By Buddy Sullivan.
coast, half way between Savannah and the St. Marys River lies McIntosh
County and the town of Darien. Today Darien is a quiet town and
travelers who fail to explore the lands along US 17 will pass by without
realizing the historical significance of the area and its place in
Two and a half centuries ago, John MacIntosh Mohr lead 176 other Scottish Highlanders in a little fleet of small
boats from the fledging settlement of Savannah to Barnwell’s Bluff on
the Altamaha River. The new town they built was not the first English
settlement on this strategic site. In 1720, 13 years before Savannah and
the colony of Georgia were founded, a successful planter from the
Carolina colony, John Barnwell, persuaded the British government
that a fort on the Altamaha was needed to defend Charles Town
(Charleston) from the Spanish in Florida. The next year Colonel Barnwell
and an independent company of foot soldiers arrived and began
construction of Fort King George. For six years, the first fort
was garrisoned by the Independent Company. During that time, over 140
soldiers died of sickness. In 1727 the garrrison was withdrawn to Port
Royal and the fort was abandoned.
But the Spanish threat to British colonies on the Southern coast
remained. In 1733 James Edward Oglethorpe founded the town of
Savannah and the colony of Georgia. Three years later the Highlanders
arrived at Barnwell’s Bluff and Darien was born. The new settlement was
not to be an isolated fort as Fort King George had been but a town of
permanent character. The Scots brought with them their families and a
minister, Reverend John McLeod. A small Chapel was built and the first
Presbyterian Church of Darien was founded.
With the arrival of the Scots, the area began to
flourish in spite of the continuing, Spanish threat. It was this threat
that gave Darien its existence as it did for the town and fort of
Frederica on St. Simons Island (also established in 1736). Proof that
the threat came in 1739 when Britain and Spain formally declared war.
Oglethorpe’s preliminary forays against St. Augustine were unsuccessful
but did delay the Spanish assault. When the attack did come in 1742, it
was from Darien that Oglethorpe summoned Highlanders to assist in the
defense of Fort Frederica. They came and distinguished themselves in the
Battle of Bloody Marsh. The British victory was to be the end of
the Spanish threat to the English colonies in America.
In the peace that followed the war with Spain, the
Scots turned to building the thriving community of Darien. Lands were
granted and cleared and prosperous plantations established. The
territory of the colony was divided into parishes. The district around
Darien was part of St. Andrews Parish. The Revolution again called forth
the fighting spirit of the Scots and the name of McIntosh was
written into American history. Lachlan (Pictured at right) , William
and John were all officers for the Patriot’s cause. The legendary
General Lachlan McIntosh commanded the first Georgia militia. It says
something of the clan and times that he is probably best known for the
duel he fought with Button Gwinnett, president of the
Revolutionary Government of Georgia. Gwinnett died of his wounds and
McIntosh was sent north as a brigadier general to fight against the
Following the Revolution the new state of Georgia
was reorganized into counties, most of which were named after
Revolutionary heroes. St. Andrews Parish became part of Liberty County.
In 1793 McIntosh County was split off from Liberty County and renamed
after its most famous family. The seat of county government was
established at Sapelo Main (now Eulonia) and court was held in the home
of John Houston McIntosh until an new courthouse could be built.
For Darien it was a time of growing prosperity as its
plantations produced cotton, rice, and indigo for world markets
and the Altamaha River became the Highway for great rafts of
pine, oak, and cypress. The growing importance of Darien to the economic
life of McIntosh County lead to the transfer there of the county seat
from Eulonia in 1819. The town experienced its times of trouble as it
was ravaged by a great fire in 1813 and a disastrous hurricane a year
later. The severest blow came in 1863 when Union troops
attacked from St. Simons and burned virtually every building in Darien.
Despite the devastation Darien recovered when the era
of lumbering reached its peak after the war. The town became a thriving
international port in the 1890’s. But modern ideas of conservation and
reforestation were unknown then. By 1900 the depletion of the forests
brought the boom to an end. The building of Georgia Coast and Piedmont
Railroad through Darien failed to stem the decline. The G. C. and P. was
affectionately known as the "Get Out Crackers and Push" and it failed as
US 17 pushed south in the 1920’s. Today much of the physical evidence of
this colorful history has disappeared but the beauty of the countryside
below is from an earlier LAHS brochure
About the Altamaha . . .
The Lower Altamaha Historical Society was established in 1979 to
address the growing need for an organization to gather, share and
promote the history and heritage of one of Georgia’s unique
regions—McIntosh County and the Altamaha River delta. The Altamaha River
and its basin have been synonymous with the economic, military and
cultural history of Darien and McIntosh County for over two centuries.
Prior to the arrival of the English in the mid-18th century, the
Altamaha was a major water route from the interior to the coast for
Indians, French trappers and Spanish missionaries. During the antebellum
period the river was the primary conduit for the shipment of upland
cotton to the thriving seaport of Darien. Of even more significance
locally, the agriculturally-rich Altamaha delta, where fresh water
inflow meets tidal influences from the sea, provided ideal conditions
for the cultivation of rice. Altamaha rice made the region one of the
most prosperous on the South Atlantic seaboard in the three decades
prior to the Civil War as a handful of planters realized enormous
profits after making huge investments in slaves and equipment. Remnants
of this activity abound in the lower Altamaha, including dikes, mills,
tidegates and abandoned ricefields. From 1870 to 1915, the Altamaha was
the scene of great timbering and lumbering operations. Yellow pitch pine
timber was rafted downriver to the sawmills around Darien for shipment
all over the world. This activity made Darien the leading lumber port on
the Atlantic coast for many years. Editor Richard Grubb noted in the
DARIEN TIMBER GAZETTE in 1 874:
"The Nile is said to be everything to Egypt; in fact, without the
Nile, there would be no Egypt.. .To a certain extent the same may be
truly said of the Altamaha River and Darien. Without the Altamaha
there would be no timber trade and no rice planting, and without
these, there would be no Darien..."
By World War I, the supply of timber was exhausted and Darien evolved
from an international port to a small, but significant, shrimping
community, which it remains to the present day.
About the Society . . .
Membership in the Lower Altamaha Historical Society provides a number
of benefits, including a free newsletter giving information about the
LAHS’ outstanding monthly lecture series in which speakers discuss
topics of historical interest to the Altamaha region; free entry to Fort
King George (the LAHS has as one of its primary missions the support and
promotion of Fort King George Historic Site near Darien); membership
field trips in the spring and fall to places of interest in coastal
Georgia; and publications promoted by LAHS, including "Scots of
McIntosh", "Memories of McIntosh" and "Early Days on the Georgia
Tidewater." LAHS is also an affiliate member of the Georgia Historical
Society, which provides benefits to local members, including
participation in genealogical, preservation and other useful workshops
conducted by GHS during the year.
The mission of LAHS is to preserve and disseminate the history of
McIntosh County. One of the ways the Society is doing that is to
document and catalog the county’s cemeteries and burial sites with a
project that will culminate in a published record of the material to
serve as a valuable genealogical and historical resource.
LAHS also houses its collection of historic documents, family histories,
deeds, records, letters, genealogical information, and its history
books pertaining to the area in its ARCHIVES/LIBRARY BUILDING on the
grounds of Fort King George. This building is open and available to the
public for reading, study and research from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
every Thursday, except from Thanksgiving Day through New Year's Day.