On June 4, 2009, I went with my family to visit Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island. This was a memorable venture on my part as I had not been to the Fort since I was about two years old. I toured the very small museum with growing interest as I began to realize the importance of Fort Frederica in the youthful years of my native state, which, at the time of the Fort’s heyday, was a colony. In 1733, General James E. Oglethorpe was given a grant and a commission to begin the colony of Georgia. At that time, Spain and Great Britain vied for the southeastern portion of North America. The colony of Carolina had been established some years before and Oglethorpe was given the land from the Savannah River to the Altamaha River (from north to south) and from the Atlantic Ocean to what is now Tennessee (east to west). Below the Altamaha lay the “Debatable Lands” all the way to St. Mary’s River. Below the St. Mary’s River lay Florida, the land of the Spanish with St. Augustine as its central city. Political and economical struggles pivoted the new colony of Georgia into a hotbed of war. In fact, the name of the war at the time was very peculiar, the War of Jenkins’s Ear.
Fort Frederica lay just inside the “debatable lands” along with the “lost” Fort St. Simons, Fort King George, and New Inverness (Darien). This fort was comprised of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, Scottish Highlanders, Rangers, and many settlers who had many trades. Nearly 800 people settled in this fort and made their own version of an English village. They used their trades and took part in an entrepreneurial gamble with success or death as the stakes. Yet God’s Providence shined on this small settlement for a small period so that those who call themselves Georgians can actually claim that heritage in contrast to a possibility of speaking or being Spanish. Although this place was wild in clime, flora, and fauna; the folks that settled there held out and gained a niche in Georgia’s history.
They built their homes and the fort out of tabby and the floor plans, house foundations, the fort, and earthworks of the tiny settlement can still be seen even after 250 plus years since the fort was abandoned. Some of the houses were two-storey with cellars. Many artifacts were on display and showed the tools and vessels that the settlers used. In actuality, the settlement was quite large. It was incredible to think that the grassy field I walked in was once a bustling settlement. The National Park Service has done a marvelous job in preserving and uncovering the history of Fort Frederica.
Oglethorpe, a man of considerable temper, led a flotilla of gunships down to Florida to bombard the Spanish at St. Augustine. The fortress of St. Augustine, the Castillo de San Marcos, was impregnable to the attack of the British and Oglethorpe left demoralized. By the way, I have been to Castillo de San Marcos and it is massive and very well preserved. The governor of St. Augustine decided it was his turn to be on the offensive so he led a force of about 2000 to attack the British at St. Simons Island. He took Fort St. Simons and headed up a “road” northward up the island. The Creek Indians, allies of the British, alerted Oglethorpe of the enemy moving up the road, which was now very close to the Fort. Oglethorpe rushed out of the fort with the few troops he had, Scottish Highlanders, Rangers, and Indians; and charged down the road to meet the enemy. This plan worked as the Spanish, being used to fight Continental style of warfare, were surprised and overwhelmed by the Scots, Rangers, and Indians style of guerilla warfare. This was known as the battle of Gully Hole Creek. The Spanish retreated to the south end of the island and then advanced back up the island to try to take Ft. Frederica. The British cooked up an ambush at a spot much nearer the center of the island. They made rough barricades on one side of a marsh with its center only traversed by a narrow path. The British regulars were positioned on the left flank with the right flank protected by the Scottish Highlanders under the leadership of a MacKay. To the right of the Scots were a force of Rangers and Indians. The Spanish advanced to the marsh and began to suspect a trap as they saw movement on the opposite side. The British opened fire and both sides were consumed in a smokescreen with few casualties. Before this, Oglethorpe rode back to Frederica to get reinforcements himself; this was a mistake on his part. The British regulars began to flee in panic but a young officer held the rest in their place. The Scots remained steadfast and continued firing into the Spanish. The Spanish, out of ammunition, retreated and so the battle was won. The battle was known as the battle of Bloody Marsh.
The Spanish quitted St. Simons for good and Georgia was left in the hands of the British. We know well what happened in the American colonies in the latter 18th century but this time of was not as well known but it just as important. Without Oglethorpe’s efforts on St. Simons, we would probably be speaking Spanish and Georgia’s first and second struggles for independence would be nonexistent. God’s divine providence can and should be seen throughout all history as it is His Story.
As a side note, I found two very interesting facts that I wanted to share. It should be evident to all residents of Glynn County that the influence and courage of the Scots in this area should not be taken for granted. I thought that the Scots’ influence in this county was more in the area of Darien but I was mistaken. It is interesting to consider the fact that Oglethorpe made the wise decision to give the Scots more autonomy and independence; the Scots do not do well under English supervision or rule. their fortitude, particularly in the battles of Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh, was very significant in those battles and without it the English would have lost. I also found an interesting fact about the qualifications of a British soldier. In a lonesome corner of the museum, a cardboard poster stands out and gives three qualifications for British soldiers. I thought this qualifications very hilarious and more to my liking.
- Are you sound of mind and body?
- Are you Protestant?
- Are you Five feet Six inches tall or taller?
For more information, read this pdf file: http://www.nps.gov/fofr/historyculture/upload/webhistory.pdf