On our way to Jekyll Island recently, we stopped at the Fort King George State Historic Park. Hubby and I enjoyed learning about why this bluff was such a special part of Georgia state history…and the boys LOVED exploring the site, climbing in the fort, and “battling” each other on the marshes.
George State Historic Site, located at the mouth of the Altamaha River, is the oldest English fort remaining on Georgia’s coast. From 1721 until 1736, Fort King George was the southern outpost of the British Empire in North America. A cypress blockhouse, barracks and palisaded earthen fort were constructed in 1721 by scoutmen led by Colonel John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell. For the next seven years, His Majesty’s Independent Company garrisoned the fort. They endured incredible hardships from disease, threats of Spanish and Indian attacks, and the harsh, unfamiliar coastal environment. After the fort was abandoned, General James Oglethorpe brought Scottish Highlanders to the site in 1736. The settlement, called Darien, eventually became a foremost export center of lumber until 1925.
WHY FORT GEORGE IS AN IMPORTANT SITE
Fort King George (FKG) is rich with history that spans hundreds of years, as it is the oldest English fort remaining on Georgia’s coast. It’s been loved and fought over by Native Americans, as well as French, Spanish, British and Scottish settlers. Here are the most pressing reasons this site is important to our history.
- By keeping the French and Spanish out of the area, Fort King George helped the British gain control of the Southeast in the 1700s
- It gave the British control of the Altamaha River. The Altamaha River is Georgia’s largest river, and in the 18th century, whoever controlled the Altamaha controlled most of the southeast.
- It helped lead toward the settlement of Georgia in 1733.
- It served as an example for the settlement of the Oglethorpe’s Scottish Highlanders in Darien in 1736. The Scots were instrumental in helping the British end Spanish threats for land in the 1742 Battle of Bloody Marsh.
Could it be fair to say that without FKG, we wouldn’t be enjoying our Georgia home today? That might be stretching it a bit, but FKG certainly played a large role in settling the colony that eventually became Georgia. And that’s reason to enjoy a visit!
WHAT TO EXPLORE AT FORT KING GEORGE
The main attraction – at least for the kiddos – was exploring the reconstructed fort. Structures include a blockhouse, officers’ quarters, barracks, a guardhouse, moat and palisades. Their favorite adventure was climbing through the blockhouse, which served as the main defense structure of the fort.
They peeked through gun ports and musket loopholes, climbed through “secret doors” in the flooring and so much more. The boys also loved hiding in the sentry boxes in the corners of the fortress, and pretending to “load and fire” at the cannon battery.
Spend time exploring the museum within the Visitor’s Center. We loved seeing the Muskogee Indian canoe, a model of FKG, medical paraphernalia from the 18th century (yikes! Thank goodness for growing medical advancements,) and more.
Don’t miss the film that explains the original Guale Indians, the Santo Domingo de Talaje mission, Fort King George, the Scots of Darien, and 19th-century sawmilling when Darien became a major seaport. In the corner of the theatre, we found a box of costumes and wooden weapons, which the boys wore during the movie. They LOVED this; I think it really helped them feel the fort come alive.
FKG is on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. The number of birds found along with the trail change with the rising and falling of the tides and with the passage of the seasons. Because of that, each visit offers the chance to experience a new wildlife adventure. The best way to experience this at FKG is to take the short Nature Trail that follows the perimeter of the fort and other historic structures along the Altamaha River.
The kiddos also enjoyed seeing ruins from the 19th century sawmill that was also built on this site. It was a steam powered sawmill, and it brought the Industrial Revolution to Georgia. The ruins are across the path from a replica wattle and daub dwelling, thought to be common among the Guale Indians who occupied the area well before the 1500s. I think it a beautiful juxtaposition of the way the land was originally used vs. how it was last used before becoming part of the park system.
Finally, rent a canoe or kayak and enjoy the Altamaha up close. The waterway in this area is part of Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail. The Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail (SECT) connects the Chesapeake Bay and the Georgia-Florida border. For over 800 miles, the SECT hugs the coastal waters of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, providing a unique opportunity for paddlers to experience an unbroken trail through four states in the tidal marshes and rivers of the southern USA.
FAMILY-FUN EVENTS OF NOTE AT FORT KING GEORGE
ANYTIME is a great time to visit, but here are a sample of the events happening this year at FKG that would be especially fun for families.
Afternoon Tours of Georgia’s First Fort. Follow in the footsteps of a Redcoat Soldier. From discovery to defense, muskets, and mutiny! Learn about the history of Georgia’s first fort. Tours at 2 PM and 3 PM various days of the week. On-going event!
Fire Up the Forge. The Blacksmith is in. Join us as we operate a colonial blacksmith forge and discuss the tools and techniques used to help build and maintain the metal work of the fort. This program is included with fort admission. On-going event!
Memorial Day Commemoration. Join the rangers of Fort King George for a day of craft demonstrations and soldiers’ life activities in commemoration of Memorial Day. Standard Admission rates apply.
Laborer’s Day. Celebrate the history of colonial trades and crafts folk. Featured programs include woodworking, weaving, candle-making, as well as medicine. Standard admission rates apply.
Tricks, Treats, and Tricorns – Monsters Oh My! Join us for our annual Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating inside the Fort’s walls. This family-friendly event offers you a chance to flex your crafty side as well as participate in fun Halloween activities! Don’t forget to visit the museum for the costume competition. Enter for a chance to win prizes! This year, the theme is monsters! They’ve invaded the Fort garrison and are causing quite the rowdy raucous! Kids are welcome to join with their own monster costumes, but no worries–come as whoever or whatever you like! Cost: $3 per youth, $5 per adult.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR FORT KING GEORGE
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