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Beard's Bluff has deep, violent history

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POSTED: May 13, 2014 11:30 p.m.
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This old map shows where Beards Creek meets the Altamaha south of Glennville.

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Beards Bluff Campground on the Altamaha River was a favorite camping and fishing area for my family when the children were young. I have visited it many times and fished all along the edge of the river and camped on the bluff.
At the time, I did not know about what took place in that area in the 1700s. Several soldiers were killed and buried there, and I may have walked over their graves many times without knowing it.
This was the chosen place for the Creek Indians to cross the river and travel to Liberty County and other areas. Some leading citizens on Liberty County plantations were robbed and scalped, and their slaves or children were taken by the Creeks.
Liberty County native Col. Daniel Stewart was asked to help with the Indian problem. There is a state historical marker along Highway 301 at the Tattnall County line, 8 miles northwest of Ludowici, that tells of the skirmish in December 1776. A number of men were killed and buried near the outpost.
Stewart helped bring about a treaty with the Creeks in 1790. That is when Long County began to be inhabited by Revolutionary War soldiers who were awarded grants. Dylan Mulligan of Glennville researched the fort at Beards Bluff, and I am grateful to him for letting me share his research with you.
“One of the most forgotten tales from our local history involves a small, wooden frontier fort that once stood on the north side of the Altamaha River at the mouth of Beards Creek. Evidence suggests that the fort itself stood on the eastern bank of the creek in what now is Long County.
“The Colony of Georgia was established in 1733 by James Oglethorpe, who immediately set about securing the interior frontier. An area of interest was the Altamaha River, which marked the southern boundary of Georgia. The key to defending the colony was controlling the river’s shallow crossings, which had been in use for many years by the Creek Indians. In 1742, or soon thereafter, Oglethorpe ordered a stockade built and garrisoned to guard the crossing at what we now know as Beards Bluff. The bluff is one of the few places of high ground on the northern bank of the Altamaha, which is marked mostly by prolific swamps. The exact nature of the buildings erected there, as well as the soldiers stationed there, remains unknown. Although we today know the bluff and adjacent creek by the name of Beard, this title was not assigned until the 1770s.
“The stockade at Beards Bluff gradually fell into disuse. However, in 1773, the site assumed new significance. That year, the British signed the Treaty of Augusta, by which the Creek Nation ceded a large amount of territory between the Altamaha and Ogeechee rivers to the Crown. The western boundary of this new land was a straight line from the mouth of Beards Creek running northwestward towards present-day Manassas. Thus, in 1773, the southeastern portion of present-day Tattnall County was opened for settlement.
“In 1774, Matthew Beard received a land grant in this new territory astride the creek that would come to bear his surname. It is uncertain when the creek and the bluff became Beards Creek and Beards Bluff. However, by the time of the American Revolution, the names were in use.
“In 1776 or 1777, as the British and their Creek allies were making destructive incursions into Georgia, the state government ordered a new fort to be constructed at Beards Bluff. According to historian Charles Colcock Jones Jr. of Liberty County, ‘While Lt. Bugg with a detachment was marching to this point (Beards Bluff), he was surprised by a party of Indians concealed in the swamp of Beards Creek. Three of his men were killed, and his detachment was put to flight. Subsequently, Capt. Chesley Bostwick was ordered to that post with his company. He there built a small stockade fort.’
“It is not certain when this fort was completed, but in 1784, Indian trader Timothy Barnard received word from the Indians that a fort was being erected at Beards Bluff, which he disregarded as a false report. Even after the close of the American Revolution, hostilities between the Americans and the Creek Indians, who had remained loyal to the British, increased in the area.
“In 1788, regarding a robbery committed by a party of marauding Creek Indians, Col. Stewart of Liberty County wrote to Col. James Maxwell: ‘…after the robbery was committed at Mr. Quartermann’s plantation, I started with 12 men on the trail … I was induced to divide my small, though brave, party. Lt. Way of the first company took out six men and pursued the trail towards Oswald’s Bluff (on the Altamaha) — with the remaining six, I proceeded towards Beard’s (Bluff). I came up with them (the Indians) about half past 12 and made a charge upon them. They immediately faced about and, seeing my small number, met me with great courage. After killing two of them, I ordered a retreat, two of our horses being wounded, and thinking it prudent to retire to get Lt. Way’s party. But on my return, about 2 miles from the place of action (Beards Bluff), I fell in an ambuscade in crossing a small branch, when an unfortunate young man, William Quarterman (17), received a mortal wound …’
“As a result of the actions described by Col. (later Gen.) Stewart, an imposing wooden fort was constructed at Beards Bluff no later than 1790. This fort was christened Fort Telfair, likely for Edward Telfair, who served as governor of Georgia from 1786-87 and 1790-93. However, many locals continued to refer to the outpost as Beards Bluff Fort.
“Fort Telfair was garrisoned mostly by the militia of Liberty County and, after 1801, the militia of Tattnall.
“In 1792, a Liberty County man, Henry Johnson, was convicted of manslaughter for killing a slave and was sentenced to pay a fine or serve a term in the state army at Beards Bluff. In 1795, a treaty involving the return of stolen slaves was negotiated at Beards Bluff between the Creek Indians and James Seagrove, predecessor of Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins.
“Although the importance of the crossing at Beards Bluff retained its importance, Fort Telfair did not. In 1796, the federal government began construction of another fort, Fort James, 1 mile upriver from Beards Bluff on the south side of the Altamaha in present-day Wayne County. Fort James would remain an active frontier outpost well into the 1800s and was in use during the War of 1812.
“Despite its substantial importance during the formative years of our state, nothing remains of Fort Telfair, aka Beards Bluff Fort. Beards Bluff served as a gateway between the world of the whites north of the Altamaha and the Creek Indians south of the river, and the bluff was the site of almost constant military activity from the days of Oglethorpe until the beginning of the 19th century.
“Beards Bluff, while seemingly trivial in the present day, marked the site of the lonely frontier outpost that once guarded the southern extremity of the territory that would become Tattnall County.”

Sources: “Placenames of Georgia” by John H. Goff; “The History of Georgia” by Charles Colcock Jones Jr.; “Sweet Land of Liberty:  A History of Liberty County, Georgia” by Robert Long Groover; “The New Georgia Encyclopedia”:  “Long County”; Letter from Daniel Stewart to James Maxwell — 26 September 1788; “A History of Georgia” by Kenneth Coleman.

 

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