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The Spanish Invasion of St. Simon's
Contributed to this web site by
J. G. (Jerry) Braddock Sr.; Charleston, SC.
Author of Wooden Ships - Iron Men
Format by C. W. Barnum
Return to Georgia Military Index
Go here for Page Two of this Exhibit

The Spanish Invasion of St. Simon's

In its failure, the 1740 expedition against St. Augustine accomplished the opposite of its intended purpose. Stirred up like a nest of enraged hornets, the Spanish began a two year process of assembling  a force of ships and men capable of driving the English from the Southeast. Their first goal was to capture St. Simons on which sat  Georgia's main outpost to the south, Fort Frederica. If they succeeded in capturing this stronghold and Georgia's leader, Oglethorpe, who resided on St. Simons most of the time, the rest of the colony would fall easily. South Carolina would be next.
The leaders of  the two colonies knew some sort of retaliation for the failed expedition would be attempted and began making half-hearted preparations to counter it. The day long-dreaded by them arrived on June 22nd. A Spanish fleet suddenly appeared off St. Simon's Island. The fleet had attacked British positions on Amelia and Cumberland Islands on its way up from St. Augustine.

Accounts in some history books of the ensuing invasion of St. Simons accuse South Carolina of dragging their feet in sending adequate and timely aid to help repel the Spanish. These accusations were based primarily on the same accusation made by Oglethorpe in a letter he wrote after the enemy had been repulsed. Gleanings from the journals of the South Carolina Governor and Council and the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly and day-by-day reports from the  "South Carolina Gazette's" weekly
issues  refute this charge as well as providing a good thumbnail chronology of the historic encounter.
Two letters written to the South Carolina government by Major Alexander Heron, one of Oglethorpe's officers,  and recorded in the July 4, 1742 session of  the Governor and Council Journal, give a vivid picture of the battle zone's rampant confusion:
"His Honor the Lieut. Govr. produced several Letters he had just now received from Georgia giving an Account of the Spaniards having made an Incursion on that Colony. One from Major Heron dated Camp at St. Simons 25th June 1742 Vizt "Sir
For these five or six days several Spanish Vessels have been lurking above Fort William St. Andrews and this place.  Last night about 7 oclock five Galleys came into Cumberland Sound and engaged the General who was passing 70 or 80 Soldiers, Indians and others to the relief of Fort William and St. Andrews both of which places I hear before this are fallen into their Hands. As to the General God Almighty knows what's come of him and the people with him for we have not seen nor heard from him since the five galleys engaged him in my sight as I stood ready to pass to St. Andrews with 100 men and 25 Indians.  He hath no chance of being safe without he get to the main.  I seeing the communication quite cut off by the above 5 gallies made the speediest retreat I could to strengthen this place in which I shall make the best defence I am capable of.  The Masters of vessels now in our Harbor have at my request agreed to go on board Captn. Thompson's Ship which is a Vessel of Force and our prize in order to make the best defence they can upon water and I have faced a Battery of 3 Guns about half a mile up this reach to the westward and shall make the best use I can of the 3 Eighteen pounders in the Fort which may give them great disturbance in passing.  the Enemy have a very considerable Fleet now off the North point of Cumberland as our Bar is very good.  We may expect the large Vessels as well as the small ones here at furthest by tomorrow.  I shall not easily quit this place well knowing that if we are overpowered here they will soon fall upon you but I would beg of you as well for the good of His Majesty's Service as your own good to send all possible and speedy assistance to him who is in haste Sir,
Your most obedient and humble Servt.
Alexander Heron "June 25th. 8 o'clock at night
Sir Since writing this morning the general is safe arrived having fought his way thro' five Galleys supported by seven more.  I sent Ensign Cadogan this Afternoon to discover the Enemy.  He's now returned having seen 15 Sail of Spanish Vessels at Anchor under the North point of Cumberland about 12 miles from this the General has reinforced Fort William and we are still in possession of it.  He has brought with him from Cumberland upwards of 100 men by Sea in Walker's schooner so that we are much stronger and our men in better spirits than when I wrote you in the morning and if we had two Men of War I make no doubt of turning the scale on our side but it must be soon or I fear the consequence may be bad.
I have no more to add but am Sir, 
Your very humble Servant
Alexander Heron
N. B. There is another Boat returned with 52 men & only one killed and one wounded"
The "Gazette's" June 28-July 4 issue reported that on June 26th, the number of Spanish vessels off St. Simon's had increased to thirteen, and row boats were observed landing 900 to 1000 men on Cumberland Island. In a letter read in the July 4th session, Oglethorpe apprised the Council of the urgency of the situation and of the consequence to Georgia and the Carolinas if the invaders were not repelled. "Sir
Pursuant to the advices I gave you the Spaniards are come up.  They attempted Fort William on Cumberland but were repulsed by Captn. Dunbar who commanded there in the Schooner and Fort.  They then run in at St. Andrews sound with 11 Sail.  I myself with two Boats broke my way thro' them and put a reinforcement of Provisions and Men into Fort William and left a Boat there being supported by Major Heron who was upon the land on Jekyl but he cold not follow me with three Boats that were with him so supported us by land.  The engagement was very hot.  How many the Spaniards have lost we know not.  But we have not lost one man and I returned to this place from Fort William by Sea. "They landed this morning on Cumberland.  If we had two 20 Gun Ships they would be all prisoners there since as long as we keep Fort William they can have no succour from St. Augustine. We must decide it very soon.  I have lined this River with what Craft and Men I have. If we should be defeated and they take Fort William and Frederica I know nothing can stop them on this side of Virginia for they certainly have a correspondence with the Negroes and they have a very large body of Men and fine Craft with good Guns.   I am Sir
Your humble Servant James Oglethorpe
N. B. Major Heron seeing nothing but Fire and Smoke round us thought we were lost and upon that wrote you."
Immediately upon receiving first word of the Spanish assault on St. Simon's, the South Carolina government began assembling assistance. The most urgent needs were ships and men. The king's four men-of-war on the Carolina station, which were not under direct control of the province, were to go to Georgia's aid. In fact, the Flamborough had already headed down that way. Other than South Carolina's two new half-gallies, the Beaufort, which had left earlier in company with the Flamborough, and the Charles Town, which was still in the process of being fitted out, South Carolina had only the brig Carolina, a recently captured Spanish snow Juan Batista, and the Ranger, a schooner under hire. Providing adequate men on short notice to go on the vessels would prove difficult. 

