Cumberland Island History
All photos were taken by me
[Tara Fields] during my trip to Cumberland Island on 5 February 2000 with my friend,
Jean Manning. All images are in medium quality jpegs. That just means the originals
are better but some quality was sacrificed for a quicker loading time. Even so, the page may take a while to fully load. :-)
One of the boats that serves Cumberland Island: The Cumberland Princess.
The other boat (not pictured) is the Cumberland Queen. 2001.
the dock at St. Marys aboard the Cumberland Queen, the first thing I
notice are all the seagulls flying overhead. Clearly, they are accustomed to
feasting behind the boats. The motors from the boats churn up the water and
the birds feed in the wake. They fly high overhead, chasing the boat,
passing it, and circling it. Jean and I take photos of the seagulls,
prepared to quickly drop our faces and cover our lenses in case of a seagull
We arrive at our destination safely - and free of bird droppings. The
entire trip over Jean and I giggled like kids, and took photo after photo of
the birds and the mainland. As we approached the island we both became
excited. It had been years for both of us since we last stepped foot here -
and we couldn't wait!
we did wait. Jean had to stalk a bird that was on the water side of the
boat. (Just ribbin' ya, Jeano!) Finally, she got her picture and we made our
way over the gang plank.
Jean and I made our way over the island. We started down the path before
the main body of the tour group could get their bearings. We were hoping to
stay ahead of them so we could take photos without humans in them.
No matter how far inland you may go on the mainland, chances are you will
not find a place more beautiful or peaceful. A few minutes after reaching
Cumberland Island, after the shock of the beauty has left me with a slight
feeling of numbness, I realize that something is different. Then I figure it
out: there is little noise. Little human noise, that is. I do not hear the
background rumble of cars on interstates (that I did not even notice was so
overwhelming until it has gone), there is no yelling, no loud music. All I
hear is nature. The only sounds of man you might hear are other visitors and
the rare plane passing overhead.
Island is teaming with life. I noticed right off the boat all the giant
mounds of horse poop in the middle of the roads left by the over 200 wild
horses that roam the island! The bugs can be awful during summer and fall
months; however, some good bug repellant is enough to protect you. Our trip
was made during our warm winter months. It was cool in the shade but warm in
the sun. The biting bugs were no where to be seen (or felt)!
Cumberland Island is about 18 miles long and 3 miles wide at the widest.
The Cumberland River and the Cumberland Sound separate it from the mainland. Both are portions of the Intracoastal Waterway. Cumberland, and the other
islands that string up the coastline, make up a barrier island chain between
the mainland and the Atlantic ocean resulting in calmer weather for us here
Cumberland Island has had many names. The first, and most common, Indian
name was "Tacatacoru" (the St. Marys River went by the same name) and the
less common Indian name was "Misso" or "Wisso" which meant "sassafras." During the early explorations in the 16th century, the Spanish named it "San
Pedro." In 1587 a large Spanish mission by the same name was established
there. This mission was the center for all the Spanish missions ranging up
the Georgia coast. In the same year, Menendez of Spanish Florida established
Fort San Pedro as protection against the French. The Spanish maintained the
fort for more then 100 years.
It was later, in 1736 after the Spanish left the island, that an Indian,
named Toonahowie, traveling with General Oglethorpe named it after the Duke
of Cumberland William Augustus. Augustus was a kind, 15-year-old prince whom
Toonahowie had met on a visit to England.
Oglethorpe was himself enraptured by the natural beauty of the island and
also saw it as a strategic place to set up defenses against the Spanish
(ironic, isn't it?)
Under Oglethorpe, Fort St. Andrew was then constructed on the north end
of the island. Although the Fort had held against a much larger force of
attacking Spaniards in 1737, it was maintained only until 1742. During the
fort's heyday, the small town of Barrimack had grown up. Eventually Barrimack disappeared after the troops were pulled from the fort and sent to
reinforce Fort St. Williams. Fort St. Williams had been built in 1740 on the
southern end of the island.
Between 1755-1775, English grants were given to settlers on Cumberland Island to eight men. As early as 1770, the Island was up for sale and by 1787 a substantial number of homes had been built. While legend states that
Oglethorpe himself had built a hunting lodge on the south end of the island near Fort St. Williams, there is no proof to this statement.
