Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites

 

 

Pre-Columbian natives of Georgia, as the Europeans who would come later, sought to locate settlements at sites with good defensive positions, abundant natural resources and access to trade with others. The high bluff of the Midway River met these requirements with the added bonus of easy access to the barrier island of St. Catherine's Island.

This same attractiveness resulted in Spanish contact with the region at the end of the 15th century. Historical evidence records the building of Spanish missions along the Georgia coast and barrier islands and some conversion of native populations. The French may also have been aware of the region having established a small settlement near the mouth of the St. Mary's River and a fortification at Paris Island, S.C. The British, after establishment of colonies further north, began to look favorably upon the area as well. By the 17th century, these three European rivals would begin to juggle in earnest for control of the region.

Not until the creation of the Georgia colony by English Trustees in 1733, however, was there pressure to create settlements and outposts along the coast to block Spanish expansion north from Florida. These stretched as far south as Frederica on St. Simon's Island. Exemplary service by Captain Mark Carr against the Spanish at Fort Frederica led to a land grant of 1000 acres on the Medway River.

As Carr and his son began successful farming, other settlers and merchants were attracted to the area. In 1758 a charter created the town of Sunbury which quickly became a thriving port of the colony, just slightly less busy than that of Savannah. As internal political tension rose within the colonies, St. John's Parish including Sunbury and Midway began to challenge the Savannah leadership as pro-British. As the other colonies moved further away from the British, Georgia's colonial leaders behaved too timidly for the St. John's Parish Americans. They sent a single delegate to the 2nd Continental Congress, Lyman Hall, a Sunbury resident. In the fall of 1775, two other Georgia delegates were dispatched: Button Gwinnett, who lived on St. Catherine's Island, and George Walton, who frequently stayed in Sunbury as well. They would become the three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Once the Revolution was declared, the Continental Congress called for the fortification of the bluff south of Sunbury to protect the valuable port from British attack. At that site an earthen fortification with cannon and a garrisoned barracks were constructed.

While the historical record remains unclear and a the lack of a full archaeological investigation of the site has limited our knowledge of the exact structures built, the heroic American actions that took place there are well documented. In 1778 when the British demanded the Fort's surrender, the defiant Col. John McIntosh replied, "Come and Take It!"; The British withdrew. Some forty-five days later they returned with a larger force capturing the American Fort Morris after a brief, but heavy bombardment. Changing the name to Fort George, the British occupied the Fort and the town of Sunbury until 1782 at which time they withdrew.

While other American settlements grew following the Revolution, the Sunbury settlement never regained its early prosperity. Nonetheless, during the War of 1812, the remaining residents rebuilt some earthworks and manned the site with a company of artillery until the War's end in 1816. They renamed the site Fort Defiance.

The devastating hurricane of 1824 and a yellow fever epidemic further eroded the population at Sunbury. By 1841 when the post office closed, only a few families remained.

Today, the remaining earthworks of Fort Morris and part of the Sunbury Cemetery are the only signs of this early vibrant Georgia community. Areas surrounding the cemetery and the Fort Morris site are experiencing an explosive growth today that makes the preservation of this site as the only remaining revolutionary earthworks in Georgia more important than ever before.





   
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