edit] Native American history
Just north of the village on St. Simons Island is a park of stately live oaks. On the southern edge of the oaks, along a narrow lane, is a low earthen mound. Growing upon it are three majestic oak trees; these serve as a natural monument for the more than 30 Indians buried in the mound. The men, women and children interred there lived in a settlement that flourished on this site two centuries before the first European touched shore.
The first inhabitants of St. Simons lived there during fishing season about 2,000
edit] The Marsh
St. Simons Island was the northern boundary of the tribal and Spanish mission province known as
Just north of Mocama was the territory of the
The coastal Indians were a healthy and robust people. They adorned their bodies with strings of shell beads four to six fingers in breadth. These were worn around the neck, arms, wrists, and under the knees and ankles. They painted their breasts, biceps and thighs with bright red body paint, soot and charcoal. Both men and women wore their hair long. They let both their fingernails and toenails grow. The men would sharpen their fingernails on one side, to use in warfare. The Timucuan engaged in periodic warfare with their coastal neighbors as much for sport as for spoils; violent ball games sometimes substituted for war. The men wore deerskin
The Indians' main source of food was the sea; they fished for sheepshead, sea catfish, drum, shellfish and the great Atlantic sturgeon, mostly in and near the coastal marshes. Their diet was supplemented by small game, such as raccoons, opossum and the white-tailed deer. They also grew varieties of
During spring and summer, the Indians gathered in villages and planted crops, hunted, and fished until harvest. The villages included granaries, a large communal structure, and shelters for extended families made of saplings and boughs covered with palmetto fronds. The
They harvested corn in the fall, storing the surplus in the large village granaries. Several times a year they distributed the food held in common in ritualized festivals; after the fall redistribution ceremony, the Indians dispersed into small groups and abandoned the larger village pattern until the following spring. They ranged along the coast, from inland pine and river valley forest on the mainland to the high hammock forests, tidal flats, beach and dunes of the barrier islands. The group lodged in temporary shelters of large, oval-shaped pavilions, moving on when game and fish were no longer plentiful. When food was scarce, a hunter could hunt or fish in territory belonging to the village of his wife.
The Indians were governed by territorial and local chieftains known as "caciques" (Mocama) and "micos" (Guale) and by lesser-ranking functionaries within each of the coastal villages. Like nearly all Native Americans, they developed a
Little was recorded about the Timucuan religion before changes of European encounters. The accounts of the Guale were recorded by a
The Spanish were fascinated by their ceremony with clearly religious connotations: the drinking of the "black drink" brewed from the berries of the
Knowledge of the Timucuan and Guale way of life prior to European contact is limited by the archeological record and the subjective observations of the early explorers and missionaries. From all indications, they were becoming more settled at the time of European contact.
edit] Spanish Florida
During the 17th century, St. Simons Island was one of the most important settlements of the
After the Protestant Reformation, Protestants of France, known as the "
Philip II of Spain learned of the French efforts and picked the ablest of his naval commanders, Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, giving him full power to destroy the French settlements. With a small fleet, Menéndez landed 40 miles south of Fort Caroline in August 1565. From this new base, which he named
Although the French threat was neutralized, Menéndez decided to cultivate stronger alliances with the Native Americans to prevent future incursions. He traveled northward from St. Augustine in 1566 to meet with the most powerful chief in the area, the mico of
During the meeting with the Guales, Menéndez erected a cross on St. Catherines Island, and soon after, a drought-ending rainstorm arrived. What seemed like a display of supernatural power by the Spanish leader made the Guale more receptive to the
The Spanish Jesuits, respected throughout Europe for their piety as well as their scholastic achievement, were selected to convert the Indians of Guale. After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a mission in the province of La Florida, Father Sedaño and Father Báez were assigned to the district of Guale. Father Báez rapidly learned the Guale language and reportedly wrote a grammar, the first book written in an indigenous language in the New World, which was published in the early 17th century. The Guale were reluctant to convert to Catholicism. After spending fourteen months in Guale along with three priests of less tenure, Father Sedaño could claim only seven Indian baptisms: four children and three dying adults.
Indians and missionaries found the process frustrating. The Jesuits were dedicated and capable men, totally committed to their task, but the most zealous were discouraged in those early days. Father Rogel shared the frustrations when writing about the neighboring district of Orista just to the north:
The Indians were so reluctant to receive the Catholic religion that no admonitions would curb their barbarity - a barbarity based on liberty unrestrained by the yoke of reason and made worse because they had not been taught to live in villages. They were scattered about the country nine of the twelve months of the year, so that to influence them at all one missionary was needed for each Indian.
