the Sinclair tract by the Georgia Historical Commission.


The St. Clair Club - Later named Sinclair

The house at Sinclair Plantation became a Club location for the Plantation owners to have some fun and socialize with each other. The text below sets the stage for life on St. Simons and describes a dinner at the Sinclair Club.

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century we find on St. Simon's Island a society in which are numbered the son of a great English family, Major Butler; a gentleman of Scotch birth, Mr. John Couper; an Oxford graduate, Mr. George Baillie; an ofiicer of the Revolution, Major Page; and a number of ofiicers of the British army. Captain Alexander Wylly has already been spoken of. Lieutenant Colonel Wardrobe had served with Napier and Wellington, in India and the Peninsular, and now, broken in health, had retired on half pay, to spend the closing years of a stirring life on quiet St. Simon's. He had married Eliza Baillie, the first cousin of Captain Wylly. John Fraser, a retired British captain, had seen service with Sir John Moore and borne himself bravely at Corunna. He had married Ann, the oldest daughter of Mr. john Couper, and they were at this time living at Lawrence, a mile south of Cannon's Point. His brother, Dr. William Fraser, had been surgeon in chief to the East India forces under his friend Warren Hastings, had for many years resided in Calcutta, and spoke Hindustani like a native. He had married Frances, the fourth daughter of Captain Wylly, and later removed to Darien. George Baillie, cynic and wit, was the nephew of Captain Wylly, and the most polished man in four counties. Now a widower, he was living alone as a gentleman planter, his daughters being in England and looking upon that country as their home. The planters of the Georgia coast and islands were "men of parts" who had helped in the building of Georgia. John Couper had known it in pre-Revolutionary days, and the actors in that struggle were his familiar friends. His conversation, enriched by anecdote, was charming and instructing. Major Page had met and known the men who ruled the councils of the Provincial government. Poulain du Bignon had lived a life of varied experience. In India he had witnessed the Mogul Empire, with its barbaric splendor, crumble before British arms. Aid and chief of artillery to Hyder Ali, he had ridden victoriously over the rich plains of the Carnatic and led, in desperate charge, the wild Mahratta horsemen against the unyielding British square. In later years in the brig Josephine, with letters of marque, stamped with the lilies of France, he had sailed the waters of the Caribbean, and skirted the Spanish Main. At Bordeaux he had met the widowed Dame Osier, married her, and drifted to the Georgia coast. In 1793, he bought land on jekyl Island, and now was ending a wild and exciting life in a quiet island home. These men had seen life in many phases, and their talk was not always of crops and the need of rain. At times battles and sieges were recalled, and stories recounted of the great events of history. The life on St. Simons was a melzmge of Old World courtesy and refinement, intermixed with a democratic simplicity. Only in the household of Major Butler was there evidence of great wealth. But everywhere were immense comfort and unbounded hospitality. To be a guest of one family was to be a welcome visitor to all. The tables were spread with home-grown viands, the glasses filled with foreign wine and brandy. Whiskey was unknown. Rum punch always closed the evening. The men were hard drinkers, but carried their liquor well and were seldom overcome. If this did occur, no disgrace followed, save the confession of a personal weakness. Although Major Butler left the island in I815, he purchased the St. Clair house in 1820 and gave it, for a nominal rent, to a club formed by the planters of St. Simons solely for social pleasure. This was called the St. Clair Club, and here monthly dinners were given, each member furnishing, in rotation, dinner, service, wines, and punch. Great emulation existed as to style and quality on these occasions. Three outside guests were allowed to be invited, and these came from St. Mary’s southward to Savannah and as far as Augusta at the north. The manners of the time warranting it, the occasions were scenes of extraordinary conviviality. The most surprising experiences and adventures were recounted, intermixed with song and story, for the penalty was heavy for the one who sang no song, told no story, and so declared himself but a "niddling." Charles Wylly pictures the dinner of December 7, 1821. The hour is 5 P.M. The slanting rays of the sun crimson the green lawn and light the festoons of moss draping the old oaks that shade the house. Most magnificent of these is "Old England," with which no other could compare for size of girth and spread of limb. Inside, the dining room is made cheerful by the glow of a great wood fire. The table, with places for fourteen, is covered with the snowiest of damasks, and lit by a score of candles, made from the wax of the myrtle berry that covers the salt marshes and placed in brass candlesticks that are polished like gold. The dishes are of blue East India china. The host on this occasion is evidently Mr. ]ohn Couper, for the cook is the immortal Sans Foix and the waiters are Sandy, Johnny, and old Dick from Cannon's Point, assisted by James Dennison from the Village. Since nine in the morning they have been busy in the kitchen, and now, at five, all is in