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A Christmas trip down the Altamaha River is remembered
Liberty lore
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The Hinesville Gazette published a story in the January 1889 edition about a trip taken by editor and publisher Samuel Dowse Bradwell, his wife Elizabeth Clifton Bradwell and their family. The Bradwells took a long vacation to visit with Elizabeth’s family, the Cliftons, in Tattnall County. We find it amusing today that they had such a long journey to get from Hinesville to Tattnall County. I thought it must have been a lot of excitement and fun. I tried to find Sharp’s Landing on an old Tattnall County map that was drawn in 1906, but it was not listed.

Samuel Dowse Bradwell was born Jan. 5, 1840, in Liberty County. He was a captain and commanding officer of the Liberty Volunteers during the Civil War. At the age of 21, he had such a youthful appearance that he was called “Boy Captain” while he was a Confederate Army officer. He was severely wounded in the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. His family kept him hid from federal troops when Liberty County was invaded during Christmas 1864. Bradwell Institute was named in honor of his father, James Sharpe Bradwell, and later in honor of Samuel. The first edition of the Hinesville Gazette rolled off the press in 1872.
This is how the article read:

On Christmas morning 1888, by the light of the stars before morning, the air reverberating with “Merry Christmas” from old and young, the writer and his family boarded the train in Walthourville for Doctortown in Wayne County on the Altamaha River. When we arrived there, the steamer Wadley was waiting for us. Commanding the steamer and pacing the deck was Captain Joe Wilcox, one of the cleverest men I have ever known. In a few minutes, we were afloat upon the Altamaha River bound for Sharp’s Landing in Tattnall County.

The Altamaha River is the largest river in the state, running through the center of the great commonwealth and washing the shores of Tattnall, Appling, Liberty, Wayne, McIntosh and Glynn counties. (Remember, Long County was still part of Liberty in 1889.) But the Altamaha River is greatly in need of governmental intervention for removing the obstacles and improving the channel. We have said this before, and one of the last votes we cast in the Senate was in favor of a resolution introduced by Rep. Tyson of McIntosh County asking the United States Congress to look into the needs of the Altamaha River and make an appropriation commensurate with the objective. We wish Congress would see it in the same light as we do. Capt. Wilcox sees it and every captain of every steamboat that travels these waters.

But that Christmas morning on the Altamaha River, the skies were dark, but the weather was perfect, and Capt. Wilcox surrendered to the crowd. Some of the girls aboard learned how to manage the wheels and listened with wide-eyed interest to descriptions of various points as we passed by. A Christmas turkey, fruit and other good things were served by Captain Wilcox and firmly established his success as a caterer.

A delay of an hour or two at Ohoopee White Bluff occurred, and a large quantity of freight was discharged. It was late and quite dark when we reached Sharp’s Landing. Friends on the shore had a fire going and a lantern hung on a post by a warehouse. A cheerful “Here we are!” was heard across the river. There had been a freshet in the river, and the warehouse was half submerged. A wild, weird scene met our eyes as the Wadley’s wheels stopped and the gangway was thrown out.

By the light of flaming torches, our party mounted a tiny car on a tramway which led to higher ground. We soon reached terra firma, climbed onto a wagon, and in 30 minutes we were all seated around a blazing fire under the hospitable roof of John Diestal, with a regiment of Cliftons around us. A supper of wild turkey, sausage scrapnel and a lot of other delicious things would have tempted any man. And the same thing was repeated every day on our 10-day stay.

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