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Dead Towns of Georgia (Travel in America) Paperback – January 31, 2007
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The book principally focuses on three towns - Ebenezer, Frederica, and Sunbury - although there are a number of other settlements, more obscure and deservedly so, that rate shorter notices. Ebenezer and Frederica each expressed a different aspect of the early (first quarter century) history of colonial Georgia, which was conceived with the triple objective of serving as a military buffer for South Carolina against the Spanish; providing a refuge for persecuted German Protestants; and offering an opportunity for a fresh start to residents of England's debtor prisons.
Ebenezer, a town on the Savannah River upstream from the port of that name, was a settlement of German Salzburgers whom the Georgia Colony's Trustees charged with earning a living from the cultivation of the unlikely crops of silk and indigo. Jones traces the colony's rapid rise and lengthy decline; it was largely gone by the end of the 1700's, although its church services were still being conducted in German as late as that.
The chapter on Frederica is the book's centerpiece (92 pages). Frederica was a military colony on the west side of St. Simons Island that was intended to defend the more settled portions of the colony north of the Altamaha River against incursions or outright invasions by the Spanish at St. Augustine in Florida. In the summer of 1742, the Spanish did indeed come, with a force that far outnumbered the troops that Georgia's founder, General James Oglethorpe, had available to defend the infant colony. Jones tells well the remarkable story of how Oglethorpe, with a small and heterogenous force of British regulars, Scots Highlanders, and friendly Indians, contrived with courage, pluck, and guile to successfully turn back the last serious Spanish attempt to recover their former possessions in Georgia.
The chapter on Sunbury (83 pages) serves as a means for Jones to recount a good bit of Georgia's history during the Revolution, for Sunbury was a hotbed of patriot sentiment that produced two of Georgia's three signers of the Declaration of Independence, two U.S. Senators, a Speaker of the House of Representatives and Minister to China, and a couple of generals, several colonels, and a major or two during America's war of independence. It declined after the Revolution and faded away during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
Little remains of any of these towns today. The Salzburgers' Jerusalem Church is all that survives of Ebenezer; Frederica offers some tabby ruins of a barracks, an ammunition magazine, and the footings of some houses; and at Sunbury there is just the earthen walls of its Revolutionary War bulwark, Fort Morris, and a serene view of the marshes, tidal rivers, and offshore barrier islands.
If you don't mind late nineteenth century writing (which includes occasional references to "savages" who carried out scalpings along the Georgia frontier in the 1780's), you should enjoy Jones's style. Here's how he describes the appearance of Sunbury after the Civil War:
"Without trade, destitute of communications, and visited more and more each season with fevers, Sunbury, for nearly thirty years, has ceased to exist save in name. Its squares, lots, streets, and lanes have converted into a corn field. Even the bricks of the ancient chimneys have been carted away. No sails whiten the blue waters of the Midway River save those of a miserable craft employed by its owner in conveying terrapins to Savannah. The old cemetery is so overgrown with trees and brambles that the graves of the dead can scarcely be located after the most diligent search. Fort Morris is enveloped in a wild growth of cedars and myrtle. Academy, churches, market, billiard room, wharves, store-houses, residences, all gone; only the bold Bermuda covered bluff and the beautiful river with the green island slumbering in its embrace to remind us of this lost town."
Unfortunately, it is not a part of the publisher's (Applewood Books) project with this series to provide a modern introduction or even a biographical note about the author (the book is an exact facsimile of an original in the Library of Congress). And this is a shame, for Charles C. Jones, Jr. was an interesting man. The scion of a plantation family from Liberty County, he enlisted in the Confederate army during the Civil War and rose to the rank of colonel. His family's travails during the war are recounted through their extensive correspondence, which is collected in Robert Manson Myers's "The Children of Pride." It won the National Book Award for History in 1973.
This book can be recommended for Georgians (natives or transplants) who want to learn more about the early history of their state, or for anyone interested in colonial history who wants to learn something about the little-known story of the origins and early struggles of the thirteenth colony. It is handsomely reproduced, and Applewood Books should be thanked for helping to rescue it from obscurity. My only quibble about it is that some of the smaller places described never amounted to much, and you'll probably find yourself skimming through these mercifully brief sections, as I did.