In addition, an embargo was immediately placed on all mercantile shipping within the colony's several ports and harbors, and a letter written asking the commander of His Majesty's men-of-war on the Virginia station to send ships.

On July 5th, 32 Spanish vessels sailed into the harbor. After a heavy exchange of fire with Oglethorpe and a garrison of men from Fort Frederica, they anchored four miles from Frederica and began landing troops. The General proposed that troops under his command begin drawing up into the fort to make their stand there. He then ordered his three vessels, the ship Success, the captured Spanish sloop Kingston, and the schooner Norfolk, to sail for Charles Town to advise Lieutenant Governor Bull and the commander of His Majesty's ships of the "scituation" and to seek assistance.

On July 6th, Oglethorpe and his men straggled into Fort Frederica at daybreak bringing their wounded on horseback. None were killed. In spite of the number of enemy vessels having grown to 36, optimism at least that which was voiced aloud reigned. The fort's tabby walls contained several 18 pounders, provisions enough for almost 12 months, and "men in very good heart." Besides, it was thought that with the path leading to the fort being too narrow to admit more than two men abreast, an enemy would not attempt a land attack.

Most importantly, they knew they had an effective leader in Oglethorpe. He immediately started preparing for defense of the fort. Scouts were sent out. Lost and broken arms and equipment were replaced. Companies were paraded. Meanwhile, in a speech to the House, Bull made an impassioned plea for their advice and assistance to "enable me to send such succors for the relief of Georgia as may be sufficient to disappoint the designs and attempts of His Majesty's enemies against these frontier provinces" and the House's "readiness to make a proper provision for the expences that will necessarily arise thereby."

On July 7th, responding to Bull's speech, a committee of both South Carolina houses decided that as the man-of-war Flamborough and the Beaufort galley left on June 30th, men-of-war Swift and Hawk were dispatched on July 4th; and as the Success lately arrived from England was a ship of force, any more larger vessels would not be necessary. Instead, heavily manned smaller vessels would be more capable of acting against enemy's gallies and smaller vessels on the rivers and shallow waters.

The committee recommended that 100 men and officers be immediately raised and that the Charles Town and other small craft be equipped for dispatching to assist Oglethorpe.