The Jesuits had to accommodate to the nomadic habits of the Guale and Orista. Father Rogel followed one group for twenty leagues (roughly sixty miles), offering presents, gifts and adornments to entice them to return to their newly built village and cornfields, but to no avail. By 1570 the colonial government judged the missions a failure. They sent several of the Guale missionary contingent to Virginia, where they were massacred by Indians there. The remaining Guale missionaries were re-assigned to
A few Franciscan priests arrived in 1573. Most were killed and the survivors were recalled. During the next 10 years, there were sporadic and bloody conflicts between Spanish soldiers and the Mocama and Guale. The Spanish government had to be alert to its national competitors, especially after Sir
edit] Spanish Missions circa 1655
In 1593, a dozen friars arrived in Cuba, six of whom were sent to Guale. One missionary each was assigned to the mainland villages of Tolomato, Tupiqui, Santo Domingo de Talaje/Asajo, and Talapo, while two were sent to Guale (St. Catherines Island).
The priests worked to learn the Timucuan and Guale languages, and in return demanded that the Indians learn the Catholic ceremonies in
As the priests made more intrusions into the Indians' lives, resentment built up against them. Juanillo, the son of a mico, became incensed when the Franciscans interfered with his succession after his father's death. The priests picked the older and milder-mannered Don Francisco over the quarrelsome Juanillo. The infuriated Juanillo responded by leading the Indians in revolt. Juanillo and a small group of his father's followers killed Father Corpa at Tolomato on September 13, 1597. They killed Father Rodrigues of Tupiqui three days later. The following day, the two priests of the Guale mission on St. Catherines Island, Father Miguel de Auñon and Father Antonio de Badajoz, were clubbed to death after ignoring warnings by friendly Indians of the insurrection.
At Asajo, Father Francisco de Velascola was absent, away on a visit to St. Augustine. Afraid of his physical strength and huge stature, the Indians agreed that he must be killed. They ambushed him on his return. They wounded and captured Father Francisco Dávila of the Talapo mission. He escaped, but was recaptured and sent to the Guale interior as a slave.
Four hundred Indians in forty canoes attacked San Pedro, the Mocama mission on Cumberland Island. A loyal chief, Don Juan, rallied the mission Indians and killed many of the attackers. Meanwhile, a messenger had reached Governor Canzo in St. Augustine, who sent a relief force of 150 infantry. They retaliated on Guale, razing the villages and storehouses, burning the corn in the fields and destroying all canoes which they found. Canzo was unable to catch the rebels and returned to St. Augustine with Chief Don Juan, his people and the surviving friars.
Almost a year after this upheaval, a Spanish scouting party near St. Elena heard rumors that Father Dávila was still alive. Under threats, the Indians released Dávila. The friar had been starved, beaten, and threatened. The Spanish captured seven young boys, four of whom were the sons of micos, and took them to St. Augustine. The oldest of the boys, a seventeen-year old named Lucas, was found guilty of being present at Father Rodrigues' murder, but the others were released because of their age. Lucas was tortured and hung, the only legal response carried out by the courts for the Juanillo revolt.
But the rebels were still at large, and Governor Canzo was determined to exterminate them. The Indian tribes north of Guale were urged to make war on the rebels, and Canzo issued orders that all Guale Indians captured would be enslaved. This decree, however, was judged to harsh by his superiors and was revoked. The Spanish scorched-earth policy was ultimately successful. Severe drought compounded the Spanish destruction. By 1600 some of the important micos, their people facing imminent starvation, were ready to come to terms. The town of Tolomato refused to yield, and Asajo became the main village of Spanish influence. With his new power, the mico of Asajo led a successful expedition against Tolomato, after which more villages returned to the Spanish flock.
Juanillo still held out, aided oddly enough by his former rival Don Francisco. The two rebel chiefs and their remaining followers retreated to the interior stockaded village of Yfusinique. The mico of Asajo, Don Domingo, led an attack upon the town. After a fierce fight, the scalps of Juanillo and Don Francisco were sent back to St. Augustine. Don Domingo was made head mico of all Guale after his victory.
Thus the Juanillo rebellion was crushed, and the Spanish were once again masters of the land. But the ferocity of the revolt and the three years it took to extinguish the Indian spirit caused many in the colonial government to question the wisdom of maintaining a missionary presence in Mocama and Guale. The winning of heathen souls was proving to be a costly endeavor. To justify the expense, the crown ordered an investigation by the governor of Cuba, which quieted the missionaries' detractors, and future Spanish presence was insured.
Governor Canzo, determined to make the province an anchor of the Spanish empire, threw himself into improving the coastal missions. In 1603, he made an inspection tour of the Guale district, rebuilding the missions and cementing Indian loyalty. He was transferred soon after the tour, but his replacement, Governor Pedro de Iberra, was just as eager to develop both Mocama and Guale. Iberra toured the districts in 1604, and promised the Indians that more friars would be forthcoming. With the consolidation of Indian fealty, the way was paved for the first visit of a bishop on Mocama and Guale soil. Bishop Altimoreno arrived in St. Augustine in mid-March, 1606. He traveled for two months throughout the two districts and confirmed over one thousand souls.
