A Military Town on the Colonial Georgia Frontier
After breakfast it was very exciting to launch Baby Beez for the first time in ages. Off we spuddled leaving Beez at the bend in the river, Baby Beez was tied at the official Fort Frederica Visitors Dock. We stepped ashore and found an information plaque. Quite a surprise. We had expected to wander along the path toward the little fort ruins, take a few pictures of Bear and his trigger finger, have a short bimble and back to Beez. Clearly there was more here as the sign said for us to head up to the Visitors Centre to pay our three dollars. With more to see Bear had to put his hands in his pockets to contain his excitement..............
Off we went to wander through the ruins of a whole town en route to the Visitors Centre. We found a very smart building, complete with friendly and helpful Rangers, toilets and a shop. Once we had paid our dues we watched an interesting film about the birth of the fort, looked at the displays, saw Bear in uniform and I got to do a Ma Baker impression.
The ruins of old Frederica recall the struggle for empire in the southeast in the 1700’s. Ancient rivals Spain and England (the main contenders), both claimed the land between St Augustine and Charleston. Spain was a waning power in this part of North America while England was building a vast empire from Maine to Carolina. As a southern frontier buffer, Britain planted the Georgia colony – the last of the original thirteen and the first since Quakers founded Pennsylvania half a century earlier – in the territory below Carolina.
The colony sprang as much from a spirit of benevolence as from the realities of imperial politics. Like the Quaker venture, Georgia was an experiment in idealism. In the 1720’s England felt a wave of sentiment to remedy the plight of thousands of poor people drifting without jobs or languishing in debtors’ jail. To salvage these “worthy poor,” prominent English citizens - among them James Oglethorpe, a soldier and politician concerned with the welfare of both the poor and the empire – petitioned the Crown for a land grant south of the Savannah River. The government welcomed the enterprise as a way to hold the Spanish in check and relieve social distress at home.
In 1732 King George II granted to a Board of Trustees all the land between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers and west from their headwaters to the Pacific – a tract larger than Britain. British of all classes rallied to the idea of a new Utopia in the American wilderness. Money poured in, public and private, and the first shipload of 114 people set sail led by Oglethorpe. Reaching Georgia in January 1733, they travelled up the Savannah River eighteen miles to their new home.
Spurred by Oglethorpe’s energy – he was everywhere “building the Town, Keeping Peace, laying out land, supplying the Stores with provisions, encouraging the fainthearted etc” – an orderly town, Savannah, rose on the bluffs.
Settlement was one of Oglethorpe’s purposes; another was defense against the Spanish. In 1734 he sailed down the coast to find strategic points to fortify. He found one on a sea island just below the mouth of the Altamaha. This was St Simons an island thick with live oaks draped in moss with good water and a fertile upland. Two years later he returned with the first settlers, forty four men (mostly skilled workers) and seventy two women and children, and laid out a military town on a bluff overlooking a sharp bend in the inland passage up the coast. He named the town for Frederick, the King’s only son. It came to be Oglethorpe’s favourite town in Georgia.
The settlers’ first task was to build a fort. Under Oglethorpe’s direction they raised an earthen work that reflected classical ideas of the 1600’s French military engineer Vauban. Over the years Oglethorpe modified this work and the town into a formidable position. Frederica is defended, wrote a visitor in 1745 “by a pretty strong Fort of Tappy (Tabby was commonly spelt this way at the time), which has several eighteen Pounders mounted on a Ravelin in it’s Front, and commands the River both upwards and downwards; and is surrounded by a quadrangular Rampart, with four bastions of Earth well stockaded and turfed, and a palisaded ditch.”
Behind the fort, on a field planted in corn by the Indians Oglethorpe laid out eighty four lots, most sixty by ninety feet. Each family received a lot for building and fifty country acres for crops. The first dwellings, palmetto huts, were eventually replaced by houses built of wood, tabby (a crude concrete made of burnt oyster shells, lime and sand) and brick in the Georgian style. Orange trees shaded the main road, seventy five foot wide Broad Street, which ran from the fort to the town gates. Frederica’s artisans included a wheelwright and public baker (Oglethorpe brought over as an indentured servant). The blacksmith (his shop was in the fort’s northeast bastion, now seen only as a small pile of bricks), was a busy man. Archeologists recovered more than 5,000 artifacts from the floor. Among these were gun parts used by the armorer, trigger guards, butt plates, musket locks and ramrod tips. Musket balls were molded here, as splattered lead and almost 100 balls were found. The blacksmith worked with iron, copper, brass and lead. For the townsfolk he made hinges, latches, hooks and a variety of tools.
Aside from lacking a church spire 1740’s Frederica might have passed for an English midlands village. The population reached about five hundred, and the town took on an air of permanency. Tradespeople and skilled workers prospered. Farmers cultivated crops with their own hands in the nearby fields – slavery was banned in the colony. Most families supplemented their diet with the regions abundant wildlife, shooting almost anything that moved.
The Hawkins-Davison Houses. The families who lived in these houses were among Frederica’s first settlers. Doctor Thomas Hawkins and his wife, Beatre lived in the house on the right. His various positions as the Regimental Surgeon, town physician, apothecary and Officer of the Court gave him a substantial income. Concerning the town doctor, Thomas Jones wrote in 1741, “He had not administered one dose of physic to any poor person, but refused unless paid.....”
