Coastal Georgia History

St. Simons Island

Saint Simons 360: A Historical Video Tour of the Island
by Steven Doster 
(YouTube- set to full screen)

Saint Simons 360: A Historical Video Tour of the Island. Embark on a journey around the island and through time visiting six distinct eras and historical events that continue to shape the island's identity, including: Native American Occupation, Spanish Era, English Era, Siege and Invasion, Frederica Naval Action, Plantation Era, Civil War, Old Mill Days, Geechee Culture, World War II, Modern Era!


Stephen Doster


  Postal History of St. Simons by Steve Swain
Early Pictures of St. Simons and Surrounding Area Frederica Census 1860
Historical Markers on St. Simons St. Simons Census 1900
American Revolution in Georgia Post Cards
History Photos Durfee's Diary
History Photo Slideshow   Slideshow2 Cannons Point YouTube
Plantation Era and Christ Church SSI Lighthouse

1910 Christ Church History - Comemoration Book

St. Simons in 1914

Volunteer Fire Dept Donation Form

St. Simons Hotel

Building of Coast Guard Station at East Beach

Christ Church Tour of Homes

Grocery Store History

Eugenie Price author on St. Simons



St. Simons Plantations

Name Owner
Black Banks
& St. Clair
James Gould
Cannon's Point John Couper
Hamilton James Hamilton
Hampton Major Pierce Butler
Harrington Hall Raymond Demeres
Kelvin Grove Caters & Postells
Lawrence Captain John Fraser
Longview McNish
Mulberry Grove Raymond Demeres
Musgrove Reynolds - Bagley
Oatlands Dr. Robert Grant
Orange Grove Major Samuel Wright
Pike's Bluff Dr. Thomas Hazzard
Retreat Major William Page
Thomas Butler King
Sinclair Major William McIntosh
Stevens Point Stevens - Taylor
The Village Alexander Wyllys
West Point Colonel William Hazzard


ST. SIMONS ISLAND IS THE ONLY ONE OF GEORGIA'S GOLDEN ISLES that has never been privately owned.  Approximately the size of Manhattan Island, it has been inhabited down through the centuries by various groups of people.  The discovery of widely separated burial mounds indicates that there were several settlements here in prehistoric times; and the Creeks are known to have had a number of villages upon this island which.they called Asao.

When the Spaniards came to the coast in the fifteen hundreds Asao became San Simon, the location of more than one mission-presidio.  After the Jesuit friars were driven out and the missions were re-established under the Franciscans, the San Buenaventura Mission on San Simon was in charge of Father Velascola.  Known as the Cambrian giant, Velascola was a man whose physical and spiritual characteristics appeal to the student of today as they did to the student in his sixteenth century missions.  Awed by his great height and won by his kindly ways, many pagans were converted to his teachings; but like other martyr-priests Velascola fell under the murderous tomahawks of the savages in the massacre of 1597.

When St. Simons was selected by General Oglethorpe as the strategic point to fortify against Spanish invasion, he had a fort constructed on the west side of the island where a bend in the river formed a natural vantage point.  One of the largest British fortifications in colonial America, it was a protection not only for the colony but for the town within its walls; and town, fort, and river were all called Frederica in honor of Frederick, Prince of Wales.  An additional fortification, a battery known as Fort St. Simons, was located at the south end of the island, with  a military road connecting the two forts.  The anchorage for the British ships was down-river from Fort Frederica at a bluff named for Captain Gascoigne, master of the Hawk.  North of Frederica was a "sentry station called Pike's and relieved weekly," and on the northwest tip of the island was the New Hampton outpost where a garrison of soldiers and their families lived.

A few miles east of Frederica was the German Village, settled by a group of Salzburgers who had come to St. Simons with Oglethorpe.  The town of Frederica had a population of more than a thousand, and around Fort St. Simons there was a settlement of several hundred inhabitants where a lookout was constantly scanning the horizon and a sentry stood ready to ride to Frederica with -news of any strange sails that might appear.

Fort Frederica was garrisoned by "The Regiment of Foot for the Defense of His Majesty's plantations in America," and the walled and moated military settlement grew into one of the most important towns of the colony.  The streets were “regularly laid out and margined with orange trees." The temporary palm-thatched shelters of the first colonists were replaced by substantial dwellings, some of them handsome two and three storied houses built of brick and tabby; for among the settlers were bricklayers and masons as well as carpenters, cabinet makers, and locksmiths.  There were wellfilled store houses, well-supplied trading posts, and shops of all kinds, for the colonists included blacksmiths, silversmiths, and watch-makers; millers and merchants, bakers and brewers; tailors, tanners, and shoemakers.  Lists of these first citizens of Georgia show families of four, five, and six children; and the schoolteacher was an important member of the colony as was the "Publick Midwife."