General Nathanael Greene (image left) built his summer home, which he named Dungeness. Some stories say that Dungeness was named after a country home belonging to the Duke of Cumberland in Kent, England. Unfortunately, before actual construction of his home began, he died of sunstroke in 1786 on his plantation near Savannah, Mulberry Grove. His widow,
Catharine Littlefield Greene, had the tabby house built as planned. In 1803-1804,
the house was completed. General Greene was originally buried in Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah. His remains, and those of his young son, were moved to Greene Square in Savannah. A soaring monument marks his grave. (The image
to the left came from that monument.)
The home was described in 1880 as being 4 stories above the basement with
4 chimneys and 16 fireplaces. The walls were of made of tabby. They were 6
feet wide at the base and 4 feet wide above ground level. The second story
contained the main rooms - a drawing room, dining room, a school, and a
room. The third story held the bedrooms. It was said to have been quite
beautiful both inside and out. It was surrounded by 12 acres of cultivated
flowers and tropical fruits. The Greenes also cultivated olive trees, fig,
date palms, coffee, guava, lime, and pomegranate. It was the most beautiful
home on the coast at that time. Today, there is nothing left of Greene's
Dungeness except this tabby Gardener's House. Built around 1800, it's the
oldest building on Cumberland. During the Carnegie era (1900) it served as
administrative offices for the estate.
In 1796, Mrs. Greene married her children's tutor,
Phineas Miller. They
lived, along with her children's families, on Cumberland for many years.
the War of 1812, a large British force under Admiral Cockburn, the same
person who had burned Washington, D.C., occupied Dungeness. During this
time, the families living there were banished to the upper floors while the
ground and basement floors were used as Admiral Cockburn's headquarters. The
invaders seized slaves and cotton, then proceeded to destroy the carefully
planted fruit trees. In January of 1815, the English invaded St. Marys,
destroyed the fort at Point Peter, and then withdrew to Cumberland. This was
two weeks AFTER the peace treaty between the newly formed United States of
America and England had been signed. Admiral Cockburn had not yet received
written word of the peace treaty. He had, however, received verbal word, but
continued on his spree until he received official word.
Shortly after the British withdrew, General "Lighthorse"
father of General Robert E. Lee, visited the estate of Dungeness for awhile. At the time he was ailing, and despite loving care by the
Greene family, he died little more than a month later on 25 March 1818.
Lee was buried in the
Greene family plot where his headstone still stands. His remains were moved
in 1913 to rest besides his sons in the Chapel of Washington and Lee
University in Lexington, Virginia.
In 1806, Phineas Miller died of lockjaw after pricking his finger on a
thorn. Mrs. Greene Miller died in 1814 at only 59
years of age. Shortly after Lee's
remains were moved, the house burned down for reasons I do not know.
Phineas Miller lies in an unmarked grave, as do a few others. But his wife, and her
kin, lie under marked slabs in the Dungeness, or Miller / Greene, Cemetery.
Although the lands of Cumberland tended to change hands often, the
plantations established there continued to flourish. The French couple
and Margaret Bernardy settled at Plum Orchard. Brick Hill had burned during
the Civil War when the owner, Mrs. Downes, went to the mainland to seek
refuge. The Springs Plantation was deeded in 1825 to William and
of Camden. Greyfield is now an Inn open to the public.
One of the largest landowners was Robert Stafford. His holdings included
Longwood Plantation, acquired in 1832. The area he owned is known today as
Stafford Place. He grew the profitable, but difficult, long-staple cotton.
According to records, the slaves on the island lived as comfortably as
can be expected. By some accounts, they ate well and had suitable shelter. They had areas of land that they could use as private gardens. Any extra
food they grew they were allowed to take to the mainland to sell. They were
allowed to keep the profit. During the Civil War, many residents fled the
island, some never to return. Their plantations fell to ruin. Many areas
remained idle until 1881 when Mr. Thomas Carnegie bought much of Cumberland
Jean and I made our way directly to the ruins of the Carnegie Dungeness Mansion. All that's left of this grand old building is an empty shell - but they are still impressive. The walls are high and the fountain still stands in the back. The
Carnegie family built their own Dungeness on the foundation of the Greene mansion. The house was absolutely huge. The grounds of Dungeness Mansion included a large fountain in the backyard and extensive gardens. The
family thrived and in the following years they built several more mansions for the families of their children. At one point, employees for the
Carnegies numbered as many as 300. At their peak the Carnegies owned approximately 90% of the island.
The photo to the left is the grand entrance
to the grounds of Dungeness as it stands today. The ruins can be seen in the
background. Above this photo is Dungeness is its heyday.
