A politically charged national border. Religious and cultural differences. The specter of slavery. Threats of war and natural disaster. These may sound like modern news headlines but they would have also told the current events of the new settlements of coastal Georgia and South Carolina in the early 1700s.
Ordinary people moved from their native lands to establish new homes on the wild sea islands and blackwater creeks of the Lowcountry and Golden Isles and found extraordinary conditions awaiting them. A little more than an hour and a half from Bluffton on nearby St. Simons Island, Ga., was one such settlement. The fort and town of Frederica was established in 1736 by the British under James Ogletorpe and there they built homes and lives on the very frontier of the colonies.
Now preserved as Fort Frederica National Monument the ruins of this settlement remind us of a time when our nation was young but faced timeless challenges and found strength through a diverse culture and an unquenchable spirit to face the unknown.
Fort Frederica National Monument is located on St. Simons Island, Ga., and provides a window into the past amid the green beauty of a coastal sea island culture. Founded in 1736 by James Oglethorpe, this settlement was expressly set up to be a buffer between the English colonies and Spanish Florida. It was here that these two nations clashed repeatedly in an effort to maintain control over the coast. At its height, Frederica was home to over 600 settlers of all trades.
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The colony was special in that it attracted “debtors” and those who faced imprisonment as well as those who practiced different religions and denominations. Frederica was also unique in that it forbade slavery and sought prosperity through other means.
A fort of oyster shell tabby was built to protect the small town and 500 British soldiers manned its guns and walls. Twice, the Spanish sent soldiers to attack the town and both times were driven off by British troops and armed settlers. The diverse culture of craftspeople, refugees and free people thrived for several more decades before the settlement declined in favor of the port of Brunswick founded further inland. In 1936 Fort Frederica National Monument was preserved by the United States as a cultural landmark and its grounds are open to the public today.
When you visit Fort Frederica National Monument you will be greeted by acres of live oaks, pecan and other southern trees, all bedecked with Spanish moss and inviting you to walk the site of the old town. An interpretive center provides context and tours and the open area of the town is right outside its door.
Brick and tabby ruins are all that remains of small colonial homes and the crenulated powder magazine and several frowning cannon are all that remain of the fort, but they stand castle-like at the edge of the water.
As the salty marsh breeze stirs the moss and the Union Jack crackles above you will be reminded of a time when the Old World met the New World and the bright future of our nation lay down a challenging path of life in a raw and open land.
Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username “greenkayak73.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fort Frederica National Monument is located at 6515 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island, GA 31522. Driving time from Bluffton is a little over an hour and a half and it is very easy to find. Take I-95 south to Exit 38 at Brunswick. Take GA 25 for 5 miles to U.S. 17. Take a right on U.S. 17 for 3 miles to the Torras Causeway to St. Simons Island. Take a left onto the causeway and a left on Sea Island Road once you are on the island. At 3.1 miles, take a left at the roundabout onto Frederica Road and a left at Fort Frederica National Monument.
The site is open year-round and is closed certain holidays. There is no admission charge, and there are full facilities for individuals and groups. The Junior Ranger program is fun for kids to learn as they visit and tours are available. Call 912-638-3630 for more information or go to https://www.nps.gov/fofr/index.htm.
St. Simons Island Lighthouse
St. Simons Island is well worth a visit unto itself. This thriving resort community will remind you of home and you will find many of the same amenities as you will in Bluffton or on Hilton Head Island. One of the landmark features is the St. Simons Island Lighthouse. Built in 1872, this 110-foot-tall light was constructed to guide coastal shipping and direct transportation entering St Simons Sound for the port of Brunswick. It housed a biconvex Fresnel lens. The light functioned alone until 1972 when the U.S. Coast Guard established more modern range lights for the inlet. The lighthouse still serves as a navigational beacon with these range lights and is one of the few historic lights in America doing so today. The St. Simons Lighthouse is operated and preserved by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society.
The light and museum are open for visitors to tour and climb from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and closed certain holidays. Admission is $12 for adults, $5 for children 6-12. It is located at 610 Beachview Drive, St. Simons Island, GA 31522. Call 912-638-4666 for more information.