CHAPTER 6. REVOLUTIONARY WAR AND AFTERMATH
BATTLE AT THOMAS CREEK
In 1776 East and West Florida remained loyal to King George III. Daniel McGirtt arrived in east Florida to fight the American Rebels in Georgia.
Early in June 1776, not long after McGirtt arrived in the province, Georgia militiamen began crossing the St. Marys River, raiding plantations and stealing cattle.
In 1777 rebels routed in Battle at Thomas Creek.
On May 10, 1777, Col. Baker and one hundred mounted Georgia militiamen crossed the St. Marys River, rode toward Sawpit Bluff, where they were to rendezvous with Colonel Samuel Elbert and four hundred Continental soldiers. Two days later, Baker and his men reached the bluff on the Inland Passage to find that Elbert had not arrived. For the next three days, the Georgians conducted a number of raids between the Nassau and Trout Rivers.
On May 14, British Lt. Col. Thomas Brown and his East Florida Rangers sailed from the Cowford to Trout Creek, where they began searching for Baker and his men. They found the Georgians camped nine miles from the creek. Before Brown could attack, his men were seen by a sentinel and forced to retreat. Brown ordered his Indians to steal the Georgians' horses. The Indians were later tracked to Brown's ships and a brief skirmish ensued. Brown then returned to the Cowford.
On May 16, British regulars under the command of Major Mark Prevost marched from the Cowford to Frederick Rolfe's sawmill on Trout Creek. They were followed by the Rangers, who searched the King's Road to the St. Marys River for Baker. When the Georgians' camp was found south of Thomas Creek, Brown sent for the regulars. At dawn on May 17, the British attacked and defeated the Americans. Two days later, Elbert arrived at Sawpit Bluff and rescued survivors of the Battle of Thomas Creek, the only revolutionary War battle fought in present-day Duval County.
In 1778 rebels defeated in a skirmish at Alligator Creek.
The Midway Historic District is at the junction of US Highway 17 and Georgia Highway 38, thirty miles south of Savannah.. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 am. - 4:00 p.m., Sunday 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Closed holidays. Admission. (912) 884-5837.
The Midway Historic District was once an influential center for political, economic, and religious life. The town was founded by New England Puritans in 1752. They built a church here in 1754. It was a crude log hut. These colonists were strongly for independence from Great Britain. As a consequence, during the Revolution, the Brits burned the church and most of the buildings in 1778.
In 1778 the British put into effect their plan to take Georgia via Savannah. The British committed an army of 100 British regulars and 300 Indians and Scopholites (named for the South Carolina Tory named Scophol) under Lt. Colonel Mark Prevost and 500 men by water under Lt. Colonel L. V. Fuser. Prevost landed on the Altamaha River and swept up to Midway.
Colonel John White posted about one hundred continentals with two pieces of light artillery at the midway Church and constructed a breastwork just south of it, hoping to hold off Prevost until help arrived from Savannah. When General James Screven arrived with some twenty militiamen, the Americans moved their position 1.5 miles sough of the church.
A fierce engagement to drive the British back ensued, in which General James Screven was wounded and capture; he died while in the hands of the enemy. Before leaving Midway, the meeting House was burned.
The church was rebuilt in 1792. It is a clapboard church built of cypress timber. Inside there is a high pulpit and elevated galleries for the slaves from the plantations in the area.
Among the Midway ministers were the Rev. Abiel Holmes, father of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes; Dr. I. S. K. Axson, grandfather of the first Mrs. Woodrow Wilson; and the Rev. Jedidah Morse, geographer and father of S. F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph.
Also remaining from the colonial era are the historic 1756 cemetery and a segment of the historic "Old Sunbury Road" (now Georgia highway 38). The Midway Museum, a raised cottage style house typical of those built on the coast in the 18th century, features exhibits, documents, and furnishings commemorating 18th and early 19th century life. The museum house was specifically designed to show a typical plantation house, modeled after the houses that once stood in Midway near the church.
