Monday, October 19, 2009

Fort Frederica National Monument - St. Simons Island, Georgia

It is hard not to fall in love with the picturesque setting of old Fort Frederica.

Located on a bend of the Frederica River and looking out over poet Sidney Lanier's famed "Marshes of Glynn," the ruins of the old fort and associated English village still stand beneath massive oak trees draped in Spanish moss.

Now a national park area, Fort Frederica was once a powerful defensive position built by General James Oglethorpe in 1736 to defend his fledgling Georgia colony against attacks from the Spanish in Florida. Oglethorpe picked St. Simons Island because it commanded both the vital inland waterway leading up the Georgia Coast as well as one of the best deep water harbors between Savannah and the St. Johns River. The large island also offered decent lands for farming, a vital necessity for the support of any town established there.

Frederica's history is extremely rich. The powerful fort was the target of a Spanish campaign in 1742 that was turned back at the nearby Battles of Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh. The success of English arms in these battles allowed the little English village established by Oglethorpe inside a stout wall of earth and timber to prosper for a time as one of the most successful settlements in Georgia.

The famed ministers Revs. Charles and John Wesley preached there in homes and beneath the natural arbors of the island. John Wesley is remembered today as the father of the Methodist Church, while Charles is best known for the many beautiful hymns he wrote, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Time, however, eventually moved on past Fort Frederica. The garrison was disbanded, a move that was also the death blow for the town. Left in ruins by a fire during the 1750s, the site was eventually reclaimed by the lush forests of St. Simons Island.

Today visitors to the site can still see the ruins of Oglethorpe's original fortress and look out at the river over the barrel of what is thought to be one of his original cannon. Ruins of the barracks and other military structures also survive, but equally fascinating are the ruins of the homes of Frederica's citizens. In one of them a tavern keeper's wife attacked one of the Wesley brothers with her scissors, while in another trades were negotiated with hunters and chiefs of the Creek Nation. Archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of many of the homes and interpretive panels help visitors understand what went on in each.

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