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Historical Archaeology of the Plantations at Kings Bay, Camden County, Georgia

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Archaeologists have defined the Kings Bay Locality as the area between the Crooked River and the St. Marys River and east of Dark Entry Swamp, including the tidal marsh and estuaries west of Cumberland Island. Most of this area now lies within the Naval Submarine Base-Kings Bay. To assist in avoiding and minimizing damage to significant sites by Base construction, archaeologists from the University of Florida conducted a field survey of the Base, identifying and mapping prehistoric and historic sites. Four plantations were investigated, three of these are presented here, the Cherry Point Plantation, Harmony Hall Plantation, and Kings Bay Plantation. Kings Bay Plantation was owned by Thomas King, who apparently came to Georgia from Ireland, via Jamaica where he married his wife, Mary E. Faith. With the labor of 30 slaves, he cleared part of his 1000 acres and planted cotton. His house and kitchen were located on the bluff next to where the small craft facility now stands, right on top of the trash middens of oyster shells left by the Guale Indians, while his slaves lived in four small (9'xl8') dirt-floored cabins to the south, near the guardhouse for the wharf area. The Kings Bay Plantation operated into the 1840s or early 1850s and then completely disappeared from memory. King divided his time between his plantation and his house in St. Marys. Based on the quality of the artifacts found on the site, King was probably the second wealthiest planter at Kings Bay, after John H. McIntosh. In the yard and kitchen were found relatively expensive tableware from England, gold inlaid wine goblets, French and English wine bottles, a painted clock front. In 1815, the British landed on the plantation and confiscated 16 slaves. Archaeologists found what are probably two slave quarters, one is later and more inland in an attempt to protect the slaves from raids like the British one. War of 1812 American military buttons were found at this site as well, possibly surplus clothing given the slaves. Excavation of the four slave cabins revealed glimpses into slave life, some expected, some not. Those 30 slaves lived in four cabins with few glass windows and only dirt floors. Each room was 9x9 feet and each cabin had two rooms. Bowls were found here, reflecting the slave diet of stews which could be kept cooking while they worked in the cotton fields. Wild animals and fish supplied much of the food for them. Given the numbers of gunflints and shot found there, they were permitted to keep firearms, a practice which was outlawed in much of the South for fear of slave uprisings. Cherry Point Plantation was started in October, 1791 by John King who had moved to the county on the Satilla River in 1787 from North Carolina. By 1794, he owned 800 acres. The house was located south of Sandy Run on Frohock Point. King dammed Sandy Run to power a sawmill, probably this was a tidal powered mill. He also built a bridge across the tidal creek to his lands on Cherry Point. The forested land he rented to Woodford Mabry, who ran a sawmill from 1801-1806. The small house Mabry lived in was excavated, revealing artifacts associated with him, including a brass caliper for woodworking, and everyday items like eating utensils, plates, tea cups, platters. John King's house on the Frohock Point Historic Site (9CAM183) has also been studied by archaeologists. There in the planned picnic area was found a kitchen, well, house, and outbuilding. These reveal a reasonably well to do planter, with fine tableware from England, fancy cufflinks; and buttons, tools, forks, and utilitarian vessels like milk pans. Nearby excavations revealed a possible slave cabin and stables. Since King only had a few slaves and had a sawmill, he may not have planted cotton, but instead derived his income from naval stores (turpentine and pitch) and lumbering. King also served as city commissioner for St. Marys from 1792-1794(?) and as justice of the inferior court from 1794 until his death in 1803. His son, James inherited the plantation in 1803. In 1823, he established Woodlawn Plantation west of Kingsland (founded by his grandson, William Henry King, in 1893) and sold his Cherry Point Plantation to John H. McIntosh. Harmony Hall Plantation, located on the west bank of the North River, was started in 1787 by a land grant of 470 acres to Thomas Cryer, who in 1787 added 200 acres. Richard Carnes received a land grant of 200 acres in 1793, 52 acres in 1795, and 46 acres in 1795 also. Cryer sold his land to Carnes in 1792, consolidating the 966 acres into one parcel. He sold it to John Howell in 1800, who in 1808 sold a half interest to Hanes Learned. Learned defaulted and on Howell's death in 1818 the land was sold at Sheriffs Sale, as it was again in 1832. Archaeological research focused on two areas indicated to be the kitchen and the slave quarters. Evidence for a one room structure with a hearth was found at the kitchen, although erosion of the bank had cut into this, possibly removing a room to the east. The kitchen had a marble mantle. Artifacts recovered include large quantities of bone, mostly pig and beef, but also including substantial quantities of fish. Many buttons were found, indicating the structure probably served as the washhouse also. Several of these were War of 1812 Army buttons. Two cannon balls were found, possibly weights to turn a roasting spit. Tools found included two axes, calipers, scissors, dividers, chisels, file, splitting wedge. Over 180 dishes were found shattered and scattered in the yard around the kitchen. The slave quarters were located on a small tributary of the North River a few hundred meters north of the kitchen. Sparse evidence of a structure was recovered: nails, brick, soil stains. However, the ceramics are a mixture of low status banded bowls and transfer printed plates. The historical archaeology of these plantations has provided a wealth of information about not only the planters and their families, but also the slaves who made the plantations prosper. Most of the artifacts are everyday items like dishes, cups, clothing buttons, buckles, and food bones. From these we can glimpse what they wore and what they ate, how they set their table, and lived their lives.