We took a tour of the museum. Nobody lived here. The three story raised cottage style house, typical of those built on the coast in the 18th century, was specifically built for educational purposes. The builder, Mr. Little copied it from a picture of a Riceboro house. It opened in 1957. Some of the items (all before 1800) pointed out to us were: musical glasses from England (only one of three still surviving); a German music box; picture of John Elliot Ward, ambassador to China; a gold down table with rope leg design; a charcoal painting by the first Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (who came here to hear her grandfather preach); a coffin window on the first landing; large hurricane lamps; a warmer that they took to church to help heat the structure. Upstairs we saw a small doll collection and a four-poster bed.
On the grounds are historical markers devoted to three influential men of the area. Nathan Brownson was a Georgia colonial governor. He was born in Connecticut in 1742. He was a graduate of Yale College where he studied medicine. He moved to Liberty County. He was one of the founders of the University of Georgia. He died here in 1796.
Lyman Hall was also a governor of Georgia (1783-1784). He too was born in Connecticut, but in 1724. He purchased Hall's Knoll Plantation. He was a physician. He died in 1790.
Button Gwinnett was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1735. He came to Georgia in 1765. He purchased St. Catherine's Island. He died in a duel held on the outskirts of Savannah.
Both Button Gwinnett and Lyman Hall attended Midway Church.
LeConte Woodmanston National Historic Place
From the Dorchester Academy. Drive east two miles and turn right on US 17 at the traffic light. Drive 2.4 miles and turn right on Barrington Ferry Road. Drive one-tenth of a mile to the intersection of Lewis Frasier Road. Continue straight. Drive 1.6 miles to the intersection of E. B. Cooper Sr. Highway. Continue straight. Drive 2.3 miles to the intersection of Briar Bay Road. Continue straight. After crossing Briar Bay Road, Barrington Ferry Road is unpaved but well-maintained. Look for woodstorks, ospreys, egrets, and herons that feed in the wetlands. Almost one mile south of the Briar Bay intersection, you will find an historic marker for the Bartram Trail on the left. The sign marks the entrance to LeConte Woodmanston.
The Le Contes came to Midway. They were a scientific family. Dr. Le Conte achieved international fame as did his sons, John and Joseph. John was the first president of the University of California at Berkeley. Joseph and his friend John Muir co-founded the Sierra Club.
LeConte Woodmanston, formerly the home of Dr. Louis LeConte, flourished as one of Georgia's earliest inland swamp rice plantations. LeConte had studied medicine but he also had a passion for botany. Botanists from all over the United States and Europe came to see the gardens here. It is now a nature preserve. Louis LeConte's world-famous 18th century botanical gardens are being recreated. you can walk the interpretative trail along the earthen rice dikes leading through the Bulltown Swamp black-water ecosystgem. Stroll along the Avenue of Oaks.
Fort Morris State Park
Fort Morris State Historic Site; Rte 1, Box 236; Midway, Ga. 31320.
The National Park Service says: Fort Morris site was originally a Guale Indian village, closely tied to the settlements and Spanish missions on nearby St. Catherine's Island. It was here, on February 21, 1734, that General James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, held the first Masonic meeting in the new British colony.
Fort Morris was designed to protect the town of Sunbury. The fort was located just east of Sunbury. The fort had a goo location because the Midway River makes a sharp turn to the right in front of the fort. Attacking ships would have had to tack their ship directly in front of the fort, making them sitting ducks for the gunners (especially so, since there were range markers placed in the river).
Sunbury had been established by the founders of Midway, Georgia, not far away. 350 South Carolinians (originally Puritans from Massachusetts) crossed into Georgia in 1752 and occupied some 32,000 acres of land south of the Ogeechee River, the midway point between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers; hence the name Midway. They brought with them 1,500 slaves. The constructed rice and indigo plantations. They needed a seaport to export their protects so they build Sunbury. In 1761 Sunbury was declared a port of entry. In 1762 it was visited by 56 vessels.
A dead town since the early 1800s, Sunbury once rivaled Savannah in commercial importance.