Minister to the spiritual needs of the residents of Frederica was Charles Wesley, younger of the two brothers whose names were later to become svnonvmous with the Methodist Church.  John, in his early thirties, had remained in Savannah while Charles, still in his twenties and newly ordained, had come to St. Simons as General Oglethorpe's secretary and as minister for the settlement.  In records of 1739 a chapel was “almost completed, built of timbers sawed by the Trustees' servants," but before that first chapel was built, Charles Wesley preached under the shelter of the great liveoaks; and although the young minister did not stay long in the colony of Georgia, and his brother made only an occasional visit to Frederica, both men had a part in the early life of St. Simons.

What a picture the imagination draws of Frederica!  A bustling military post built in a clearing hewn out of this insular "forest primeval," its streets peopled by British Regulars in their three-comered hats and red coats; bv Highlanders in plaids and bonnets; by Indians in mocasins and breech-clouts; by trader, merchant, artisan; by the townspeople with their sprinkling of courageous pioneer women, bravely flaunting the ruffles and "ribbands" which caused their pious young pastor such grave misgivings.  And, in the midst of it all, was the aristocratic James Edward Oglethorpe, famous military man and member of the House of Parliament.

Public farmlands were cleared and planted, and the fertile fields yielded rapidly and abundantly in the tropical sunshine.  Each colonist had a homestead of fifty acres; and there were two royal grants of three hundred acres, to be cultivated as "maintenance for a minister and other Religious uses." Colonists of independent means were granted large tracts of land, and farms and plantations were developed in the vicinity of Frederica.  Some of the most important of these first plantations were Orange Hall where General Oglethorpe himself lived in an English cottage surrounded by a grove of orange trees; and nearby Harrington Hall, the home of Captain Raymond Demere, one of Oglethorpe's valued officers who had served for ten years "with my Lord Harrington in Spain." Early records show a five-hundred-acre grant to Captain Gascoigne and describe his plantation a few miles down the river "near the Station where his Ship usually rides." Between Captain Gascoigne's plantation and the town of Frederica were the grants of other well-known St. Simons colonists, the Wrights, the Moores, and the Bruces.

Both England and Spain coveted the coastal territory, and when war was declared between the mother countries, the Spanish and English colonies grew openly hostile.  The situation came to a head when an English trader named Jenkins, caught by the Spaniards in the region set apart as the Debatable Land, was punished by having one of his ears cut off.  This incident led to hostilities which came to be known as the War of Jenkins' Ear.  Although this was a minor part of the conflict in Europe, the far flung little colony of Georgia was fighting for its very existence; and General Oglethorpe proceeded to start offensive moves against the Spaniards in Florida.  However, after a thirty days' unsuccessful siege of the impregnable fort at St. Augustine, the British withdrew to their island stronghold, strengthened their defenses, and waited for the expected invasion.

When the sails of the Spanish armada of nearly half-a-hundred galleons appeared over the horizon, History itself galloped beside the sentry as he spurred his mount up the military road to wam Oglethorpe's garrison.  The General ordered Fort St. Simons to be abandoned and the inhabitants of the settlement to move to the protection of the larger fortress.  The Spaniards took possession of the battery at the south end, and as they advanced for the attack upon Oglethorpe's stronghold they were met by a platoon of soldiers from Fort Frederica.  After skirmishes between the troops, the British retreated and let it appear that they intended to offer no further resistance.  The Spaniards proceeded to stack arms and prepare a meal, unaware that the surrounding woods concealed the English forces together with Highlanders from Darien, Scouts and Rangers, and a band of friendly Indians from whom the colonists had learned woodland warfare.  According to tradition, a Scotch bonnet cautiously raised from the undergrowth was a signal for the first shot to be fired upon the unsuspecting Spaniards.  In the surprise attack the superior Spanish forces were completely routed in the historic Battle of Bloody Marsh.

Drawn by General Oglethorpe's shrewd military strategy into an overestimation of British strength, the remnants of the Spanish troops withdrew to the south end of the island; and within a week they destroyed Fort St. Simons, took ship, and sailed back to St. Augustine leaving the British in undisputed possession of the coastal territory.  Upon the departure of the enemy General Oglethorpe issued a proclamation for a day of public thanksgiving-Georgia's first Thanksgiving Day, July 25th, 1742.  The victory over the Spaniards was acclaimed in Great Britain and in the colonies, and Oglethorpe received congratulatory letters from many of the provincial governors.

