Print

E-Mail Story

Comment

News Letter Sign up


Pirates, revolution and ironclads: Exploring Georgia’s maritime past


October 02, 2017

1 Image

Georgia has a long naval history, stretching all the way back to Spanish explorers and missionaries in the 16th century. In the 1730s the British, looking to expand their territory in the New World and create a buffer between the thriving settlements in Virginia and the Carolinas and the Spanish in Florida, chartered a new colony to be established under the leadership of James Oglethorpe. The first settlers arrived on the banks of the Savannah River in February 1733 aboard the Anne, a small merchant vessel. By 1744, the first company was established in the port city of Savannah to ship raw goods and materials back to England. In less than two decades, the port of Savannah had become vitally important to the success of the colony and its settlers. Georgia was the only colony who paid King George III’s Stamp Act due to the fact that more than 60 ships sat idle in Savannah’s harbor. The signing of the Declaration of Independence by the colonies in 1776 meant that, in early 1777, the British had established a blockade on the port of Savannah.

The city was occupied by British forces for much of the war and several British warships sunk off Georgia’s coast, typically running aground in its shallow coastal waters or falling victim to damaging storms. The most notable of these was the British warship HMS Defiance, which went down in the mouth of the Savannah River after a violent storm in 1780. Unfortunately, much of Georgia’s early naval history has been lost to time with few artifacts remaining from its colonial and Revolutionary periods. However, the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, occupying the William Scarbrough House and Gardens, curates an impressive collection of naval artifacts and ship models, including a model of Oglethorpe’s ship, the Anne. It is fitting that William Scarbrough’s home is now a shrine to American naval history: he was the owner of the Savannah, the first steamship to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Many of Georgia’s identified wrecks date from the Civil War, the most significant of these being the CSS Georgia, a Savannah-built ironclad gunship. Intended to remain at the mouth of the Savannah River and guard the city from Union attack, the ship was sunk by the Confederacy to prevent capture by Union forces in 1864. The wreck was relatively forgotten until the 1960s when dredging of the Savannah River revealed the remains and in 2013 a portion of the wreck was recovered by the Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the U.S. Navy. Artifacts were still being recovered from the site as recently as 2015 but none are yet on display.

Two other ships of note are the USS Water Witch, a Union blockade ship captured by the Confederate navy just south of Savannah, and the Rattlesnake, a passenger ship turned gunship and blockade-runner, smuggling cotton and guns between England and the struggling Confederacy. Both ships were sunk just south of the Savannah River, the Water Witch by Confederate forces to prevent recapture and the Rattlesnake in a battle with the ironclad USS Montauk, the ship which would later serve as the prison of the six conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln. Artifacts from and a scale replica of the Water Witch now reside at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia.

Additionally, many unidentified wrecks have been discovered on the beaches of Georgia’s barrier islands. An unidentified portion of a ship’s bow, exposed after storms hit Jekyll Island in 2008, are believed by many to be the remains of the steamship Magnolia which exploded in the Frederica River in 1852. Another mysterious wreck was revealed last year on Cumberland Island after a storm exposed a hull on the eastern shore. Speculation surrounded the wreck, some citing the island’s known history of raids by French and Spanish pirates. Archaeologists worked to collect artifacts for study and preservation and early indications are that the small ship dates from the mid-1800s.

So far, no pirate ships or significant pirate hoards have been discovered on Georgia’s coast but the legends live on through places like the Pirate’s House restaurant in Savannah and Blackbeard Island north of Sapelo. Tybee was a known hideout for English pirates who preyed on Spanish vessels and settlements and those who dream of adventure as swashbuckling buccaneers can attend Tybee’s 13th annual Pirate Fest. The event kicks off on October 5 with the Buccaneer Ball with activities at the pier every day through October 8 including a carnival, a parade, pub crawls, live music and fireworks. Regular admission tickets for Friday and Saturday are $15 with children under 12 admitted free. Costumes are encouraged.


Print

E-Mail Story

News Letter Sign up

Bookmark and Share
« Previous Story | Next Story »
 

COMMENTS

http://www.connectstatesboro.com/ encourages readers to interact with one another. We will not edit your comments, but we reserve the right to delete any inappropriate responses. To report offensive or inappropriate comments, contact our editor. The comments below are from readers of http://www.connectstatesboro.com/ and do not necessarily represent the views of Publication or Morris Multimedia.

You must be logged in to post comments.  [LOGIN]



You must be logged in to post comments.  [LOGIN]