Every Labor Day, nearly 1,000 people journey to the Salzburger homestead in Effingham County, Ga., for the anniversary of the arrival of the Germans in Georgia nearly 280 years ago. A large number of Bulloch County families are direct descendants of these immigrants, who braved a dangerous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in horrible conditions in search of religious freedom in the new colony of Georgia.
Many of those families sent their children into former Indians' lands, which became Screven and Bryan, and then Bulloch, counties. Families including the Deals and Newmans (then known as Diehls and Neumanns) became the founders of the Pine Barrens, serving as judges, sheriffs and mayors throughout the area. How the original Salzburgers survived is an interesting story, one that is focused around the beginning of the silk industry in Georgia.
The Salzburgers fled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg, seeking religious freedom in the new colony of Georgia. Where they settled was named Eben Ezer (or “Stone of Help”). After one year, the first Salzburgers moved to New Ebenezer, near “Red Bluff” on the Savannah River. To support the economy of the community, the Salzburgers immediately began planting mulberry trees and raising silkworms.
In 1733, the arrival of brothers Paul and Nicolas Amatis signaled the beginning of the Ebenezer silk enterprise. Nicolas’ party included his servant, Jacques Camuse, along with Camuse's wife and three sons. Nicolas and Paul each received 150 acres of land, as well as 10 pounds of sterling and 5 pounds of meat and flour per year for sustenance.
Georgia’s trustees contracted with silk expert Jean Louis Poyas to hire “forty of his fellow Vaudois (Piedmontese Italians) …who would be willing to settle in the colony of Georgia … (who were) … the most fit for the raising and winding of Silk.” Every one of these Vaudois was given 100 acres of land.
Savannahians built a silk filature in Savannah on Reynolds Square. A rough-boarded building some 36 feet by 20 feet in diameter, it contained a loft where the green cocoons could be spread out to dry. On May 18, 1751, the filature opened for business. That same year, Giuseppe Salomone Ottolenghi arrived to become superintendent of the Savannah silk filature.
In 1734, the first year of their silk production, Ebenezer produced 8 pounds of raw silk. Gen. Oglethorpe took this silk to England to show Queen Caroline, who ordered a full dress made of the material, which she proudly wore at the King’s “Royal Levee” (birthday party) in 1736.
Unfortunately, the Vaudois had a falling out, and after ruining the silk machines and spoiling all the eggs, they fled to South Carolina. The business was entrusted to Mr. and Mrs. Camuse, and over the next six years, Mr. Camuse was paid 520 British pounds for maintaining the silk trees and operating the filature. Mrs. Camuse, “that Wicked Woman,” demanded 100 British pounds for her salary.
Elizabeth Anderson eventually replaced her as the silk instructress, for which she received 20 British pounds a year and free housing in Savannah. In 1741, Reverend Boltzius recorded that 20 Ebenezer women had reeled 17 pounds of silk “coquons” (silk balls, or cocoons) that sold on the Savannah market for 31 shillings.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at email@example.com.