The attentions of two governors and a bishop assured more friars for Mocama and Guale. From 1606 to 1655 the Spanish missionary effort reached its zenith as the Franciscan missions reflected a steady growth. San Buenaventura de Guadalquini was established on St. Simons, San Jose de Zapala on Sapelo Island, and Santiago de Ocone near the Okefenokee Swamp. Now Spain had a total of ten Mocama and Guale missions. Apparently conversions had increased dramatically, too. By 1617 Governor Iberra could report that although half the Christian Indians had died of pestilence, some eight thousand were still alive.
Despite the growth of the numbers of missionaries and converts, the conditions in which the Franciscans carried out their duties remained harsh. The main source of funds to support the mission effort was intestate properties of the colonies and deceased traders' estates unclaimed in Seville, the Spanish seaport link to the New World. Often ill clothed and hungry, friars rarely reached old age. Few ever saw their native Spain again; most succumbed to the hardships of their calling.
Primary emphasis was placed on spiritual conversion rather than colonizing for material gain; accordingly, there was no trade, no guns permitted, and very few skills taught. Horses had been introduced to La Florida, and some had been given to caciques and micos. But cattle were not made available for fear that crops would be eaten by them and the temptation for thievery would be too great. The most discernible changes resulting from Spanish contact were reflected only in pot manufacturing and the replacing of conch shell hoes with those made of iron. Spain's failure to supply attractive and practical trade goods (such as flints, mirrors, silver or brass ornaments) gave the English the advantage in the final conflict for Mocama and Guale that loomed ahead.
Apart from the Indians' decimation from disease - their numbers were reduced by 95% within a century of European contact - the death knell was sounded for the Spanish missions in 1661 when the "Chichimeco" Indians destroyed the mainland Guale town of Asajo. These fierce slave raiders, armed by the English in Virginia to ensure a steady supply of Indian slaves, migrated southward in the 1650s, preying on weaker tribes.
The disruptions of the Spanish missions did not abate. In the next few tumultuous years the Guales reestablished Asajo on the northern end of St. Simons Island (Cannons Point site). The "Yamassees" of coastal South Carolina, also fleeing the Chichimecos, established the refugee towns of San Simón (Fort Frederica site) and Octonico, 2-1/2 miles below, on the inland side of the island.
Charles II of England granted to eight Lords Proprietors all the land between Virginia and La Florida (31° -36° N) in 1663. This threat was sharpened in 1670 when Charles Town was settled. By 1675, only four Guale mission towns remained. The two Mocama missions left were widely separated and the intervening coast settled by unconverted Yamassees. The probability of attack from the English and the Indians loyal to them was now a constant fear to the Spanish. That fear was realized at its worst when the Chichimecos returned in 1680 to attack the towns of Santa Catalina and San Simón. The confusion and helplessness of the missionary and refugee Indians mounted as English pirates terrorized the Mocama and Guale coast in 1683. The following year, San Buenaventura de Guadalquini was ransacked and burned by pirates, and St. Simons Island was abandoned forever by the Timucuans who, for untold centuries, had called it their own.
In 1686, the English settled Port Royal, South Carolina - the old Spanish outpost of St. Elena. The Spanish responded by destroying the settlement, burning the English governor's mansion, and threatening Charles Town itself. It was a final, futile gesture. Most of the remaining Mocama and Guale Indians had already abandoned the missions and retreated southward to the St. Augustine area, to be eventually absorbed by the Yamassees. After almost a century and a quarter under the cross and sword of Spain, the Mocama and Guale Indians were no more - their land soon to be known as Georgia
edit] Fort Frederica
Fort Frederica, now
edit] American Revolution
An important naval battle in the
edit] Lumber for ships
Saint Simons' next military contribution was due to the
edit] Wesley brothers
During the 18th century, St. Simons served as a sometime home to
On April 5, 1987 fifty-five members from St. Simons United Methodist Church were commissioned, with Bishop Frank Robertson as first pastor, to begin a new church on the north end of St. Simons Island. This was where John and Charles Wesley had preached and ministered to the people at
edit] Christ Church
In 1808 the State of Georgia gave 100 acres (0.4 km sq.) of land on St. Simons to be used for a church and its support. Called Christ Church, Frederica, the structure was finished in 1820. During the
edit] Cotton production
edit] St. Simons Island lighthouse
St. Simons Island Light is a
The current structure is both an active lighthouse for navigational purposes and a museum. On lease from the
In 2010, the St. Simons Island lighthouse underwent a major renovation. It was closed to the public for several months while all interior and exterior paint was sandblasted off, and then repainted. Eight iron handrail posts at the top of the tower were replaced, recast from one of the originals. All ironwork was sandblasted and repaired as needed. Great lengths were taken to protect the valuable Fresnel lens during the restoration. It was bubble wrapped, shrink wrapped, and then finally enclosed in a plywood box. A temporary spotlight attached to top railing of the lighthouse continued to guide ships into the Sound while the main light was out of operation.
edit] Coast Guard Station and World War II
On the night of April 8, 1942 off the coast of St. Simons, the
Both ships were raised and towed to the port at nearby Brunswick for repairs. Although they both reentered service, the two ships were sunk during warfare in the