Their neighbours (on the left) were the well-liked tavern keeper, he made gunstocks for the regiment, was the town constable and ship inspector Samuel Davison, his wife Susanna, two sons and a daughter. The shared walls proved too close for comfort for these neighbours. The Reverend Charles Wesley called this popular and industrious man “my good Samaritan.” The Davisons left the town in 1741, unable to tolerate their quarrelsome neighbours, the Hawkins’. Apparently the good doctor was frequently embroiled in lawsuits. His wife Beatre was not noted for hospitality, she threatened Reverend John Wesley with a pair of scissors and a pistol. Wesley escaped but not before Mrs Hawkins had shredded his cassock with her teeth............
Another unpopular resident was Samuel Perkins, a coach maker, who arrived at Frederica with the first settlers. He built two good houses in the town. Outside he cleared and fenced five acres, built another house, planted oranges, peaches and other crops. But life was not easy for Perkins. General Oglethorpe forbade him to sell iron goods or make chaises. A captain in the regiment prevented him from working his garden. One of Oglethorpe’s boatmen beat him up, a soldier shot six of his hogs when they got loose, but perhaps the final insult was although he was a town peace officer, the soldiers were ordered to ignore him. Perkins left town for Charleston in May 1741. The records don’t fully explain why he had so much trouble, noting only that he was “persecuted out of the colony.”
The Hawkins-Davison homes (top left of the town) were the key to mapping the whole town, as theirs was the only common wall. By random chance and good luck the archeologists found what they were looking for almost immediately. A map existed of the original town, so from this original find the teams of volunteers could easily find all the other ruins.
During its short history, Frederica’s residents engaged in a variety of occupations. There was literally “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.” At this site John Calwell and his family made candles and soap fine enough to export to Pennsylvania and New York. Calwell, like many of the other residents worked at more than one trade, he was also a travelling merchant, shopkeeper, surveyor, bailiff and “Conservator of the Peace.” The Calwell house was one of the best in town, with thick tabby walls. The remains of a baking oven and two fireplaces are all that remain today.
“The whole building will be sixty foot long by twenty foot wide, three stories, the two lowermost cellars and rooms for provisions, books, etc,; and the uppermost a chappel.” General Oglethorpe, 1738.
This brick rectangle marks the site of the North Storehouse. It was a three-story brick and timber structure with a flat, tarred roof.
“The people went on with building the storehouse, but slowly, hands being taken off for building the fort....” Francis Moore 1736 in A Voyage to Georgia.
Ship’s cargoes of food, tools, weapons and other provisions vital to the colony were stored here. Frederica’s food stores for 1737 included an estimated 20,586 pounds of meat, 15,980 pounds of rice and more than 8,000 gallons of wine.
The storehouse doubled as a courthouse and church. John Wesley conducted Anglican services on the third floor. In his journal for Sunday the 11th of April 1736, Wesley wrote: “I preached at the new storehouse on the first verse of the Gospel for the day: Which of you convinceth me of sin?” Charles Wesley, John’s brother, also preached in this building which he called “our tabernacle.”
The Trustees of the colony awarded each working man the following for the first year to get them started:
312 lbs. of beef or pork
104 lbs. of rice
104 lbs. of Indian corn
104 lbs. of flower (as spelt)
1 pint of Strong-beer a Day to a Man when he works, and not otherwife,
52 quarts of Molifies for brewing beer
16 Lbs. of Cheefe
12 lbs. of butter
8 oz. of Spice
12 Lbs. Sugar
4 gallons of Vinegar
24 Lbs. of Salt
12 Quarts of Lamp-Oil
1 Lb. of Spun-Cotton
12 Lbs. of soap.
The settler on this lot was Daniel Cannon, a carpenter. Cannon with his sons Joseph and Daniel, lived here for four years, then “quitted ye colony.” More than one-third of Frederica’s freeholders left town during the first five years. In addition to his own “good timber house” Cannon built others, including an elegant three-story brick house for Samuel Davison at the end of the street. Cannon also made oars for the boats used in Oglethorpe’s 1740 expedition against the Spanish at St Augustine. There is a ring of bricks behind the ruin marking the well. Drinking water at Frederica was plentiful and of “tolerable good quality.”
November 1736. Fifteen year old Joseph Cannon, wrote in a letter to England; “We have built us a little room with some boards that we sawed, and built us a chimney in it with clay.”
Can you imagine a woman doing a few chores, pottering around a little in the garden, doing a bit of washing as it’s a nice drying day, then taking a stroll by the river. The summers are unbearably hot, you are confronted by hoards of malaria carrying mosquito and sand flies that could make life a complete misery. Then as you take a breather an enormous alligator barks “hi y’all.” You don’t face that kind of thing in Chipping Sodbury or Charing Cross, poor or not. So many found life a dreadful struggle.
True pioneering spirit and not for the faint hearted.
The famed Quaker, naturalist William Bartram, would stand on the grounds of Frederica. He wrote in his famous Travels of William Bartram:
"The fortress was regular and beautiful, constructed chiefly with brick, and was the
largest, most regular, and perhaps most costly of any in North America, of British
construction: it is now in ruins, yet occupied by a small garrison; the ruins also of the town
ownly remain; peach trees, figs, pomegranates, and other shrubs grow out of the ruinous
walls of former spacious and expensive buildings, not only in the town, but at a distance
in various parts of the island; yet there are a few neat houses in good repair, and
inhabited: it seems now recovering again, owing to the public and liberal spirit and
exertions of J. Spalding, esq., who is the president of the island, and engaging in very
extensive mercantile concerns."
ALL IN ALL A GREAT TO LEARN ABOUT REAL PEOPLE