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Bulloch History by Roger Allen

Regional forts in colonial days

    When James Edward Oglethorpe arrived in what was to become the new colony of Georgia, things were relatively peaceful. The two “world wars,” currently being fought between the world’s three super powers, (Spain, France and England) were being fought up in Canada and the northern colonies or over in Europe.
    In the Southeast, the Yamassee Indians acted as a buffer between the colonists and the more war-like Creeks and Cherokee Indians. So, when the Yamassee withdrew to Spanish Florida in 1715, the colonists decided to fortify several of the outermost trade routes. These frontier “Rangers” came from Brigadier General James Edward Oglethorpe’s 42nd Regiment of Foot.
    The “First Fort” was to be called “Fort Argyll”. Named after John Campbell, the Duke of Argyle, it was located near the present Jencks Bridge on Highway U.S. 80. In 1721, a troop of Rangers selected a site some 40 miles up the Ogeechee River from Savannah, along the main Indian trail going from the Carolinas to Florida.
    Set up on the East bank of the “Ogeechy River... (it was) intended thereby to command all the passes in that part of the Province”. The fort was, according to the Trustees, a place “where every trader going to the Creeks to trade shall be obliged to pass both coming and going.” It was a small, square wooden fort with just the most basic of facilities.
    The trustees felt that this expense was necessary, because “this part of the Province lies exposed in such a wilderness, to be ravaged by runaway Negroes from South Carolina, or parties of strolling Spanish Indians”. The only way to get men to agree to such hazardous duty was to give them land, so the trustees set it up that in exchange for seven years of service on the frontier, one would receive “a grant of twenty acres of land.”
    They were commanded by some of the areas best Scotsmen: James McPherson, Lachlan Mclntosh, Thomas Jones and John Milledge. Rangers rode horses and rowed or sailed boats equally well. They carried two flintlock weapons: a short pistol and a larger rifle carbine. There were a number of lieutenants who also made names for themselves, including Moses Nunez Rivers, a Portuguese Jew who was sent by Oglethorpe to Virginia to recruit more Rangers.
    Their main duties included escorting travelers, catching runaway slaves, delivering letters and (believe it or not) herding errant livestock. Life at the fort was harsh and if you broke the rules, the punishment was usually death by hanging. Ironically, Thomas Grey, the troop’s drummer for the entire life of the fort, not only beat the drums but beat the troopers who stepped out of line, as he was the official flogger.
    In fact, the first group of Moravians to arrive in Georgia was given land near the “first fort”. It didn’t take those who didn’t die immediately long to pack their bags and return to Savannah, from whence they departed for the friendlier farm county of Pennsylvania. The “First Fort” was a failure: the Trustees had failed to pay the Rangers; the Ogeechee had become clogged and overflowed its banks, making river travel impossible; and depredations upon those at fort made even breathing a dangerous occupation.
    The second fort, known as “Fort Arglye,” was moved to the west bank some three miles above the Ogeechee River and Canoochie River junction.
    This 110-foot square wooden fort had a four- to five-foot-deep moat that was some 15-foot wide. Its tower-like bastions at each corner were six inches thick with gun ports cut at the top. Brass cannon were place atop each bastion.
    There was a regular contingent of at least 10 Rangers and six Militiamen stationed at the fort, with another party of 10 Rangers on patrol up river. At this fort Oglethorpe sent 10 settler families, which he hoped would lend some stability and permanence to the place. By 1737, the second fort was beset by many of the same problems.
    Eight of the 10 families had fled for safer environs, and even the Rangers no longer attempted to improve the land around the fort. In 1743, the Royal Crown agreed to pay the expenses of the fort because it was an important part of the colony’s defensive structure. Nevertheless, by 1747 the Rangers were disbanded and the fort was abandoned.
    It was still useful, however, as the Indian chiefs declared that would be the safe haven for all future meetings with colonial representatives. Apparently, they didn’t feel safe going into the colony’s towns any more than the colonists felt safe entering their villages.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at rogerdodger53@hotmail.com

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