St Simon’s Island …

Is one of a string of sand barrier islands along the coast of Georgia. It is quite densely settled but the homes and businesses are tucked away amongst a forest of Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) draped in Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Add extensive marshes, numerous golf courses and land set aside as green space by the island’s Land Trust and you have a community that merges comfortably into nature … Except, perhaps, when a hurricane bears down on it. The highest ground on the island is about five metres above sea level.

White-tailed Deer
Eastern Grey Squirrel

It was home to Creek Indians for millenia. After the Americas were put on the European map by Mr Columbus the Spanish were quick to explore Florida and Georgia but the French were the first to found a colony.  In 1564 René Goulaine de Laudonnière built Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. It was short-lived. The Spanish founded their own colony at St. Augustine a little further south. Before long they attacked Fort Caroline and slaughtered most of the garrison.

The Spanish spread their influence northwards founding missions to convert the native inhabitants. The missionaries were accompanied by soldiers to establish Spanish authority and ensure the safety of the priests.

After 1600 the pace of colonisation picked up considerably. The French, the English, the Scots and the Dutch all founded colonies in North America.

A century later St Simon’s Island lay at a strategic position between Spanish Florida centred in St Augustine and the British in Virginia. A Spanish mission on the island had fallen into disuse. Spain and Britain were not getting along all that comfortably. James Oglethorpe was sent to erect a fort on the island. In 1736 he founded Fort Frederica with a small town adjacent. Not far away on the mainland Fort King George was built and the town of Darien grew up adjacent to it, settled mainly by Scots.

 

In 1713 the British had wrung  from the Spanish the right to sell slaves and some goods into South America. In 1731 the brig Rebecca was boarded by the Spanish off Florida. The captain, Robert Jenkins was accused of smuggling and suffered the indignity of having his left ear cut off. It was but one of a number of irritants that led to war, again, with Spain, a war that came to be called the War of Jenkins Ear.

It began in 1739 and ran on into the broader War of the Austrian Succession which finished in 1748. It was largely a naval affair fought in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America.

In 1742 the Spanish landed 2000 troops on St Simon’s Island in an attempt to push Britain out of its colony in Georgia. Oglethorpe’s men from Fort Frederica fought off the Spanish in two engagements, the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and the Battle of Bloody Marsh. The Spanish withdrew from the island, probably unaware that they had a numerically superior force.

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