St Simons Real Estate History: The Spanish Invade!
In 1742, Handel’s Messiah was performed for the first time, Henry Fielding’s first full-length novel Joseph Andrews was published, and — perhaps surprisingly to non-natives — Spain invaded Georgia; specifically, St. Simons.
20 years earlier, then-Member of British Parliament James Oglethorpe had established a name for himself as a champion of economic justice — or as much as one could be expected to be in England in the 1720’s. After a fact-finding tour of British debtors’ prisons, Oglethorpe led a group of politicians who reformed debt laws in England — and released many imprisoned debtors.
Finding those former prisoners insolvent and without any way to support themselves, Oglethorpe petitioned to establish a “family farm” rooted colony in the New World, just for them — the first settlers arrived in 1733 and began the work of building Georgia.
Part of that work was establishing a defensive perimeter — the new British Colony of Georgia lay between English and Spanish-held territories, and was a point of contention from the start. By the time hostilities inevitably broke out in 1740, Oglethorpe had organized troops and built several forts, most importantly Fort Frederica on St. Simons — named for Frederick, the Prince of Wales.
Oglethorpe took the initiative and a led a mixed group of British regulars, militia and Native American allies in an attempt to invade Spanish-held Florida, laying siege to St. Augustine. But hurricane season intervened, holding back his forces and allowing the Spanish to re-fortify and resupply in the interim. Oglethorpe returned to Georgia and prepared for the counterattack.
Spanish commander Manuel de Montiano landed on St Simons in 1742, planning to use the island as a base of operations to facilitate the wholesale invasion of Georgia. But as the Spanish marched on Fort Frederica, they were ambushed by Oglethorpe’s forces — a handful of Georgia Rangers and dozens of Chicksaw, Yamacraw, and Creek Indian warriors.
Captured soldiers gave away de Montiano’s position, and British forces ambushed the Spanish from the forests in an attack so ferocious and decisive it’s known today as the Battle of Bloody Marsh.
De Montiano and his troops left St. Simons less than a week later, never to return. Oglethorpe himself returned to England two years later, to marry an heiress and retire at his Putney estate. Fort Frederica today is a National Monument, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is open to the public seven days a week; visit the National Park Service’s Fort Frederica website for a schedule of events!