To steal a favorite saying of my friend Billy Bice, I have out-punted my coverage as far as research for this week’s history column.
My interest was leaning toward a member of the Scottish McIntosh clan, members of which founded Darien in the county just north of here that bears their name. They also lived and fought and died on St. Simons Island and elsewhere up and down the Georgia coast. The trouble is, there were a lot of people making early history hereabouts named McIntosh. Or is it “MackIntosh”? Also, I found it spelled “MacIntosh” quite often. There was even a Creek Nation chief named McIntosh, who was a cousin of that original Darien clan.
Whoosh! That was the sound of deadline for a History column on anything McIntosh for this week.
With my editor’s permission, this week I am instead going to shamelessly plug my new book, which is available at several local book stores, museums, and gift shops. Coast Tales: True Historic Stories From Georgia’s Golden Isles, is actually a collection of essays from the first year of these History columns in The News. Included are closer looks on everything from the Battle of Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island in 1742 to an ocean-bound freighter’s deadly collision with the old Sidney Lanier Bridge in 1972.
The latter column begins thusly:
“Something went wrong that night aboard the African Neptune, which was 13 minutes out of the Port of Brunswick with a full load of naval stores.
“The 16-year-old Sidney Lanier Bridge’s center draw spans dutifully opened for passage through the Brunswick River. But it became increasingly clear to those waiting in vehicles on the bridge that the U.S. freighter was off course. Also, it was not stopping.
“Crew members would later attribute the ship’s wayward trek to a ‘steering failure,’ according to an Associated Press report. They dropped anchor in an effort to stop its trajectory toward the Sidney Lanier Bridge, but the anchor apparently could find no purchase in the riverbed below.
“It kept on coming.”
Back in 2017, News photographer Bobby Haven and myself were honored to be invited by visiting tribal elders of the Nigerian Igbo tribe to the consecration of waters held sacred to their people. Those waters are located on Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island. Here is why:
“They were captured in Africa and hauled across the ocean against their will, eventually arriving in chains to the shores of St. Simons Island.
“They may have been deemed mere chattel by the whites who bought them. You could call them prisoners of what is possibly the most brutish and shameful trade enterprise in human history. Bondsmen? Perhaps.
“But these proud people of the west African Igbo tribe were not slaves. Oh, no — they were never slaves.
“Rather than submit to an existence of bondage and forced labor at the hands of another, these products of proud warrior stock made a staggeringly poignant declaration of independence with their very lives.”
On a walk around Hofwyl-Broadfield State Historic Site one sunny fall day, site manager Bill Giles gave me a tour of the park and its painstakingly-preserved plantation house. In fact, the estate off U.S. Highway 17 in northern Glynn County endured as a working agricultural concern through the better part of two centuries, I learned.
“It is a state historic site these days, located off of U.S. Highway 17 in northern Glynn County.
“But Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation’s living history as a working agricultural enterprise harkens to the era when Elton John’s Crocodile Rock was a big hit and Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter was a top box office draw.
“No kidding. The year was 1973, and estate matriarch Ophelia K. Dent had just sat down to morning coffee in the stately home’s parlor on Sept. 5.
A butler returning moments later found the 85-year-old had passed away quietly, sitting at a mahogany heir loom desk.
“Thus ended the 167-year run of a plantation estate that remained in operation under the same family, dating back five generations to estate founder William Brailsford in 1806. ... A tour of Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation will take visitors on an authentic journey all the way back to Coastal Georgia’s Antebellum period. But that story’s narrative will remain from start to finish in the resilient hands of the Brailsford-Troup-Dent family.”
One of my favorite guides to the past around here is Michael Seibert, the onsite archaeologist at Fort Frederica National Monument. His enthusiasm is infectious, as I learned the first time he invited us out to a dig at the historic site.
“Michael Seibert stepped into a knee-deep pit on the grounds of Fort Frederica National Monument one day in May as if he were dropping in on old neighbors.
“Make that really old neighbors. The likes of Maj. William Horton and Richard Oldner have not been seen around these parts for nearly 300 years. Nonetheless, Seibert spoke of the two 18th century settlers with a familiarity and immediacy that suggested they were right here among us on this beautiful June day in 2018.
“With Seibert serving as interpreter, I was granted an introduction of sorts ... “
Perhaps one of my most reliable local sources of research is Amy Lyn Hedrick’s Glynngen.com site. Once, by accident and with deadline looming, I encountered the man behind one of my favorite columns in this book. It is the story of a simple man and his extraordinary life.
“The life and times of Major Magwood provide us with a unique glimpse into the journey out of bondage for African-Americans in the tumultuous 19th Century along the Georgia Coast.
“Major was born into slavery in South Carolina on a plantation owned by George Dent, who would be linked in marriage to the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation here in Glynn County. But by 1863, Major was a Union soldier in the 128th U.S. Colored Troops — a free man fighting for freedom.
“Major would settle in Glynn County after the Civil War, where he and wife Mary Ann raised a passel of kids. Records indicate they lived amicably among ex-Confederate white neighbors ... History’s big picture so often overlooks the Major Magwoods of yesteryear, the simple folks who quietly toiled, persevered and loved in measures larger than life.”
Thanks for indulging me, y’all. See you next week with a new History column.