St. Simons Park
This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Allison Westerfield as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2015.
The St. Simons Park historical marker was dedicated on March 22, 2002. View the St. Simons Park historical marker listing.
1. St Simons Isld, D. Appleton and Co., 1847. MS1361-MP304. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
2. John Wesley Teaching the Indians Under the Oaks of St. Simons 1736, unknown, 1900-1960. Georgia Historical Society Collection of Postcards, MS 1361-PC-1AnsleyHotel. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
3. St. Simons Island Park historical marker, 2015. Courtesy of Allison Westerfield.
4. St. Simons Island Park, 2015. Courtesy of Allison Westerfield.
The following essay is by SCAD student Allison Westerfield, 2015.
St. Simons Island is one of the many coastal areas in Georgia that was first inhabited by Native Americans. Before they settled in permanent villages, American Indians came to the coast for shellfish, hunting, and a wide variety of edible plants. [i] The Native Americans would then head back inland towards their villages. Moving between the coast and inland began to change, and the indigenous people moved towards the coastal areas permanently. The Guale settled around the year 1500 in St. Simon’s with almost 200 people, establishing a village called Guadalquini. [ii] This tribe most likely who took up a permanent residence on the coast to better trade an abundance of spoils off the rich coastal lands. By settling permanently on the coast, the Guale would no longer have to move back and forth.
The Mocama and Guale are the best-known tribes that inhabited most of the Georgia coast, though there are others about whom less is known. The cultures of all the inhabiting tribes had such extreme similarities that the European settlers could not differentiate between them. [iii] It is said that in 1568 Spanish missions inhabited Georgia coastal villages. [iv] The Mocama are the first known to have interacted with the Spanish, who erected missions to help convert the pagans to Christianity. [v] For 100 years the Spanish missions controlled the coast. The missions would go on to run Native American provinces and change the native societies. The area was no longer purely aboriginal. [vi] The four main Mocama provinces spread from north of St. Simons to the south of the St Johns River. The two known missions on St Simons were San Buenaventura de Guadalquini and Santa Domingo De Asjo. In 1655 the provinces consisted of ten villages, eight had Spanish friars, four villages were Mocama tribes, and six were known to be Guale. [vii] However long the Spanish missions were in place, it was difficult to hold. Records show priests endured martyrdom while working beside Native Americans, but with effort, the Europeans converted most tribal members. [viii] There were many Native American uprisings and challenges from France and Great Britain. In 1661 the Guale and Mocama provinces were attacked from “mainland” tribes. Some 500 to 2000 mainland Native Americans carrying firearms were documented as attacking from north. A Guale village, that was located in modern day Darien, was the first to be attacked. The Northern warriors then proceeded south, continuing attacks on the Guale and Mocama provinces. [ix] In 1686 the Spanish had to abandon the Mocama coastal missions. [x] The Native American rebellions and pirate raids became too much to handle. [xi] Focusing on French and British invaders, the Spanish had to protect their settlements in Florida.
In 1736 James Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica. The British began to move out of Ft Frederica, and until the 1780s, the region was almost uninhabited. [xii] After the American Revolution ended, the island turned to agricultural production and fourteen cotton plantations developed. Plantation life did well for St. Simons and continued into the Civil War. However, by August of 1862 Union troops were using the island as a safe harbor for freed slaves. [xiii] The economy would not recover until the 1880s, when the island became a resort getaway. Even today, the island is filled with beach homes and is a popular place for people to vacation.
In the 1930s an airport was planned to be built on St Simons Island. In 1936 when construction was underway, Native American burial grounds were discovered on what is now the Mckinnon Airport. Smithsonian archeologists were brought in to conduct a dig on-site. Archeologists found that before 1500 natives were living in villages in this area, some 3,000 post “moulds” were found displaying evidence of houses with clay floors. [xiv] Workers uncovered around 80 burial grounds with some 150 individuals. The bodies were buried in two ways. The first being on tree platforms or in burial huts bundled together until decomposed. The second and most popular way was a single burial where the body was fully extended, facing artifacts such as pottery urn. Approximately 21,000 artifacts were found on this dig, and the findings can be found in the Museum of Ft. Frederica or the Smithsonian. [xv] On the site of the St. Simons Park marker, a skeleton of six and a half feet was found in the burial mounds. He was buried with important offerings and is thought to be an important member of the tribe, even though he was most likely no older then a teenager. [xvi]
Today the St Simons Park historical marker resides in a residential area. The oak covered Native American burial grounds are surrounded by homes, ballparks, and playgrounds. Only two blocks away from the main beach road, the park is used for town events. The McKinnon airport, where the archeological dig took place, is about a three-minute drive from the marker. Residential areas and golf courses surround the airport, just like the park. St. Simons Island remains a resort beach town today.
[i] Tommy Jenkins, A Graphic History of St. Simons Island: the Most Golden of the Golden Isles St. Simons Island, GA: T.E. Jenkins, 1994, 7. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
[ii] Mary Koon, “St. Simons Island.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 30 October 2014. Web. 21 May 2015. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/st-simons-island.
[iii] Jenkins, 7.
[iv] Burnette Vanstory, ed. Flags of Five Nations: A Collection of Historical Sketches and Stories of the Golden Isles of Guale, St. Simons Island, GA: Fort Frederica Association, 1971, 1. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
[v] John Worth, The Struggle for the Georgia Coast: an 18th-century Spanish Retrospective on Guale and Mocama, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995, 9. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
[vi] Worth, 9.
[viii] Vanstory, 7.
[ix] Worth, 15-16.
[x] Ibid., 1.
[xiv] Vanstory, 9.
[xvi] Ibid., 10.
Green, Edwin. St. Simons Island: A Summary of its History. (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004). Collection of the Georgia Historical Society.
Jenkins, Tommy. A Graphic History of St. Simons Island: the Most Golden of the Golden Isles. (St. Simons Island, GA: T.E. Jenkins, 1994). Collection of the Georgia Historical Society.
Koon, Mary D. “St. Simons Island.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. October 30, 2014. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/st-simons-island.
Morris, Patricia. St. Simons Island. (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2003). Collection of the Georgia Historical Society.
Vanstory, Burnette, ed. Flags of Five Nations: A Collection of Historical Sketches and Stories of the Golden Isles of Guale. (St. Simons Island, GA: Fort Frederica Association, 1971). Collection of the Georgia Historical Society.
Worth, John. The Struggle for the Georgia Coast: an 18th-century Spanish Retrospective on Guale and Mocama. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995). Collection of the Georgia Historical Society.