(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
There were two main producers of silk in the Georgia colony in 1750: George Whitefield’s Bethesda Orphans House and the Salzburgers community.
In 1733, the arrival of brothers Paul and Nicolas Amatis had signaled the beginning of the Ebenezer silk enterprise. Nicolas’ party included his manservant Giacomo Lonigio Comuso (or Jacques Camuse), his wife and three sons.
Ebenezer’s first filature consisted of two silk reelers built in the yard of their spiritual advisor, Rev. Boltzius. In 1734, the first year of their silk production, Ebenezer produced eight pounds of raw silk.
Then, Georgia’s Trustees contracted with silk expert Jean Louis Poyas to hire “forty of his fellow Vaudois (Italians) … to settle in the colony of Georgia.”
Oglethorpe took the first Georgia silk to England to show Queen Caroline what they had produced. She was so impressed she ordered a full dress made of the material, which she proudly wore at the King’s “Royal Levee” (or birthday party) in 1736.
Unfortunately, the Vaudois had a falling out, and after ruining the Georgians’ silk machines and spoiling all the eggs they fled to South Carolina.
Comuso maintained Ebenezer’s silk trees and operated the filature for the next six years. Mrs. Comuso, known to many as “that Wicked Woman,” demanded she be paid as well.
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.
In 1745, 253 pounds of silk were produced; in 1746, 340 pounds; in 1747, 366 pounds; and in 1748, 464 pounds.
Rev. Boltzius erected 10 silk sheds with clay furnaces and 10 reeling machines. In 1751, Ebenezer shipped 1,000 pounds of silk cocoons and 74 pounds of raw silk to London, which sold for 110 British Pounds ($500 today).
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.