In 1743 General Oglethorpe returned to England leaving Fort Frederica for a time in charge of his aide Captain Horton, who was promoted to the rank of major.  Captain Raymond Demere, who remained as a permanent resident of St. Simons, added further acreage to his property; and his beautiful Harrington Hall and Mulberry Grove were among the first of the fine plantations that were to be developed upon the island.  In the peaceful years after the treaty between Spain and England when there was no need for a strong fortification at Frederica, most of the forces were withdrawn or disbanded and the reduced garrison that remained was for years under the command of Captain Demere.  Some of the military and civilian colonists were granted additional acreage on the island; but most of the Salzburgers and many of the other early settlers left for new homes on the mainland.

In records of 1754 we find mentioned only a small detachment of troops at Frederica under Captain Demere's command.  Although the population of the town had decreased, it was still a shipping and trading center, and the article on New Georgia published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1756 refers to Frederica as a city.  However, the fort and town were neglected and many of the buildings were falling into decay in 1760 when a large part of the property was bought by Donald Mackay, a prosperous merchant of the colony.  His business partner was James Spalding, a young Scotsman from County Perth; and the company of Mackay and Spalding, branch of a London firm, was known throughout colonial America.  Cargoes were shipped from England to the central storehouse at Frederica, and from here goods were carried by boat and pony train to the numerous Indian trading posts operated by Mackay and Spalding.  In 1761 we find Captain Demere still in command at Frederica, and in the Georgia Gazette of March 28, 1765, we see that the General Assembly passed an act for "repairing the barracks in the Fort in the Town of Frederica on the Island of St. Simons."

In 1771 the town of Brunswick was laid out on the mainland opposite St. Simons upon a tract of land which had been included in the holdings of Mark Carr, first white resident of the region.  Streets were named for the Dukes of Gloucester and Newcastle, for King George, Lord Mansfield, General Monk, and other prominent Englishmen; and it was predicted that the town would "precede Frederica in importance." However, little was done toward building the new town before the Revolutionary War.

In 1772 James Spalding, who was now a member of the House of Assembly and a justice of St. James Parish, was married to Margery McIntosh of Darien, a granddaughter of his business partner, Donald Mackay, and also a granddaughter of John McIntosh Mohr.  The first home of the young couple was Oglethorpe's old Orange Hall Plantation, known locally as The General's Farm, and it was here in the English cottage built by Oglethorpe that the Spalding's son Thomas was born-he who came to be known as the Laird of Sapelo.  With the establishment of the prosperous mercantile house of Mackay and Spalding, business activity had been renewed upon the island, and, in 1773 Frederica was considered along with Savannah, Augusta, and Sunbury, as one of the leading towns of Georgia.  When William Bartram visited St. Simons in 1774 he found many of the "spacious and expensive buildings of Frederica in ruins, but a number of neat houses in good repair and inhabited; and St. Simons seeming to be recovering, owing to the liberal spirit of J.Spalding Esqr. who is President of the island."

Throughout the Revolutionary War, St. Simons was almost entirely deserted.  James Spalding remained loyal to the Crown, and moved with other loyalists to Florida.  Young Raymond Demere, although descended from Captain Demere of the British Regulars, was a member of the Provincial Congress, and distinguished himself as an officer under General Washington.  Some of the earliest historians tell us that Fort Frederica was repaired and used by Fuser after he was repulsed in his first attack on Sunbury by Colonel Mclntosh's laconic "Come and Take It,' and that the fort was finally dismantled and destroyed when no longer needed by the British.

It was in the years following the Revolutionary War that St. Simons came into the period of its great agricultural prosperity.  St. James Parish had been combined with the parishes of St. Patrick and St. David into the county named for John Glynn, British supporter of provincial rights; and although Frederica had greatly declined in population it was the principal town of the county.

Raymond Demere the second had returned to the island, where he became one of the leading coastal planters and head of a family always prominent in the state.  When James Spalding returned to find his storehouses and trading posts in ruins and his business gone, he, too, turned his interests to agriculture.  Among the first successful planters of the new long staple cotton imported from the Indies, Spalding recouped his fortune and became one of the largest land owners in the county.  Included in his property was a tract at the south end of the island which was called Orange Grove Plantation, and it was here, in a house which was a duplicate of General Oglethorpe's range Hall, that young Thomas Spalding and his bride spent the first months of their married life.  Other planters bought property on St. Simons, and by the latter 1700's there were more than a dozen prosperous plantations raising the crop that made agricultural history and caused the little coastal island to be known all over the world as the "famous long staple cotton island of St. Simons."

