Type:National Park, Fort
Location of Fort Frederica
James Oglethorpe strategically located this new fort near a 10-foot high "bluff" on the Frederica River, one of a series of connecting rivers, sometimes called the "inland passage," forming the delta of the Altamaha River. The height of the settlement, above 15 feet at one point, made it relatively safe from coastal flooding. The fort was almost completely surrounded by marsh, making it difficult to attack by land. A single military road from Fort St. Simon provided an easily-defended supply route. The superiority of the position, however, was its location on the Frederica River. Moving up-river a Spanish fleet would have to make an S-curve and come upon the fort single file, with the bow of each ship facing the fort after the turn (they would then have to make a third turn in shallow water to bring their guns to bear). This would give the battery at Frederica ample opportunity to open fire, destroy one or two ships and block the river. Should the military road from Fort St. Simon be cut, the Highlanders in Darien could supply the fort by boat.
Building Fort Frederica
Approved by the Trustees in 1735, Fort Frederica and the town which supported it were built between February 2, 1736 and 1739, and represented the southernmost point of British colonization on the American coast. While the Spanish knew of nearby Fort St. Simon, the location and the very existence of Fort Frederica were a closely guarded secret. Both the fort and the town were named in honor of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales. The 'k' was changed to an 'a' because a South Carolina fort had already been named in honor of the prince.
Securing the outer perimeter of the town was the first order of business. A sandy berm was constructed with a wooden palisade some ten feet high on top. The exterior line of this parapet had bastions and enclosed some 40 acres for the fort, magazine, and living quarters with gardens. Inside the outer wall, the town was divided into two military wards, used to schedule training and guard duty. Rudimentary living quarters, essentially a roof of palmetto fronds on 4 cross-connected poles, gave officers and settlers what little protection they needed from the sun and rain until dwellings could be built.
On the extreme western end of the town lay the fort, surrounded by field pieces augmented by mounted cannon within the fort. In 1736 there was an jetty of land in front of the fort (since washed away) where an artillery battery was placed. Inside the fort, much of which was made of brick, the magazine and barracks were built of tabby, a unique blend of lime (made by burning shells) and water that used sea shells as an aggregate. This mixture was poured into a mold a layer at a time. When the fort was in use the unattractive gray tabby was covered with stucco (tabby without the aggregate). The smooth surface was easily whitewashed and repaired.
Captain of the H.M.S. Hawk, James Gascoigne, who had brought settlers to the new town, established a naval "base" at the base of a cliff south of Frederica. Perhaps six or seven ships could lay anchor at this protected point on the inland waterway. The bluff where the causeway from the mainland reaches St. Simon is named for him.
James Oglethorpe used Fort Frederica as a starting point for an exploration of coastal Florida. As he sailed south he gave English names to many of the geographic features along the Georgia and Florida coast and familiarized himself with the military positions in the vicinity of St. Augustine, capital of Spanish-held Florida.
Unfortunately, Frederica also represented Oglethorpe's failure as an administrator of the colony of Georgia. The Trustees recognized Oglethorpe's military capabilities, but stripped him of his administrative rights, breaking Georgia into two counties and putting William Stevens in charge of Savannah while Oglethorpe ran Frederica.
Fort Frederica during wartime
Following a Spanish foray onto Amelia Island, in which 2 of MacKaye's Highlanders were killed, Oglethorpe decided to move south. Using a fleet of 15 boats, plus a combined military force that included friendly Creek and Chickasaw Indians, Oglethorpe began heading south in late December, 1739. On the morning of January 1, 1740, his fleet successfully raided both Fort San Francisco de Pupo and Fort Picolata along the San Sebastian (St. Johns's) River west of St. Augustine in Spanish Florida.
In May of 1740, Oglethorpe renewed his attack on St. Augustine, capturing Fort San Diego and Fort Mose (pronounced MO-sey). After the city was sacked by South Carolina governor James Moore in 1702 (Queen Anne's War), the Spanish constructed additional defensive positions around the city, which made a direct assault difficult. Oglethorpe, after testing the Spanish positions, settled on laying siege to St. Augustine. The Spanish fleet arrived and Oglethorpe wisely retreated.
Returning to St. Simon, Oglethorpe prepared for a Spanish invasion. The General kept a few men in Fort St. Simon, Fort St. Andrews (north end of Cumberland Island) and Fort St. Williams (south end of Cumberland Island). When Manuel de Montiano sailed past Fort St. Simons in early July, the men inside withdrew. Now the Spanish simply had to find Frederica.
At first they dismissed the road to Frederica as a farmer's path, but after failing to find another road, three companies of Spanish troops began to follow it to Frederica. At Gully Hole Creek they ran into a small group of Highlanders who routed the Spanish force. Oglethorpe heard the battle, and pursued the Spanish. At Bloody Marsh Oglethorpe engaged a superior force, beating Montiano's men with relative ease. Uncertain of the troop strength at Fort Frederica, Montiano withdrew a few days later.
End of the Fort/Town of Frederica
On March 22, 1743 a fire broke out on the west end of Broad Street and the Fort Frederica magazine exploded. Four months later General Oglethorpe returned to England, never to visit Georgia again. The War of Jenkins Ear fueled a much larger conflict known as the War of Austrian Succession, which ended in 1748. The following year, to save money, Parliament withdrew the troops from Frederica and Oglethorpe's men were disbanded. To entice the troops to stay at the settlement, they were offered land if they remained for 7 years. Of 1,000 people in the town in 1749 only 250 stayed. By 1756 much of the town was deserted. A fire in 1758 further damaged the town.
In 1774 explorer William Bartram visited Frederica and made extensive notes on the structure and surrounding area. While portions of the fort were overgrown, Bartram does note "..a few neat houses in good repair," tending to indicate that the community was never completely abandoned at that time. It soon was, and remained so until the start of the 20th century when interest in Georgia's Golden Isles began to grow. Citizens of St. Simons, interested in preserving the history of the town and the fort acquired the land and donated it to the federal government. In 1936 the National Park Service took over management of the fort, creating the Fort Frederica National Monument in 1945.
One of the first steps in preserving the town was to excavate the remains. To oversee that task the Park Service brought in noted archeologist Charles Herron Fairbanks as superintendent. He personally led the excavations of the Hawkins-Davidson Houses, for which he is nationally recognized for developing recovery and interpretive methods used in historical archaeology. Although he left Frederica in 1948, he remained involved in the development of the park as it stands today throughout the rest of his life.
Visiting Fort Frederica
Enter the fort through the Visitors Center, which is equiped to handle the physically impaired. Past the center is an area where historical interpreters recreate the lives of townspeople and the military. The fort itself is entered by bridge, over the outer wall of the original fort.
Once inside, the entire site is interpreted, including some of the remains of the individual homes. The center offers a brochure that contains a self-guided tour. Homes and businesses along Broad Street are a highlight; these can be explored as you walk towards the magazine, one of the few remaining military structures on the property. From the magazine, visitors can see the Frederica River approach to the fort. Return north of Broad Street to visit the tabby barricks.
Location: On the west side of St. Simons Island, north of town.
Route 9, Box 286-C
St. Simons Island, GA 31522-9710
Fort Frederica timeline
Date added: May 25, 2004
Last update: June 13, 2004
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St. Simons Lighthouse
National Park Listing
Ocmulgee Indian Mounds
Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Carter Library and Museum
Fort Yargo State Park
Fort McAllister State Park
Old Fort Jackson