Noble Jones’ “Wormslow,” 1736-1775

This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Richelle Sanders as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2018.

The Noble Jones’ “Wormslow,” 1736-1775 historical marker was dedicated on June 17, 2008. View the Noble Jones’ “Wormslow,” 1736-1775 historical marker listing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1. Entrance to Wormsloe Historical Site, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

2. Skidaway Narrows, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

3. Avenue of live oaks, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

4. Photographed Map of Wormslow in Wormslow Museum, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

5. Display of Noble Jones in Wormslow Museum, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

6. Ruins of Noble Jones House and Fort, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

7. Noble Jones “Wormslow” Historical Marker, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

8. Coming from the well, Wormsloe, the DeRenne Plantation, Isle of Hope, Jerome Nelson Wilson, 1827-1897.

9. African American picking cotton near Savannah, Foltz Studio, undated.

10. Artwork by Students at the Susie King Taylor Community School, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

11. Creative Component: Artwork on Wormsloe, Richelle Sanders, 2018.

Wormsloe: Its Land and Labor

The following essay is by SCAD student Richelle Sanders, 2018.

 

Wormsloe and Decedents

Wormsloe has been a transitional and complex site since its creation in 1736 by Noble Jones[i] (Figure 1). The numerous ventures on the land have made it an essential part of Savannah’s history. Down a one and a half miles dirt path surrounded by rows of live oak trees that are bordered by marsh and cleared land is Georgia’s oldest continual estate and the location of Georgia’s oldest ruins (Figures 2 and 3). The site has been marked by de-construction, agriculture, and what was once a typical image of a southern plantation. This research project outlines the long history of the Wormsloe site, noting the landowners and rulers of the property, and recording the facts of life for the resident workers, the enslaved population. Whereas this historical marker, the site’s current guided tours, and museum recount Wormsloe’s history of ownership, they pay only scant attention to the humans who tilled the soil, harvested the food, cleaned the houses, and cared for the estate. This project seeks to offer a richer, more complex account of the human presence at Wormsloe over the years.

The Georgia Trustees granted a land charter of 500 acres to Noble Jones on the Isle of Hope about 10 miles away from downtown Savannah.[ii] Completed in 1745, Wormslow began as a military fort to defend Savannah against attack from the Spanish.[iii] His fortified home was built alongside the Skidaway narrows (Figures 4, 5, 6). As the Joneses were one of the 39 original colonial Savannah families, the land was not only a strategically fortified area, but also a site that proved to have a rich connection to agriculture. All of Savannah’s original landowning colonists were required to plant crops, and Noble Jones experimented with what the soil, sand, and marsh could grow on the Wormslow plantation grounds. Originally looking to be prosperous in crops such as silk and wine,[iv] Jones was mostly known for his “exotic” plants such as oranges, agave, and pomegranates.[v]  While some of his small gardens and crops were successful, it was not enough to provide a stable food supply to all on the plantation. The Georgia Trustees originally banned the use of slaves in its charter in 1733.[vi] The hardships of Savannah’s early settlement led to a protest from Noble Jones and other colonists to petition to King George II that with the use of slaves the land could be worked much faster and become as prosperous as their South Carolina neighbors. In 1749, the regulation was revoked and slavery came to Savannah and to Wormslow.[vii] By 1765, Noble Jones owned 7 enslaved people, and he had come to acquire 45 lives when he died in 1775, which he distributed in different amounts to his children.[viii]

The second notable Jones landowner in terms of agriculture was George Wymberly Jones. Noble Jones’ great-grandson wanted to remake Wormslow into self-sufficient property after returning to live on the estate in 1854.[ix] George W. Jones turned Wormslow into an exceptionally profitable plantation with the production of Sea Island cotton. He sought to run an efficient and advanced plantation, and  focused his efforts on the organization of the plantation, buying new equipment for the grounds, and continuing to explore investigational planting. He purchased and built items such as a cotton gin, eight new slave cabins, stables, and even for a short time a horse race track.[x] George W. Jones achieved his goal, causing cotton production to soar on the estate. He died the richest man in Savannah in 1880.[xi]

 

