Tag Archives: St. Simons Island GA

Hamilton Plantation Slave Cabin, Circa 1806, St. Simons Island

Built for servants working in the main house of James Hamilton’s Gascoigne Bluff plantation, this slave cabin is one of four surviving on St. Simons. Two more survive on the lands of the former Hamilton Plantation. As evidenced by this authentic restoration, house slaves were generally kept in nicer dwellings than field hands and other laborers. Popularly known as The Tabby House, it was restored by Eugene Lewis in 1931 and again in 1995 by master tabby craftsmen J. Felton Tate, Sr., Renaldo Tate, Sr., and Renaldo Tate, Jr.. After the plantation house burned in the 1890s, a lumber mill was located on the property for many years. The cabin served as a doctor’s office during that era. Today, it is part of the Epworth By The Sea campus of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and is used as an event space.

National Register of Historic Places

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Strangers Cemetery, St. Simons Island

Also known as Union Memorial Cemetery, Strangers Cemetery gets its unusual name from those interred here. Former slaves (and their descendants) who toiled on the island’s plantations prior to Emancipation were buried on those properties. The original “strangers” were freedmen who came to the island after the Civil War and worked primarily in sawmills along the Frederica River. Many remained for generations in three thriving black communities: Harrington, Jewtown, and South End, and some were interred here as they weren’t allowed to bury on the former plantation lands. While most marked graves are in very good condition, a large number of unmarked graves exist, as well.

Among later “strangers” is Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Sampson Jones (8 February 1902-4 September 1984). She was born in Smithville and never knew her biological father. Her mother moved to an uncle’s farm in nearby Dawson when Bessie was a baby and while there married James Sampson, who was a father figure to Bessie. Of her childhood, she wrote: “I never has went to school a whole term and I didn’t get past the fifth grade; every school day I had to keep other people’s babies and sometimes I had to work in the fields.” Music was always present in Bessie Jones’s childhood. Her mother Julia played the autoharp and James Sampson played numerous instruments by ear. Her grandfather, Jet Sampson, was an accordionist. He was enslaved, along with five brothers, around 1843 and died in 1941 at the age of 105. Listening to his stories and songs, Bessie gained many insights that would inform her later work.

In 1914 a very young Jones gave birth to her first child, Rosalie. The child’s father, Cassius Davis, was a native of the Georgia Sea Islands and had come to the Dawson area seeking farm work. After World War I Bessie lived briefly in Milan and Fitzgerald. Cassius died in Brunswick in 1926. For the next seven years she lived in Florida. In Okeechobee she married George Jones and in 1933 they moved to St. Simons Island. They had two sons: George L. Jones (1935) and Joseph (1937). George died in 1945. After his death Bessie got involved with the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, perhaps the first group to formally attempt to preserve and perform the slave songs and spirituals of the Sea Island Gullah and Geechee people. It was a great honor for Bessie to have been invited to join the group, as she was not a native of the islands.

Bessie met folkorist Alan Lomax in 1959 and a couple of years later he recorded a series of songs, stories, and interviews with her at his apartment in New York City. In 1963, the Georgia Sea Island Singers were established. Lomax arranged a tour that took the group to colleges around the country and a decade of travel followed. They participated in the Poor People’s March in 1968 and appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Newport Folk Festival, Montréal World’s Fair, Central Park, and numerous Smithsonian Folk Life Festivals. In 1976, the Sea Island Singers performed at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, Mrs. Jones received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, but died of leukemia later that year.

Peter Stone and Ellen Harold’s profile of Bessie Jones at the Association for Cultural Equity, from which this was condensed, is an excellent source for further reading.

 

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Baptism, St. Simons Island

True Life Ministries of Atlanta has been conducting “open water” baptisms on St. Simons Island for 21 years. The church welcomes all who want to take part and have baptized over 1000 since they began the annual event. It’s a wonderful thing to see, no matter your background or faith.

Often associated with African-Americans, mass baptisms were equally popular with white churches (especially rural congregations) into the mid-20th century. Indoor baptismal pools have largely replaced the outdoor ritual today.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hall-and-Parlor Cottage, 1932, St. Simons Island

A scattering of historic vernacular homes such as this one in the South End community still survive on the island, but they can all be considered endangered in that present development trends show little interest in historic styles.

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St. William Catholic Church, 1929, St. Simons Island

Now home to Lord of Life Lutheran Church, this Spanish Mission Revival chapel was originally home to St. William Catholic Church. Franciscan friars first established a mission presence near this very site in the late 1500s to minister to the native Guale peoples but these early missionaries were martyred and the mission destroyed in 1597. The location was selected by Father Peter McOscar, SM, pastor of St. Francis Xavier of Brunswick, architect Cormac McGarvey, and Mrs. Edith Smith Young. It was originally served by Marist priests from St. Francis Parrish.

Several celebrities had a connection to the church during its history. In the mid-1930s, actress Irene Dunn was a member of a Confirmation Class here; the great tenor Giovanni Martinelli once sang here; Joe DiMaggio was a volunteer altar server in 1950.

Thanks to Jimmy Goodis for identifying it as the original St. William’s.

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Cannon’s Point, St. Simons Island

Acquisition of the Cannon’s Point property (608 acres) by the St. Simons Land Trust (SSLT) in 2013 has affected the preservation of the last contiguous wild maritime forest on the island. The peninsula, at the northeast end of the island, features over six miles of salt marsh, tidal creek, and river shoreline. Ancient shell middens, essentially the trash piles of Native American settlers, are also present. At the dock just beyond the parking lot is this idyllic view of a small tributary of the Hampton River, located at the former site of Taylor’s Fish Camp.

