VOLUME III, Number 1, January 1, 1997
SATILLA RIVER: SITE OF FORT McINTOSH
Historical Marker at Atkinson Proclaims,
"A Revolutionary War Fort was Built on the Satilla River"
At the November 1996 meeting of the Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society, Dr. John H. Christian, Director/Librarian of the Byran-Lang Historical Library, informed those present of an old revolutionary war fort which was built on the Satilla River. Since that meeting numerous inquiries have been received about old Fort McIntosh, and its location on the Satilla River . These questions open the door for a lot of speculation, most specially about where the old fort was located. To this day no one has been able to positively identify its location.
Brantley County has the distinction of having a Georgia Historical Marker at Atkinson, Georgia, proclaiming, "Near this town on the northeast side of the Satilla River, Fort McIntosh was built early in the Revolutionary War, to protect extensive herds of cattle ranging between that river and the Altamaha. It became an important post on the southern frontier. The fort, a small stockade 100 feet square with a bastion at each corner and a blockhouse in the center, was garrisoned by 40 men from the 3rd Carolina Regiment and 20 Continentals from the Georgia Brigade, under command of Captain Richard Winn. On February 17, 1777, a large force of Tories and Indians, commanded by Thomas Brown, Colonel Cunningham and Colonel McGirth, attacked Fort McIntosh, besieging it for more than 24 hours. Captain Winn refused all demands for surrender, until there was no longer hope for reinforcements from Fort Howe and he was forced by superior numbers to evacuate the post. Under terms of surrender, British company was to escort the Georgia troops to the Altamaha to protect them from Massacre by the Indians. These terms were not honored, and Captain Richard Winn and his small company marched unguarded by night through the dense forest and swamps of Georgia to Fort Howe (Georgia Historical Markers, The complete texts of 1752 markers Compiled and published by Bay Tree Grove Publishers, Valdosta, Georgia 31601) .
"The Story of Georgia," by Walter G. Cooper, makes a similar statement and adds, "a fort was built in the area now identified as Brantley County. This fort was built on the Satilla River at a site near Atkinson. Its dimensions were one hundred feet square. It had a bastion at each corner and a center blockhouse which served as a magazine and a shelter for the S. Carolina soldiers that lived there."
An article developed by "By Forts Committee, Department of Archives and History, and printed in "The Georgia Magazine," also confirmed the existence of Fort McIntosh. It states, "In the opening years of the Revolutionary War ...Fort McIntosh, erected on the Satilla River in the winter of 1777 to protect the large cattle range in the area, was to have the dubious honor of becoming the only Georgia fort that was surrendered to an enemy (the British)". "….The need of a post to be established on the Satilla River was discussed almost from the beginning of the Revolution. On October 22, 1776, General Lachlan McIntosh wrote Colonel William McIntosh that, "You will please to keep a scout ranging continually to the southward of the Altamaha for intelligence and prevent cattle being drove off, especially until a stockade can be made at Satilla".
Apparently there is no question about the one time existence of Fort McIntosh on or near the Satilla River. The real concern is where on the Satilla? Clues such as, northeast side of the Satilla river, eighty yards from the waters edge, and thirty miles in advance of Fort Howe doesn’t offer much help. In the paragraphs that follow we will outline some of the conditions that warranted the establishment of a fort in the middle of a wilderness.
At the on-set of the Revolutionary War, the area of Georgia was still wilderness. Founded in 1732 to protect the older Carolina colonies from the Spanish, French, and Indians, Georgians fought an even larger battle for money and assistance from the officials in London. By the time "independence was declared" and the revolutionary war erupted, Georgia was still in a very hazardous situation. All her original enemies (French, Spanish, Indians) still lurked around her western and southern borders. Now colonial Georgia had to face her mother country’s (England) redcoat army, one time brothers who had sought refuge in north Florida when revolutionary war skirmishes commenced.
The area south of the Altamaha which now comprising Glynn and Camden Counties was one of the last frontiers of Georgia to be settled before the American Revolutionary War. Still very sparsely settled, the economy of the land centered around the raising of cattle. Large herds that roamed the southeast proved too much of a temptation to the British as well as raiding parties from Florida.
General Lachlan McIntosh, Commander of the Georgia Provincial Congress, was commissioned in January 1776 to recruit volunteers and defend the southern portion of the state. McIntosh’s solution was to build a ring of forts south of the Altamaha, with Fort Howe being the principal fort. Other locations were at Darien and Beard’s Bluff on the Altamaha, and also a location on the Satilla.
In early 1777, after construction of Fort McIntosh, the independence seeking Georgian Militia intended to launch an attack against the east Florida British but was unable to muster support from northern allies under the command of Brigadier Robert Howe. The British recognized this as a weakness , became bolder, and launched an attack of their own on Fort McIntosh.
A group of British Regulars, Loyalists, and Indians, under the command of British Colonel Louis V. Fuser, Tory officers McGirth and Cunningham, and Thomas Brown who commanded the Florida Rangers, made their way northward from Florida toward Fort McIntosh. Thomas Brown has been identified as a renegade colonist who had been ejected from Augusta after being tarred and feathered. This, alone, added an element of revenge to Thomas Brown’s desire to lead the attack.
At dawn on the morning of February 17, 1777, twelve days after the Georgia independence constitution was completed, an attack was made on Fort McIntosh by Brown, leading seventy Florida Rangers and eighty Indians. For approximately five hours Brown’s Rangers and Indians continued their attack on the fort, with each assault failing. After a refusal by Captain Richard Winn to surrender unconditionally, the fighting continued until nightfall, at which time Thomas Brown left a small guard at the fort and then withdrew his men a short distance for night time encamped.