Slavery, Sea Island Cotton and Indigo

While Noble Jones may be remembered for his many job titles, the fact that he acquired such massive real estate seemed to be the stronghold for the family to continue to prosper. The family oversaw three plantations which produced large amounts of rice, indigo, and what Wormsloe is most agriculturally known for, Sea Island cotton. George Wymberly Jones saw the opportunity to profit greatly in this market, however, for the people that had to work Wormslow’s land; success had a very different connotation. Although slavery accounts at Wormsloe now can be difficult to find, like many plantations in the Georgia South, Wormsloe transformed from employing indentured servants to using enslaved people to work the land. (Figure 8) While most of the enslaved people were forced to work on the other plantations that the Joneses owned, at least 20 slaves were at Wormsloe during the 1850s.[xii] They worked under a task system where they were expected to clear 50 acres of land each day.[xiii] Working with both indigo and cotton can be a long and laborious process. Yet, working with these substances was not a task that was completely foreign to the laborers. Although one cannot certain where each of these African Americans came from, research suggests that West Africa was most likely their home before the middle passage. Many of the enslaved were brought to the Caribbean before being sent to the Georgia coast. In the Caribbean, they were influenced by many other cultures and their methods for growing cotton and indigo quickly and efficiently. Scholars have speculated that because West Africans had been growing both substances for thousands of years they were brought to work on plantations, such as Wormsloe, because of their knowledge.[xiv] While the plantation’s growth of their crops was important financially to the owners of Wormsloe, other ideas were attached to the crops for the enslaved that had to toil in the fields. According to urban slavery tour guide Vaughnette Goode-Walker in her Footprints of Savannah Walking Tour, cotton can be used for medicinal purposes. Indigo has long been used as a dye in West Africa, the deep blue color having spiritual and cultural meaning which continued into the African-American culture in the Georgia South. (Figure 9)

Wormsloe is now a stop on Savannah’s tourism trek. The 9th Generation of the Jones/DeRenne family continues to live on its property. Although the remnants of its past are mostly gone, there is an invested interest by the University of Georgia and the Wormsloe Foundation to revitalize the land and uncover more of its agricultural and cultural history. The decedents of the Wormsloe enslaved population can be traced in nearby Sandfly and Skidaway communities, as well as around Savannah. As a painting graduate student at SCAD, with a deep interest in not only local history but also my family’s own connections to the southern labor, I have created an artwork that reveals the faces of our descendants emerging from the landscape (Figure 11).

[i] Wormsloe, Savannah Public Library, Savannah Ga, 1975. Courtesy Bull St. Public Library Georgia History Reading Room.

[ii] Drew A Swanson, Remaking Wormsloe Plantation: The Environmental History of a Low Country Landscape (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

[iii] Wormsloe, Savannah Public Library.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] E. Merton Coulter, Wormsloe: Two Centuries of a Georgia Family, University of Georgia Press, Athens, (1995).

[vi] Wormsloe, Savannah Public Library.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Drew A Swanson, Remaking Wormsloe Plantation: The Environmental History of a Low Country Landscape (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

[x] Coulter.

[xi] Robert Preston Brooks, Wormsloe House and Its Masters, (The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 2. June 1956, pg. 144-151), www.jstor.org/stable/40577670.

[xii] Swanson.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid.

Bragg, William H. “Wormsloe Plantation.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 25 September 2004. www.georgiaencylopedia.org

Brooks, Robert Preston, “Wormsloe House and Its Masters” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 40. No 2. (June 1956) pg. 144-151.

Cotter, John L. “Review Captain Jones Wormsloe: A Historical, Archaeological, and Architectural study of an 18th Century Plantation Site” The Journal of American History (I), 67, no. 1 (1980): 123-24: doi: 10. 230711900456.

Coulter, Merton E., “Wormsloe: Two Centuries of a Georgia Family, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995.

Harris, Leslie M., and Berry, Diana Ramey, eds. Slavery and Freedom in Savannah. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014.

Joseph, J. W., and Zierden, Martha, eds. “Another’s Country: Archaeological Historical Perspectives and Cultural Interactions in the Southern Colonies” Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Joseph, Marietta, B. “West African Indigo Cloth” African Arts (I) 11, no. 2 (1978): 35-95. doi: 2307/3335446

Swanson, Drew A. “Wormsloe’s Belly: The History of a Southern Plantation through Food,” Southern Cultures 15, no. 4 (2009): 50-66.

Swanson, Drew A. Remaking Wormsloe Plantation: The Environmental History of a Low Country Landscape, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012.