Free and open to the public Saturday-Monday 9AM-3PM, Cannon’s Point Preserve is staffed by volunteers who will give you a bit of history and information when you arrive. Be aware that the walk down Cannon’s Point Road, the main trail in the preserve, is 4.4 miles roundtrip. Bring water, bug spray, and good shoes.

The old camp store remains and has recently been restored.

The first structure you’ll likely notice as you begin the hike to the Couper house ruins is this tabby barn. Built circa 1925 by Charles, Archibald, Arthur, and Reginald Taylor as a storage shed, it’s a great example of tabby architecture. The Taylor brothers established a business in 1919, farming, raising livestock, and operating as fishing guides. This part of the Cannon’s Point Preserve was known as the Lawrence Plantation and the brothers purchased it from Anna Gould Dodge, widow of Christ Church rector Anson Gates Dodge, in 1921. The Taylors were the largest producers of  beef and pork in the area until the 1960s. In the early 1970s, the barn was used as a set location in the movie Conrack.

The road to the north end is characterized by palmetto and live oak, dominant species of the Atlantic maritime forest.

There are numerous “ancient oaks” throughout the preserve, some well over two hundred years old.

Holly (Ilex) is also found throughout.

Cannon’s Point is known to be a haven for the curious Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), a widely cultivated edible and medicinal variety.

The first site along the trail is the ruins of a slave cabin. All that remains is this hearth. From the establishment of the plantation in the 1790s until 1861, the cotton plantation at Cannon’s Point was wholly dependant on the labor of enslaved Africans.  Archaeological excavations undertaken here in the 19790s suggest that the slave cabins were built as 40×20 duplexes, with each family living in a 20×20 section. At this particular location, four cabins housing eight families surrounded a central well.

The site of the overseer’s house is beyond the slave cabin ruins. Research has indicated that overseers were very transient at Cannon’s Point, staying on average just a year and a half. They were paid between $200-$400 per year. The ruins confirm that it was unusually large when compared to other such structures on the coast. Most were two-room affairs, similar to slave cabins. The Cannon’s Point example was comparable to the owner’s house on small plantations. It’s thought to have been built in the 1820s.

Upon their acquisition of the property, the SSLT determined that the chimney was in danger of collapsing. They stabilized it using loose bricks found at the site.

The hearth remains, as well.

At the end of the long walk over the peninsula are the extensive ruins of John Couper’s Cannon’s Point House (built circa 1804). The human history of the area dates back at least 4500 years, when the first native people are thought to have been present. In the 1660s Spanish missionaries established Santo Domingo de Asajo to minister to the Guale Indians. Pirates drove missionaries and the Guale from the island by 1684, but the Guale returned over time. Daniel Cannon, a carpenter at Fort Frederica, was the first English owner, having been granted property here by the Trustees of the Georgia Colony in 1738. He didn’t stay long, though, and was in South Carolina by 1741.

John Couper, who came from Scotland to America prior to the Revolution, acquired Cannon’s Point in 1793 and with James Hamilton made Sea Island cotton the dominant crop of St. Simons Island. Couper served as a representative to the Georgia constitutional convention of 1798 and in 1804 gave the land known as Couper’s Point for construction of a lighthouse on St. Simons Island.

John Couper built this house by 1804 and lived here with his wife Rebecca and their five children throughout the antebellum era. Vice President Aaron Burr was among the first visitors. The labor of over 100 slaves kept the plantation running. (This image is from a painting by Couper’s grandson, John Lord Couper, circa 1850). Rebecca died in 1845 and John in 1850, at the age of 91. They’re buried in the cemetery at Christ Church, Frederica. Couper’s oldest son, James Hamilton Couper, managed Cannon’s Point until 1861 and it passed out of family hands in 1866. Several owners attemptd to maintain it over the next few decades with little success. The house burned in 1890.

A chimney with ovens and its tabby foundation are all that remain of the detached kitchen, which was built in the late 1790s. The slave cook Sans Foix produced wonderful meals for the Coupers and their guests, drawing acclaim from far and wide.

Beyond the kitchen are these ruins, which are presently unidentified.

Beautiful views of the Hampton River and Little St. Simons Island abound at Cannon’s Point.

 

 

 

 

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Harrington Graded School, 1920s, St. Simons Island

The recent restoration of this historic African-American schoolhouse is one of the greatest preservation successes on the Georgia coast and should serve as a model for similar projects. After the Civil War and the collapse of the plantation economy, the descendants of enslaved persons remained on St. Simons and lived in the communities of South End, Jewtown, and Harrington. They were the dominant population on St. Simons until development in the early and mid-20th century changed the racial makeup of the island. Only remnants of their presence remain, and among them, the Harrington Graded School (thought to be a Rosenwald school), and Hazel’s Cafe, are the most significant.

The school served all three African-American communities until desegregation in the 1960s and was briefly used as a day care center until being abandoned in the early 1970s. It was eventually purchased by Glynn County and the St. Simons Land Trust but due to deterioration, it was slated for demolition in 2010. The Land Trust and the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition formed the Friends of Harrington School and saved the school house. Serious work began in 2015 and by December 2016, the school was restored to its former glory.

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