History came to life for Hinesville Rotarians during a luncheon and meeting last week at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Flemington.
The guest speaker was a voice from the past — the distant past. Brian Carney, historic interpreter with the Coastal Heritage Society, portrayed Francis Higgins, a purported member of the Georgia Assembly. Higgins (a.k.a., Carney) said he had come to talk with the “good people of St. John’s Parish,” one of the three parishes that became Liberty County.
The focus of his discussion was the recent duel of two prominent Georgia leaders, Button Gwinnett, a future governor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Brig. Gen. Lachlan McIntosh, the Continental Army leader famous for his stand at Midway’s Fort Morris. Higgins came dressed in 18th century attire, including a colonial tri-cone hat, vest and colonial-style pants with leggings.
As he introduced himself to Rotary Club ladies like club Vice President Brigitte Shaken and La Quinta general manager Lisette Vila, he removed his anachronistic hat and bowed graciously. He also spoke with the accent and mannerism typical of colonial Georgia.
Carney, a Bryan County native, completed his undergraduate degree in history at Armstrong Atlantic State University. He said he’d never spoken in public before he became a historic interpreter. He was introduced to Rotarians by member Peter Hoffman, director of Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Liberty Center.
“The Coastal Heritage Society’s goal is just as its name implies,” Carney said. “We want to preserve Coastal Georgia’s rich cultural heritage and history. We do this through our many historic sites.”
One of those sites, Old Fort Jackson, is in downtown Savannah. He said it’s named for James Jackson, a brigadier general who later became governor of Georgia and a U.S. senator.
Carney said the current fort on the Savannah River has no connection to the mud battery set in place in 1778 as the American Revolution got under way. The current fort, built around 1808, did see battle in the War of 1812 and later during the Civil War, he said.
As he took on the character of Higgins, he reminded the people of St. John’s Parish of the background in the conflict that developed between Gwinnett, who represented the new, liberty-minded middle class, and McIntosh, who through his previous service with Gen. James Oglethorpe, Georgia’s founder, represented the elite.
He said the friction between the two men began when the Continental Congress asked Georgia to form a battalion for the Continental Army. As a prominent local leader, Gwinnett jumped at the chance to command a regiment from St. John’s Parish.
He had no prior military experience, however, and bowed to the demands of McIntosh’s powerful supporters, Higgins said. Gwinnett withdrew his name and allowed McIntosh to take command. Instead, he became a delegate to the Continental Congress, where, in the summer of 1776, Gwinnett and 55 others promised their lives, fortunes and sacred honor as they signed the Declaration of Independence.
Later, when Gwinnett became governor, he sought to purge Georgia of his political enemies, Higgins said. He had McIntosh’s brothers George and William arrested on trumped-up charges. Despite their differences, though, McIntosh agreed to support the governor with his Continental Army forces as the Georgia Militia, led by Gwinnett, planned for an invasion into Florida. When command and control issues arose during the operation, Higgins said congressional leaders relieved and replaced both men.
He said the Florida invasion was a total failure. Gwinnett then sought to put the blame on McIntosh, calling him a “scoundrel and lying rascal,” Higgins said. Ultimately, the two men faced off for a duel May 16, 1777. Higgins said they stood only 12 feet apart, so both men were hit in their legs. McIntosh survived, but Gwinnett later died from an infection in his wound, he said.
When he asked if there were any questions, Rotary member Paul Andreshak asked whether anyone ever figured out why both men were such terrible shots. As the audience roared with laughter, Higgins, still in character, suggested both men were gentlemen and probably chose not to take advantage of the other by trying to kill him.
Following Carney’s historic presentation, Shanken was surprised by a presentation to her from the Georgia National Guard. Capt. Leif Rivera and 1st Sgt. Richard Jordan, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, presented her with a plaque, thanking her for years of support through Rotary and as volunteer coordinator at Winn Army Community Hospital.