Our local ties to American independence begin in, of all places, England.
No kidding. The war to establish a free and independent nation on these shores was entering its second year when Georgia’s seven original colonies were established on Feb. 5, 1777. The county of Glynn encompassed the Georgia Coast and was named for John Glynn. A skilled lawyer known for his masterful oratory, Glynn made fiery speeches in support of American independence as a member of England’s House of Commons.
It was much more than could be said for many a colonist who had called these shores home. As was the case throughout the colonies, a great number of families living in the Golden Isles sided with the British. Torries in Brunswick high-tailed it to locales where the sun still shined on the British empire.
They moved away from homes on the thoroughfares of London, George, Prince, Gloucester, Newcastle and Dartmouth — anglophile street names that remain 250 years after the 1771 founding of the town of Brunswick.
That is not to say that Glynn County was full of turncoats. Plenty stuck around to make their stand against British tyranny.
Nor were these shores spared the fighting. The figurative ink was barely dry on the document the 1776 on which our independence was declared when the British breached local waters. Seeking to ferret out the Georgia State Navy, the British sent four warships into local waters in April of 1778. That is where three patriot galleys under the command of Col. Samuel Elbert found them on the Frederica River.
Inside our tricky inland waters, His Majesty’s Ships were no match for the sleek 70-foot-longgalleys, powered by hearty oarsmen and armed with heavy cannon at the bow.
In the naval action that followed on April 19, the Georgia galleys Washington, Bullock and Lee captured the HMS Hinchinbrook, Hatter and Rebecca. The British sailors took to rowboats, escaping to the Galatea, the only ship that avoided capture.
Among the locals fighting for independence was Major Pierce Butler, a wealthy planter who grew rice on Butler Island in McIntosh County and sea island cotton on Hamiliton Plantation on St. Simons Island.
Irish by birth, Butler arrived in the colonies as an officer in the British Army. When war broke out, Butler gave the British his walking papers and joined the American cause. He served in the Continental Army until war’s end in 1782.
Like so many men who risked all for the noble experiment in democracy that took shape on this continent, Butler’s love of freedom had a galling blind spot. His fortunes were built upon the backs of the forced labor endured by hundreds of enslaved people.
And yet for all that, the American cause of freedom was not an entirely lily-white prospect. Born enslaved in Massachusetts, Salem Poor was a freedman fighting for freedom when his courage distinguished him at the battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. The enslaved James Armistead infiltrated British Gen. Charles Cornwallis’ inner circle and provided crucial intelligence to the Continental Army in the 1781 Battle of Yorktown, ultimately earning Armistead his freedom. Throughout the war, the Continental Army in which Butler served included some 6,000 Black soldiers who also fought for freedom. The Continental Army remained America’s most integrated army until the Vietnam war.
Among the more determined Continentals was Cyrus Dart. Born in 1764 in Haddock, Conn., Cyrus ran away from home to serve as a page for none other than Gen. George Washington. But Cyrus’ dad tracked him down and dragged him home. He ran away again, serving in the Continental Army’s 1st Connecticut Regiment from 1782-83.
Dart grew up to become a surgeon, settling near the ruins of Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island in 1792. A decade later, he was quarantine officer for the Port of Brunswick. This was a pretty big deal back then. In 1789, President Washington had named the Port of Brunswick one of five ports of entry into the fledgling United States.
Cyrus’ settling here led to a family tree that branches from early Brunswick founding member Urbanus Dart to former Mayor Jacob Dart (1843-1917) right up to 102-year-old Bill Brown.
Here in the Golden Isles, the Fourth of July has strong patriotic roots.