In 1788 the General Assembly provided for an Academy to be built at Brunswick; in 1789 the town was made a port of entry; in 1797 it was made the county seat.  It was during this latter part of the 1700's that Georgia's Revolutionarv War heroine, Nancy Hart, and her family lived for a time in Brunswick.  Red haired, cross-eyed, six feet tall, Nancy, so the story goes, had singlehandedly captured a group of Tories when they came to her house for food.

Although these years brought a period of prosperity to Brunswick and to the St. Simons plantations, only a handful of inhabitants now remained in the once busy town of Frederica.  Known as Old Town to the planters, its wharves were still in use, and mail for the island was delivered here; but the only places of business at this time seem to have been a general store and Billy Bain's Grog Shop.  As had been predicted years before, the town of Brunswick on the mainland had grown to be more important than Frederica.  Even the ruins of the old military post gradually disappeared, since much of the material from the abandoned buildings was carried away to be used in other construction.  Tabby and brick from Frederica are said to have been used in the foundations of the first St. Simons lighthouse, established in 1811.

In the latter part of the War of 1812 when the British attacked the southern coast, many of the residents of St. Simons left for places of safety on the mainland, and English troops occupied the island for several weeks.  Plantations were plundered, and equipment, food supplies, cattle, and slaves were carried away.  As soon as hostilities ended, life on the plantations was resumed, and for half a century the island enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity.  Moribund Frederica was still the "post town," and during the early part of the nineteenth century an Episcopal church was built near the ruins of the old fort, in the grove of oaks where Charles Weslev had first preached to the colonists.  Called Christ Church like the mother church at Savannah, it was the center of religious life for the entire island.

Some of the planters and their families lived upon their places the year round, while for others their St. Simons property served as summer or vacation homes.  Only a few of the families were enormously wealthy, but there was luxury and comfort and the gracious, pleasant life of the Old South, when one successful crop of sea island cotton might bring its owner a hundred thousand dollars.  They had fine horses and handsome carriages and comfortable houses; they traveled in the British Isles and upon the continent of Europe, ordered books from Philadelphia and London for carefully selected libraries, and had family portraits painted by Sully of Philadelphia and by journeymen artists or "house painters."

The island planters were men whose ancestral background and culture gave them common interests, and whose nationalities and experiences made as cosmopolitan a group as could be found anywhere in the world.  English, Scottish, Irish, and French, they included professional men, Oxford graduates, statesmen, military men-all individuals of wide experience, intensely interested in affairs of the world as well as in those of their own new country.  Primarily agriculturists, they were also sportsmen, epicures, and students.  Their interests embraced philosophy, religion, arts, and sciences; the semi-seclusion of their surroundings gave them leisure for reading, study, and discussion.  The hospitality of the island plantations was a by-word throughout the country, as remarked in a newspaper article of the day: "If the health of the St. Simons planters should keep pace with their hospitality they will each see their hundredth year."

As the population and prosperity of Glynn County increased, its citizens made every effort to build the town of Brunswick into a shipping and commercial center that would rival Savannah.  A newspaper and bank were established; plans were proposed for a railroad, and a project was undertaken for a canal to "unite the Altamaha with an arm of the sea a few miles above Brunswick." A large hotel was built, and the streets of the town were busy with merchants, traders, and sawmill operators, railroad and canal projectors, and with the inevitable land speculators.  Labor and financial difficulties caused the Brunswick canal project to be unsuccessful, and when Sir Charles Lyell visited the region he expressed regret that "the $900,000 expended upon it had not been spent in geological survey." Brunswick's prospects for growing into an important commercial city at that time were blasted by the War Between the States. The exposed location of the town made defense so dffficult that most of the inhabitants refugeed to the safety of inland towns.

St. Simons was at first fortified and protected by Confederate artillery troops, but when defenses were concentrated at points upon the mainland the island inhabitants were ordered evacuated, the fortifications and the lighthouse were destroyed, and the troops were withdrawn.  The commander of a federal boat, who wrote in July 1862 that he had circled St. Simons and "tossed a few shells," then had landed to find it entirely deserted, described the island as "decidedly the most aristocratic little place I have seen on the coast of North America," adding "you of course know it is the summer residence of some of the richest people of South Carolina." With Georgia's ports blockaded and Brunswick and St. Simons in the hands of the enemy, the island was used as a concentration area for freed slaves, or contraband, as they were called.

In the days of Reconstruction some of the plantations were confiscated by carpetbaggers, and in a few instances several years went by before the planters were able to reclaim their property.  In spite of heroic attempts that were made to restore the old order of things, the island never returned to its proud status as an agricultural comniunity.  Among the St. Simons plantations which were famous throughout the world of agriculture, best known perhaps were the estates of Hamilton, Cannon's Point, Hampton, and Retreat.