As the years passed, the families moved to other places and for many years,
Dungeness remained empty. In 1959, it burned. The ruins can be seen today
and, in their own way, are still beautiful to behold. Nature is slowly
reclaiming the building, as well as some of the other buildings that went
along with the house, like the Recreation Buildings, shown above. These
buildings housed an indoor pool among other things. The grass around the
buildings is keep cut for the comfort of visitors, but bushes and trees grow
throughout the brick structure of Dungeness.
1878, at the northern end of Cumberland Island at High Point, the Cumberland
Hotel was built. Cottages were added as well as a bowling alley. The area
prospered until 1920. It finally had to close - mostly due to the attention
St. Simons Island began receiving when resort facilities were built there
along with the more convenient causeway to the island. The Hotel became
hunting property then became a private estate.
Jean and I did not venture any future north then the Dungeness area. We
do have plans to explore the island further. We did, however, make it to the
Before we got as far as the sand dunes Jean
and I noticed a couple of horses off to either side of the road grazing. Clearly, while still wild, they were accustomed to humans. We did not try to
touch them but we did make every attempt to photograph them. We moved as
slowly and quietly as possible. They kept their eyes on us the entire time
but showed no signs of nervousness. In fact, at one point a horse was
walking towards Jean when I had to kneel down to get another roll of film
from my backpack. I believe the horse thought she was going to get a treat
as she immediately turned her attention to me and walked over. I was still
kneeling on the ground when the horse began to nuzzle the top of my head. I
was rather nervous as I had no intention of feeding the creature. I was just
hoping it would not get annoyed with me for refusing it! It continued
nuzzling my head and sunglasses for several minutes as Jean furiously took
of us saying, "Now look at the horse! Now make kissy lips at it!" I was just
hoping it wouldn't bite me with those rather large teeth! One year one man
was hurt by a horse - probably after getting to close to it and bothering
Eventually, the horse got tired of waiting for me to feed it and joined
the other horse in grazing on the side of the road. I felt flattered that
the horse approached me in this manner - and even more grateful that it was
so gentle with me!
Jean and I continued on our path towards the beach. We trudged over the
sand dunes chatting and looking our for anything interesting. I spotted a
small grasshopper in the sandy path and Jean stalked it to photograph it. As
the other visitors passed us I'm sure they were wondering why Jean was
laying on the ground! About half-way over the dunes I had my camera to my
eye to take a shot of the dunes with the ocean behind them. Something caught
my eye - a wild pig! I snapped my photo and yelled to Jean, "Pig!! Piggy!!" [Click on the photo above right to see larger picture--ALH]
we made our way over the last dune the first site to greet our eyes was a
truck tearing up the sand. I feel it's unfortunate that they have started
giving citizens beach-driving permits. I believe it destroys not only the
environment but the calm visitors expect from the island. Cumberland is not
a private island belonging only to those who live there - with visitors like
me simply annoying intruders. While it may seem a world apart it is, in
fact, a part of Camden, my home county, and I have every right to not only
visit the island but to expect a certain amount of calm in an area that is
within the protected park limits. I believe that the trade-off of being
allowed to live there is an agreement that as little harm as possible will
be done to the island. Cars, certainly, aren't harmless in any respect.
Luckily, the truck quickly left and Jean and
I were allowed back into the calm of the breezy day. However, we did not
stay long as the sand was blowing onto, and into, my case, as well as into
our cameras so we decided we had enough beach pictures. The seaward side of
the island takes quite a beating from severe weather coming off the
Atlantic. Moving inward from the beaches are great, ever-changing sand
dunes. After the sand dunes, in some areas, is a forest of trees gnarled and
twisted by the salt water and high winds that sweep through them. Deeper
into the forest the trees straighten out into a stately grove of hard woods. Much of the island is owned and maintained by the government. The bulk of
the land that is still in private hands lies at the north end.
our way back to the mainland we were once again escorted by the ever-hungry
seagulls. A couple even fed out of our hands (crackers)! Reminds me of back
home in San Francisco - the land of the 100 million seagulls!
I have been to the island only twice. I hope to return often and with lots of film in an attempt to capture more and better photos of the island. Below you will find links to other websites with photos and information about Cumberland Island.
Suggested reading material:
Marguarite Reddick - "Camden's Challenge" - 1976, 1994
Any of the Cumberland books by Mary Miller.
Robert Stafford - Growth of a Planter by Mary
Cumberland: A History by Mary Bullard