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.

Irma …

After a fabulous week on St. Simons Island, which I will get around to sharing, it was time to leave. And by coincidence a very good time to leave. Irma, the strongest hurricane to form in the Atlantic has been meandering north over recent days, has ravaged some of the Caribbean Islands and is bearing down on Cuba. It is tipped to hit Florida on Sunday.

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for the Florida Keys. Police and outreach workers will begin taking those of Miami’s homeless that refuse to go into refuges into custody for their own protection tomorrow. The conurbation centred on Miami is home to 6 million people.

St Simons Island and the nearby city of Brunswick in southern Georgia are on high alert, it is likely that they will be severely impacted in the coming days but no mandatory evacuation has been ordered yet.

Gayle and I picked up our Chevy in Jacksonville this morning and we have been part of a procession of Florida number plates up the I-75. We are safely ensconced in Atlanta.

Our thoughts are with all of you who are in the firing line.

Arrival …

The lovely Gayle and I flew into Jacksonville, the largest city in the contiguous United States. By area that is, and of course, that depends on where the lines are drawn on the map. The metropolitan area has a population of about 1.6 million people.  That’s considerably more than Miami proper with a mere 400,000 but if you throw in the rest of the conurbation – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach you’ve drawn a line around 5.5 million people. So which gets to be state capital, Jacksonville or Miami? Neither, it’s Tallahassee with a smaller population than either.

Anyway you will be pleased to know that Jacksonville has recovered well from the Great Fire of 1901 which started as a kitchen fire , spread to Spanish Moss in a mattress factory. In just eight hours, it swept through 146 city blocks, destroyed over 2,000 buildings, left about 10,000 homeless and killed seven.

During the silent movie era it was the centre of the film industry but then Hollywood came along.

Hurricane Matthew made itself felt in 2016.

We didn’t stay long in case something bad happened. It seems ill-fated.

The truth is we were picked up by friends and whisked away to the beautiful St Simons Island over the border in Georgia. They have a really fabulous house backing on to a lake.

Whilst having breakfast the next morning we could see this guy without getting up from the table!

I guess a swim is not on the agenda.

As beautiful as the house is all the light switches are up side down. How odd.