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American Revolution

An important naval battle in the American Revolution (the Frederica Naval Action) was won by the American Colonists near St. Simons on April 19, 1778. Colonel Samuel Elbert was in command of Georgia's Continental Army and Navy. On April 15, 1778 he learned that four ships (including the Hinchinbrook, the Rebecca, and the Galatea) from British East Florida were sailing in St. Simons Sound. Elbert commanded about 360 troops from the Georgia Continental Battalions at Fort Howe to march to Darien, Georgia. There they boarded three Georgia Navy galleys: the Washington, commanded by Captain John Hardy ; the Lee, commanded by Captain John Cutler Braddock; and the Bulloch, commanded by Captain Archibald Hatcher. On April 18 they entered Frederica River and anchored about 1.5 miles (2 kilometers) from Fort Frederica. On April 19 the colonial ships attacked the British ships. The Colonial ships were armed with heavier cannons than the British ships. The galleys also had a shallow draft and could be rowed. The wind died down and the British ships had difficulty maneuvering in the restricted waters of the river and sound. Two of the British ships ran aground and the British escaped to their other ship. The battle showed how effective the galleys could be in restricted waters over ships designed for the open sea. The Frederica Naval Action was a big boost to the morale of the Colonists in Georgia.

Lumber for ships

Saint Simons' next military contribution was due to the Naval Act of 1794, when timber harvested from two thousand Southern live oak trees from Gascoigne Bluff was used to build the USS Constitution and five other frigates (see Six original United States frigates). The USS Constitution is known as "Old Ironsides" for the way the cannonballs bounced off the hard live oak planking.

Wesley brothers

During the colonial period, Saint Simons served as a sometime home to John Wesley, the minister of the colony who later went on to found the Methodist Church. Wesley performed missionary work at St Simons while he was still in the Anglican Church, but he felt despondent over his inability to bring about revivals (writing that the local inhabitants had more tortures from their environment than he could describe for Hell). In the 1740s John Wesley's brother Charles Wesley did missionary work on St. Simons. On April 5, 1987 fifty-five members from St. Simons United Methodist Church were commissioned with Bishop Frank Robertson as first pastor to begin a new church on the north end of St. Simons Island where John and Charles Wesley preached and ministered to the people at Fort Frederica. The new church was named Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica.

Christ Episcopal Church

In 1808 the State of Georgia gave one hundred acres of land on St. Simons to be used for a church. The church was called Christ Church, Frederica, and was finished in 1820. During the Civil War, invading Union troops commandeered the small building to stable horses and nearly destroyed it. The church was rebuilt in 1889, and this historic building is still in use as of 2007.

Cotton production

During the plantation era, Saint Simons became a center of cotton production known for its long fiber Sea Island Cotton. Nearly the entire island was cleared of trees to make way for several cotton plantations. One of the last slave ships to bring slaves from Africa docked at St. Simons Island, but the slaves marched off the boat into the water, dragged down by their chains, and drowned themselves rather than becoming slaves. An original slave cabin still stands at the intersection of Demere Rd. and Frederica Rd. at the roundabout.

St. Simons Island lighthouse

St. Simons Island Lighthouse is situated near the entrance to St. Simons Sound in United States Coast Guard district number 7. It is 104 feet tall and uses a third order fresnel lens. The light keeper's residence is a two-story Victorian brick structure.

The original octagonal lighthouse was established in 1811, but destroyed during the in 1861 during the Civil War by Confederate forces to prevent its use by Union forces. A replacement was completed in 1872, electrified in 1934, automated in 1954, and is still operational.

The current structure is an active lighthouse for navigational purposes and a museum. It is on lease from the United States Coast Guard to the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and is open to the public.

Coast Guard Station and World War II

The historic Coast Guard station is one of some 45 such stations of the same design started in 1935 under the WPA program. The station was commissioned in 1937 and was decommissioned in 1995. The building is one of only three remaining stations built at the time and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It houses the Maritime Center, a small museum run my the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. A new Coast Guard station was built and is currently in use.

On the night of April 8, 1942, the German submarine U-123 was positioned off the shores of St. Simons Island. It chased and torpedoed two tankers, the S.S. Oklahoma and the Esso Baton Rouge. Both ships sank and twenty-two crew members were killed. Survivors were rescued and brought to the Coast Guard station on St. Simons for debriefing. Both ships were raised and towed to the port at nearby Brunswick for repairs. Both ships reentered service but were sunk in the Atlantic Ocean before the end of World War II. Five of the sailors killed were buried in Brunswick as "unknown seamen", but they were positively identified in 1998.

Article posted 04/05/09 by the Publisher.

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