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Step back in time to Fort King George

POSTED: November 17, 2011 7:00 a.m.
Photo by Randy C. Murray /

A visitor walks the path to Fort King George, with the most prominent structure, the three-story blockhouse, looming over the walls.

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Georgia is a beautiful state with lots of history, much of which was preserved for us by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources through its 60-plus state parks and historic sites. Fort King George Historic Site in Darien was established by the British in 1621, a dozen years before Gen. James Oglethorpe founded Great Britain’s 13th colony in the New World.

A trip to Georgia’s first fort is like stepping back in time. The fort, which is a triangular-shaped wilderness fort typical of European frontier fortifications, is an authentic replica of the original fort built by Col. John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell at the mouth of the Altamaha River. Named for King George I — not that other fellah Americans ended up rebelling against half a century later — the fort became the southernmost outpost of the British Empire. It was intended as both a deterrent and lookout for the French, who were expanding their territories east of the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico; the Spanish, who were considering expanding their territories north from Florida; and the Guale Indians, who sometimes sided with the Spanish.

Probably the most prominent feature of the fort is its 26-square-foot blockhouse, used as its main defense. This three-floor structure had storage for gunpowder and ammunition on the first floor, cannons and port holes for riflemen on the second floor and even more cannons on the third floor. The fort is surrounded by a shallow but boggy moat on two sides and the Altamaha on the third. A log palisade added to the defense, along with an earth-filled parapet that consisted of firing walls and firing steps, necessary to allow one group of soldiers to step up and fire while another group stepped down to reload their muskets.

Two other large structures within the fort were barracks, one for officers and one for enlisted soldiers. A side note about the first soldiers sent to garrison is that many of them today would be called wounded warriors, as these men were too injured or ill to serve the British army in support of a direct conflict but not too incapacitated to be retired from service. The problem for many of these less-than-healthy men was the harsh conditions of Coastal Georgia. Hot, mosquito-swarming summer months took a heavy toll on these men. A British cemetery overlooking the fort contains the graves of 65 British soldiers.

The fort was abandoned in 1727 but was reoccupied by Highland Scotts serving with Oglethorpe in 1736. Oglethorpe later built a new fort on a higher bluff called Fort Darien, which later became the second city to be established in the new colony.

Darien became a thriving commercial port following the American Revolution up until the American Civil War, when it was destroyed by Gen. William T. Sherman. Later in the 19th century, Darien saw new life through the timber industry and saw milling. Today, it could be called the shrimp capital of Georgia, thanks to its giant fleet of shrimp boats that receive a special blessing each spring by local church officials and the town’s people through Darien’s annual Blessing of the Fleet.

In addition to the fort itself, Fort King George Historic Site has a museum and film about Guale Indians. There is a nature trail that leads from the fort back along the edge of the marsh into the wooded swampy area that’s shrouded by palm trees, palmetto, slash pines and moss-covered live oaks. There also are replicas of a Guale village and the thatch huts built by the Scotts in 1736, and there are ruins of a 19th-century sawmill. Take advantage of wildlife viewing, too, as Fort King George is on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail.

Most of Georgia’s state parks have a one-time $5-per-car admission fee, but some historic sites have a per-person fee of $4-$6.50. If you’d like to visit Fort King George, take scenic U.S. 17 South from Midway to Darien. Once in Darien, look for signs directing you to the fort. You may want to plan a special trip there Dec. 10 for a Colonial Christmas traditional dinner. Call 912-437-4770 for cost and reservation information.

Another, closer-to-home historic site, Fort Morris Historic Site in Midway, is having a special “Come and Take It!” Revolutionary War (Re-enactment) Encampment on Saturday. Here’s a chance for you and your family to learn about the history of this local fort, where a small garrison of Patriots defied a British demand to surrender.

The above commentary is one of many to be written at least once a month about Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, as well as other family-friendly places and activities.

 

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