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Explorer's journal details wildlife in colonial Georgia

Liberty lore

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POSTED: September 19, 2011 7:30 p.m.

Did you ever wonder how strange it must have been for foreigners when they saw the animals in North America for the first time?
We have some accounts from different people who kept journals of their trips and the first impressions of the land and its inhabitants.
The travels of Lewis and Clark and John and William Bartram and their journals about the new lands they explored more than 200 years ago are very interesting to me.
William Bartram was a Philadelphia Quaker naturalist and wilderness explorer who moved through this region around 1765. The Bartrams traveled the route that closely parallels portions of the Wiregrass Trail.
Another such journalist and explorer was Francis Moore, who penned his thoughts in a journal in the spring of 1736. His journal was printed in “Our First Visit to America: Early Reports from Colonial Georgia 1732-1740.”
Moore arrived on St. Simons Island in 1735 and settled in the town of Frederica. Although it’s not in Liberty County, it is a coastal area and the wildlife would not be much different there than it was in coastal Liberty County or Long County in 1736.
The following is from Moore’s journal:

The island abounds with deer and rabbits. There are no buffaloes on it, though there are herds of them on the main. There are also a good many raccoons, a creature something like a badger, but somewhat less, with a bushy tail like a squirrel, tabbied with rings of brown and black. These varmints are very destructive to the poultry.
I heard there were bears and wolves, but I saw none. There are great numbers of squirrels of different sizes, the little kind the same as in England, and a lesser than that, not much bigger than a mouse, and a large gray sort, very near as big as a rabbit, which those accustomed to the country say eats as well.
There are wildcats, which they call tigers (apparently a bobcat). I saw one of them, which the Indians killed, and the skin was brown and all of one color about the size of a middling spaniel, little ears, great whiskers, short legs and strong claws.
Of the wild fowl kind, there are wild turkeys, though but few upon the island, but plenty upon the mainland.
This bird is larger than the tame turkey and is the most beautiful of the feathered kind. His head has the red and blue of the turkey, only much more lively and beautiful. His neck is like a cock pheasant’s, his feathers also are of the same color with those of that bird, glittering in the sun as if they were gilded. His tail is as large though it hath not fine eyes in it as the peacock hath.
At first, before they were disturbed by our people, they would strut in the woods as a peacock does. I have heard some say that upon weighing, they have found them to exceed 30 pounds. I never weighed any but have had them very fat and large. They are a delicious meat and are compared to a tame turkey, as a pheasant is to a fowl.
I saw not partridges upon the island though there are plenty upon the main. The woods swarm with turtle doves, which are excellent food.
There are great numbers of small birds, of which a black bird with a red head, the red bird, or Virginia nightingale, the mocking bird, which sings sweetly, and the rice-bird, much resembling the French Ortelan, were the chief; the rest are too numerous to name.
There are a great abundance of water fowl. Besides the common English wild goose, duck, mallard and teal, there is a kind of wild goose like the brand geese and ducks of many kinds, hardly known in Europe.
There is a whooping crane, a fowl with gray feathers five or six feet high, numbers of the heron kind of different species and colors. Some small ones of the most beautiful white, which are called poor jobs, from their being generally very lean. Of birds of prey, there are the land and sea eagle, with different kinds of hawks. There are also a number of pelicans and cormorants.
Of reptiles, the crocodile, which seems to be the chief, abounds in all the rivers of Georgia. They call them alligators. I have seen some of these I believe to be 12 feet long. A number of vulgar errors are reported on them; one is that their scales are musket proof, whereas, I have seen them frequently killed with small shot.
Nay, I have heard from people of good credit that when they found one at a distance from the water, they have killed him with sticks, not thinking him worth a shot. Mr. Horton more than once struck one with a hanger. The watermen often knock them on the head with their oars as they sleep upon the banks.
They are very sluggish and timorous, though they can make one or two springs into the water with nimbleness enough and snap with strength whatever comes within their jaws. They are terrible to look at stretching open a horrible large mouth big enough to swallow a man, with rows of dreadful large sharp teeth.
Their feet are like dragons, armed with great claws, and a long tail, which they throw about with great strength and which seems their best weapon, for their claws are feebly set on and the stiffness of their necks hinders them from turning nimbly to bite.
When Mr. Oglethorpe was first at Savannah, to take off the terror which the people had for crocodiles, having wounded and caught one about 12 feet long, he had him brought up to the town and set the boys to bait him with sticks.
The creature gaped and blew hard but had no heart to move and only turned about his tail and snapped at the sticks till such time as the children pelted and beat him to death.
At our first coming, they would stare at the boats and stand till they came up close to them, so that Mr. Horton killed five in one day but being frequently shot at they grew more shy.
They destroy a great many fish and will seize a hog or dog if they see one in the water, but their general way of preying is lying still, with their mouths open and their noses just above water, and so they watch till the stream brings down prey to them.
They swallow anything that comes into their mouths; and upon opening them, knots of lighter wood have been found in their guts. They rarely appear in winter, then being in holes.
They lay eggs, which are less than those of a goose. Leaves and other trash are scraped together that will ferment and heat. Of these, they make a dunghill, or hotbed in the midst of which they leave their eggs, covering them over with a sufficient thickness. The heat of the dunghill, helped by the warmth of the climate, hatches them, and the young crocodiles creep out like small lizards.
Next to the crocodile is the rattlesnake, a creature really dangerous, though far from being terrible to look at. The bite is generally thought to be mortal, and certainly so, if remedies are not in time applied.
The Indians pretend to have performed wonderful cures and boast an infallible secret but it is generally believed that the hot season of the year and the rage of the rattlesnake increase the force of the poison and that the bite is more or less dangerous according to the part of the body bitten.
Those who are bitten on the least dangerous circumstances are cured by the outward applications of the Indians. Mr. Reeves, who was surgeon to the Independent Company at Port Royal, has by a regular course of medicine cured most of those who were carried to him and bit by rattlesnakes. Thank God there has not been one person bit by a rattlesnake in the Colony of Georgia.
I have seen several of these snakes, which were killed at Frederica, the largest above 2 yards long, the belly white, and the back of a brown color, they seem to be of the viper kind, and are of a strong smell somewhat like musk.
The rattles are rings at the end of their tails of a horny substance; these shaking together make a noise, which with their strong musk smell gives cautious people notice of where they are.
They are not so nimble as some snakes are, therefore do not move out of the way, which is generally the occasion of bites when they happen, for they naturally in their own defense snap at what treads near them.
To prevent this, those that walk in the woods much wear what they call Indian boots, which are made of coarse woolen cloths, much too large for the legs, tied upon their thighs and hang loose to the shoes.
Besides the rattlesnake, there are some others whose bite is dangerous. There are also many others whose bite are not dangerous such as the black, red and the chicken snake.

 

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