By this time, one man in the fort had been killed and three wounded. Captain Winn sent one of his men, a soldier named Owens, to Fort Howe for reinforcements. Even though Owens managed to reach his destination, his mission was fruitless. There were only forty able men at Fort Howe at that time and none could be spared.
Reinforcements to Thomas Brown’s Florida Ranges did arrive, however, consisting of two hundred British Regulars, along with Colonel Fuser. Brown then resumed the attack on Fort McIntosh. The fighting continued until two o’clock on the afternoon of February 18, 1777, at which time Captain Winn asked for a consultation with Colonel Fuser. Winn, knowing that his sixty men could not resist much longer against overwhelming odds, decided to surrender when the expected reinforcements from Fort Howe failed to appear.
Winn told Fuser that he would surrender the fort if he and his men were guaranteed protection from the Indians and the Loyalist’s Tories, and were given an escort of British Regulars to Fort Howe. This concession, Fuser did not want to make but when he saw that Winn would die fighting before surrendering under any other terms, he agreed.
Fort McIntosh was surrendered to the British on February 18, 1777, and Captain Richard Winn’s troops were disarmed. Later he led his men on a long march to Fort Howe, accompanied by British Regulars for protection against the Indians. Although fighting for the British, the Indians were unpredictable and did as they pleased.
Late that evening, Captain Winn’s worst fears were realized when the British and their Indian allies disappeared into the night leaving his Georgian Militia defenseless. "….rousing up his men, and to avoid falling into the hands of the Indians, Winn took a direction through the woods to Fort Howe. After passing through bays, swamps, and ponds, about thirty-five miles which had probably never been traversed before by any human beings, he reached Fort Howe the next day about ten o’clock". The route taken probably saved the lives of both Winn and his men, as Indians were known to ambush travelers on the one road to Fort Howe.
The fall of Fort McIntosh was known to the American authorities almost before it happened. When Soldier Owens arrived at Fort Howe to ask for reinforcements, and none were available, the capture of Fort McIntosh was almost a foregone conclusion. General Lachlan McIntosh was in much consternation about the loss effect of the fort when he wrote on February 19th:
"This moment another express arrived informing me Fort McIntosh is taken… by 300 British Regulars and 500 Indians …and expect they will advance on our settlements, therefore for God’s sake be expeditious to prevent their crossing the Altamaha, if Possible."
McIntosh had good reason to be worried about the British threat. The redcoats burned Fort McIntosh, and the Continental Georgia forces never replaced it. The lack of Georgia Militia strength in the area enabled the British forces could raid at will, meeting little resistance. They posed an even greater threat, with a portion of the troops that had captured Fort McIntosh advancing northward to the Altamaha River in April, 1777, but were turned back by the Continental forces.
The following year, on December 27, 1778, the British captured Savannah with ease, landing south of Savannah at Brewton’s Hill with 3,000 troops. General Robert Howe’s 700 Continental soldiers could do very little to offer resistance. Continued on page -4-
There has been some speculation, one which seems logical, is that Fort McIntosh might have been located at or near the community known today as Burnt Fort. Although located slightly more than 15 miles south of Atkinson, the identity has the name connotation of , "Burnt Fort". Some old settlers have claimed this place acquired its name by reason of a family by name of "Fort" having once resided there and their home was burned. In 1932, Alex S. McQueen, author of History of Charlton County preferred to believe the weight of authority was in favor of an old fort, and states that it was strictly an opinion not supported by a record fact of history. Judge McQueen believed there was little doubt that a fort was once located at the place now identified as Burnt Fort.
In the 1700’s, water transportation was the most common means of travel. Dirt roads in rural Georgia were sometimes impassable and dangerous. Today’s location of Burnt Fort was the most extreme western point on the Satilla River for navigation of larger ships. At the turn of the 20th century, Burnt Fort was used as a shipping port for south Georgia timber. It seems illogical that a Continental governmental fort would be built at a location inaccessible, except by foot.
Another speculative factor of Burnt Fort being the Site: In the early pioneer days it was not uncommon for early settlers to form communities for trade, and for protection against hazards. Information suggesting that Burnt Fort was such a community environment, involves the "Edmund Grey Gang". In April 1955, Grey led approximately 300 debtors and outlaws across the Altamaha River into a debatable area said to be located approximately 30 miles from the mouth of the "great Satilla River, on the north side. Gray was identified as an unscrupulous, ambitious, shrewd, pestilent fellow, commonly referred to by his contemporaries as a "run-a-gate", and ridiculously absurd in every part of his own conduct. Edmund Gray chose to do business with all three of those threats. The statement "30 miles from the mouth of the great Satilla River somewhat identifies the area now known as Burnt Fort. Then of course, Fort McIntosh was not built until late 1776.
After years of study, Doctor John H. Goff, decided that Fort McIntosh was in the bend of the Satilla River about where the present-day Brantley-Camden county line strikes it, about fifteen miles south of today’s town of Atkinson in Brantley County. To day, the exact location of Fort McIntosh continues to remain unknown. The only structural sign to remain supporting the theory that Fort McIntosh ever existed is a historical marker located on Highway No. 82, near Atkinson. We would welcome your analysis and proof of the location of Fort McIntosh.