Wm Bartram: "After resting, and a little recreation for a few days in Savanna, ... I sat off early in the morning for Sunbury, a sea- port town, beautifully situated on the main, between Medway and Newport rivers, about 15 miles south of great Ogeeche river." p. 32
The American Revolution brought considerable changes to the region. In 1776, delegates attending the Continental Congress recognized the strategic importance of having a fort to protect Georgia's middle coast from attack by the English navy. On a low bluff of the Medway River, adjacent to the important colonial seaport of Sunbury, a fort was constructed and garrisoned by 200 patriots.
In April 1776 the H.M.S. Hinchinbrook sailed up the Medway River and burned a lumber loaded brigantine and a privateer being outfitted near Sunbury.
Sunbury was a hotspot for military action against Florida. Three separate attempts were made to capture Florida from the British.
Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, became president and commander in chief of Georgia in 1777. He decided to capture St. Augustine and conquer all of Florida and annex it to Georgia. He also wanted to punish the Florida Rangers for capturing Fort McIntosh on the Satilla River and threatening Fort Howe on the Altamaha. In September 1776 troops from Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina met at Sunbury for a planned invasion of Florida. But the commanders of the expedition, Button Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh, quarreled before the expedition even got underway. The quarrel led to a duel, held May 19, 1777, in which Gwinnett died.
The second Florida expedition, June 1777, was commanded by Colonel Samuel Ebert and was launched from Sunbury. Two separate forces were to rendezvous on Sawpit Bluff on the St. Johns River. Unfortunately, the forces did not coordinate. Colonel John Barker went overland to Sawpit Bluff, but he was defeated. Upon hearing of the defeat, Ebert returned to Sunbury.
The third invasion involved 2,600 troops in four separate commands. There was dissension among the commanders and illness among the troops and the invasion failed. Governor John Houston led the Georgia militia. Georgia and Carolina Continentals were under General Robert Howe. The South Carolina militia was under Colonel Andrew Williamson. Naval units were under Commodore Oliver Bowen.
In 1778 Lt. Colonel L. V. Fuser landed 500 men near Sunbury and demanded the surrender of Colonel John McIntosh and his 200 men. McIntosh responded "Come and take it." Later McIntosh was awarded a sword with his defiant words inscribed upon it.
In late 1778 American forces under General Robert Howe at Savannah were surprised by a British invasion and they evacuated the town. Howe told Sunbury and Augusta to follow suit. They did not. In January 1779 Prevost with 2,000 men laid siege to Sunbury. The fort fell and was renamed Fort George.
Sunbury, having suffered devastations at the hands of the British and the forces of nature brought by a hurricane a few years later, subsided in influence. In 1797 Riceborough superseded it as county seat and Sunbury became not much more than a memory.
Fort Morris defended Georgia against the British again during the War of 1812, when it was known as Fort Defiance. On January 13, 1815 Admiral George Cockburn captured St. Marys, Georgia. He headed then for Darien. The British received word of the war's end and so they returned to their ships.
The fort looks most like it would have during the War of 1812. There is an opening in the embankments. Here there would have been the sally port with a wooden gate.
In August 1861 the Liberty Independent Troop mustered into service at Sunbury. In June 1861 the Savannah Mounted Rifles under Captain Charles Lamar set up camp in Sunbury. The fort was garrisoned throughout the war.
On the bulletin board was a report entitled the "Rape of Liberty County" dealing with Sherman's march to the sea. Sherman came through the area in December 1864. General Judson Kilpatrick and the Union Cavalry was sent down the coast to raid the area south of Savannah. He headed for Sunbury. While approaching the town of Dorchester, a skirmish took place between Confederate cavalry and a Kentucky cavalry unit. the southerners were forced to flee.
The federal troops went to Sunbury. They burned Sunbury Baptist Church as a signal to the Federal troops on Bryan Neck that the town had been secured. They then proceeded to nearby Midway, Georgia. Union Calvary set up around Midway Church. The high brick walls of the cemetery mad an ideal corral to contain the confiscated livestock. From Midway the federal troops raided the surrounding area.
Famous residents of Sunbury included Georgia governors George Walton, Richard Howley, Button Gwinnett, Nathan Brownson, and Lyman Hall.
At times Fort Morris has battle reenactments in period uniform, encampments, and crafts and decorations.
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