readiness. The guests arriving - no one, whatever his age, so efieminate as to use carriage or chaise - are mounted on wiry steeds, whose living has been drawn from marsh moss and shucks, but who show in gait and mettle their descent from Spanish and Arab stock. Each one is accompanied by one or two black boys, eager for the fragments of the feast. The club members present on this occasion were ]ohn Couper, John Fraser, Dr. William Fraser, Alexander Wylly, his son, Alexander William Wylly, William Page, Raymond Dernere, George Baillie, Benjamin Cater, William Armstrong, and Daniel Heyward Brailsford. The three outside guests of the club were Captain Du Bignon of Jekyl Island, Dr. James Troup of Darien, and Mr. Thomas Charlton of Savannah. Dinners at that time on the coast were not served in courses, excepting the soup and dessert, everything else being placed on the table at once, and usually kept hot under highly polished covers of Britannia ware. Mr. James Hamilton had his covers made of silver, and left them by will to his daughter, Isabella Corbin de Dampiere. The guests seated themselves around the attractive table, and the dinner was served. Two soups, one a clam broth, the other a chicken rnulligatawny, were brought on first. Then fish, shrimp pies, crab in shell, roasts, and vegetables were placed in one service. The dessert was simple - tartlets of orange marmalade, dried fruits, and nuts. The dishes disposed of, amid general gossip and talk, and the cloth removed, the great punch bowl was brought in, with its mixture of rum, brandy, sugar, lemon juice, and peel. The wine glasses were pushed aside, and stubby bottle-shaped glass mugs handed round. The chairman of the meeting, rising, announced that the health of the President of the United States would be drunk, standing and with cheers. Mr. Charlton, responding, said the thanks of the whole country were due President Monroe for his wise conduct of afiairs. After this opening of the evening there is much filling of mugs, nodding of heads one to another, with words of good wishes -- "Happy days to you," and the like. Songs are called for, and Captain Du Bignon in a husky voice gives, "Cheer up, my lads. Cheer up l" Captain John Fraser follows in a fine tenor, with "A Valiant Soldier I Dare to Name," which is received with much applause. Dr. William Fraser is called upon for his Hindu song, a translation of which is: - Songster sweet, begin thy lay, Always fresh and ever gay. Bring me quick inspiring wine, Always fresh and ever fine, to which Fiddler Johnny adds an accompaniment, with admiration on his glowing face. The whole purpose of these dinners is not the mere enjoyment of eating and drinking, for there is much interesting conversation. George Baillie, who talks with knowledge and spirit on almost every subject, has been discussing Sheridan and Moliere with his uncle, Captain Wylly, who observes, "Wit is only what everyone would have said, could he have thought of it." "Yes, dear Uncle," answers George. "Call in a good surgeon, and even yourself might be delivered of it." Dr. T roup has been recounting to Major Page the incidents of his visit to an Indian cousin in the Alabama Creek Territory. He had visited that remarkable man, Alexander McGillivray, the virtual emperor of the Creeks, at Broken Arrow in the Coosa Valley. He tells of the beauty and fertility of the lands on the banks of the Coosa and Talla- poosa, and of the Indian villages, with their com- fortable log cabins, gardens, and fields. Dr. Fraser has been telling old Raymond Demere of the Mogul Empire, where diamonds, rubies, and pearls are the loot of the common soldier, and the eyes of the miserly man sparkle with covetousness. Two hours pass in this pleasant way, when the chairman rises, raps smartly on the table for silence, and says, "Gentlemen, I propose the joint health of our esteemed friends, Mr. and Mrs. John Couper, and that of the boy presented by Mrs. Couper for the admiration of its father and every resident on the island -- Wi1liam Audley Couper. Waiter, fill every glass." The toast is drunk enthusiastically. Mr. Couper lifts his massive frame and stands erect. Then, clearing his throat, he says, "I thank you, my friends, for this honor. I should respond with song, but the condition of my throat forbids," and he then continues with an amusing anecdote that sets the table roaring, while his fiddler Johnny works frantically on his bow. Punch is ordered served all around, servants included, these imbibing their drinks in corners and hallways, wishing that club dinners were everyday occurrences. Nine strikes, and "Auld Lang Syne" is sung standing with joined hands. The horses are called for, and Captain Wylly and Major Page are the first to say good-night. Attended by their faithful body servants, Iames Dennison and old Neptune, they ride away to the southward. The others follow, each with a black man, friend and servant, to ride behind if necessary, and help the brave souls back to the forgiveness of home. But in truth aid was not often needed, for "there were giants in those days." The butlers of the old families were unique personalities. They were known as "Mr. Couper's man," "Mr. Wylly's man," and so on. Benbow of the Caters, Gibb of the Spaldings, Jack of the Troups, and especially Dick, who belonged to Major McIntosh, were perfect types of a vanished past. "Dick was the best-mannered man, white or black, I have ever known," writes Charles Wylly.
(credit to "The Golden Isles of Georgia - 1932)



  Jim Bruce Collection