Fort Morris State Historic Site

Location: Midway, Georgia

Webpage: Georgia State Park

General Description: In 1747, Captain Mark Carr received 1000 acres of land on the Medway River.  By 1758, the Midway District (midway between Savannah and Darien) had grown and needed a centralized place to conduct commerce.  A town charter was granted to establish the port of Sunbury on 300 acres of Captain Carr’s property.  It was located on the banks of the Medway River which provided the deepest water port south of Chesapeake Bay.  As the town grew it needed protection from the Spanish and pirates so a large fort made of logs and sand was built in 1760 expanding the earthen fort built in 1756.  The location of the fort took advantage of the sharp right angle turn in the Medway River before the wharves that gave a sustained field of fire on ships before they would turn broadside to return fire.  By 1864, Sunbury included 80 dwellings mostly owned by merchants and plantation owners.  Sunbury was a bustling harbor, second only to Savannah in Georgia, prior to the Revolutionary War exporting lumber, rice, indigo, corn and other goods to the West Indies.  Two of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence were from Sunbury, Button Gwinnett owned St. Catherine’s Island, one of the two barrier islands protecting the entrance to the harbor, and Lyman Hall, who lived in Sunbury.  Early in the Revolutionary War, Sunbury was the staging area for three failed attempts to capture St. Augustine from the British.  The British had taken control of East and West Florida from Spain at the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763 and this new British colony did not join in the revolution, so posed a constant threat to the Georgia colony.  In the fall of 1778, Lt Col Fuser moved north out of St. Augustine with 500 British regulars by sea and Lt Col Prevost with 700 British and loyalist militia up the Kings Highway towards Savannah.  A force of 100 Continentals and 20 Georgia militia skirmished with Prevost south of the Midway Meeting House and on November 22, 1788 forced the outnumbered Continentals led by Major Jackson.  However, they left behind a letter that stated a large force was advancing from Savannah to block their approach which convinced Prevost to withdraw.  When Fuser showed up at Fort Morris three days later, Prevost was nowhere to be found.  However, he still outnumbered the defenders of the fort and surrounded the town.  When he ordered Colonel McIntosh to surrender the fort on November 25, 1788, McIntosh replied with the now famous words “Come and Take It”.  Knowing he would suffer heavy casualties, Fuser withdrew back to his ships and returned to St. Augustine for reinforcements.  Sunbury’s reprieve was short lived.  After taking Savannah in December of 1778, the British returned to Sunbury and Fort Morris and again surrounded the town.  On January 9, 1779 after then commander Major Lane refused to surrender they pounded the fort they surrendered.  The fort was renamed Fort George and served as a military prison until the British withdrew to Savannah in September 1779.  In withdrawing, they were ordered to dismantle the fort and destroy the town of Sunbury.  Sunbury never recovered from the devastation of the war and the fort was in ruins.  Except for archeological evidence there is nothing left of the Fort Morris today.  There was a brief resurgence of the Fort and Sunbury during the war of 1812 when Fort Defiance was built over the ruins of the old fort.  Fort Defiance is much smaller designed to hold only 9 cannons instead of the 23 cannons in Fort Morris, of which only 2 were ever in place.  Although armed barges were sent to guard the port of Sunbury, the fort never saw action.  The earthworks of Fort Defiance are still visible today in the park.  The fort and town were again garrisoned during the Civil War, however, except for light cavalry action and blockade runners saw no action until December, 1864 when General Sherman laid waste to the town and fort, one day after the fall of Fort McAllister to the north.  Today there is nothing left but archeological evidence of the town of Sunbury, the forgotten Revolutionary Town.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The State Historic Site is very small consisting of the Visitor Center and earthen remains of Fort Defiance along with a short nature trail.  Residential homes abut the property to the north and there is a marsh to the south.  The short movie about the history of Sunbury is very good and the small museum is adequate giving good information about the historical timeline.

VisitorCenter

2) In addition to the brochure with explanations of the 7 stops in the self-guided tours of the fort, they provided a portable DVD player and DVD done by reenactors that provide a lot more information than you get from the brochure.  This added a lot to the experience.

Earthworks2 Earthworks1

3) The nature walk is less than a mile and about half of it is right on the fence line with the large house to the north of the site, where there was the constant noise of construction going on.  Certainly not the best nature hike we have taken.  Except for that the grounds are beautifully maintained and the picnic area was very nice.

4) While I would not go out of my way to visit this site, I did find it interesting to learn that there was a town of Sunbury, Georgia that had a prominent role leading up to and including the Revolutionary War.  This town is no longer there with the last structure being removed over 50 years ago.  However, it is an important historical location, especially since two signers of the Declaration of Independence came from Sunbury.  It only takes a couple of hours to leisurely explore the museum, fort, and nature hike and is a good use of a cool November morning.

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