Lower Altamaha Historical Society

Lower Altamaha Historical  Society

P.O. Box 1405
Darien, Georgia
31305


Local History

 

 

By Buddy Sullivan.

Along Georgia’s 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 Georgia’s beginnings.

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 In 1727 the garrrison was withdrawn to Port Royal and the fort was abandoned.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 British.

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 remains.


This data 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.

 

 

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