Colonial history, one on which the continued existence of the lower colonies hinged, was unfolding in the wilds and marshes of St. Simons. The "Gazette" gave a vivid account of this engagement in its July 12-19 issue: On the 7th, about 10 o'Clock in the Forenoon, the Rangers who had been on the Scout came, chas'd in by the Spaniards, giving an Account that the Enemy was within a Mile of this Place, where they had killed one Small. The General leap'd on the first Horse he met with, and immediately marched the Highland Company . . . and order'd Sixty from the Guard to follow, he himself galloped with the Indians to the Place, which was just within the Woods, about a Mile from hence, where he found Capt. Sebastian Saintio and Capt. Mageleeto with One Hundred and Twenty Spanish troops and Forty-five Yamasee Indians; Capt. Grey with his Chickasaws, Capt. Jones with his Tomobetaus, Tooanobowi with his Creeks, and the General with Six Highlanders who out-ran the Rest, immediately charged them; Capt. Mageleeto was kill'd, Capt. Sebastian Saintio taken, and the Spaniards entirely defeated, Two of which the General took Prisoners with his own Hands; Capt. Mageleeto shot Tooanobowi in the right Arm as he rushed in upon him, but Tooanobowi drawing his Pistol with his left Hand, shot him thro' the Head. The General pursued the Chase for near a Mile when he halted at an advantageous Piece of Ground, stayed 'till the Guard came up, and posting the highlanders on the right, and the Guard on the left side of the Road, hid in a Wood, with a large Savannah or Meadow in their Front, over which the Enemy must pass to came to Frederica; this being done, the General return'd and ordered the Regiment, Rangers and Companies of Boat Men to march; whilst they were preparing we hear'd Platoons firing, upon which the General immediately remounted, rode toward the Place and met Three Platoons coming back in great Disorder, who gave him an Account that they had been broke by the Spaniards who were extremely numerous, notwithstanding which he rallied them, and rode on; and to his great Satisfaction found Lieutenant Southerland with the Platoon of the Regiment under his Command, and Lieutenant Mackay with the Highlanders, had entirely defeated the Spaniards, consisting of Two Companies of Grenadiers making 100 Men, and 200 Foot; Don Antonio Barbara, who commanded them, was Prisoner but mortally wounded, they also took the Drum and several other Grenadiers.

"The General having order'd all the troops to march from Frederica, as soon as they arrived he pursued the Enemy Four Miles. In the Two Actions there was one Captain, One Corporal and sixteen Spaniards taken, and about 100 killed; the rest are dispersed into the Woods, for the general halted all Night at a Pass through the Marshes, over which they must go in their Return to their Camp, and thereby intercepted them, the Indians are out hunting after them in the Woods, and every Hour bring in Scalps."

A party of Indians sent out before daybreak of July 8th by the General reported that the Spanish had retreated to Fort St. Simon's and had "all retired into the ruins of the fort, under the cannon of their men of war." According to accounts in Kenneth Coleman's "Colonial Georgia - a History" and Robert Preston Brooks' "History of Georgia," quoting sources other than South Carolina colonial records and the "Gazette," a planned night assault on the Spanish camp was aborted when a Frenchman, who was part of the General's force, suddenly deserted and warned the Spanish. Thinking quickly, Oglethorpe released a Spanish prisoner with a note to the Frenchman giving him instructions on how to lead the Spanish into an ambush, and if he failed to do so, to try to keep them on the island a few more days until an expected large British naval force arrived. As hoped, the letter was discovered by Spanish officers.

On July 9th, Oglethorpe wrote Captain Charles Hardy of the man-of-war Rye that he wanted his vessels Norfolk and Success to return; that his people had defended themselves bravely and defeated the Spaniards in two actions, but could not hold out longer if not supported, therefore he desired speedy assistance against an enemy numbering 1000; and that if Hardy and the Rye appeared off the bar, the enemy would surrender.

Oglethorpe's ruse with the note to the Frenchman apparently worked. On July 13th, the Spanish began evacuation. However, according to information furnished to the "Gazette" and published in its July 19-26 issue, their departure was prompted by more than the ruse. The Flamborough, Swift and Hawk men-of-war and the Beaufort galley appeared off the bar of St. Simon's and upon sight of them "the Spaniards betook themselves to their vessels with the utmost confusion, and left the General again master of the island." Seeing that the enemy fleet had increased to 52 vessels, a force much too superior for their few number to contend with, the four vessels sailed for Charles Town. Their report raised concerns that the Spaniards would have the time and opportunity to escape before an adequate fleet to challenge them could be ready and on the scene.

Although the July 12-19 issue of the "Gazette" reported that the man-of-war Rye, in the company of the Charles Town had departed on the 10th., no vessels had gotten underway since the 4th. The Council gave all attention to the reason for this delay, a lack of sufficient sailors to man them. Lingering animosity over the failed St. Augustine expedition was one reason cited for the difficulty in recruiting men.

According to the Governor and Council journal: "Captn. Lyford having been sent for attended and assured His Honor the Lieut. Govr. that the Charles Town Galley should be ready to sail tomorrow at Noon. . . .

"It was agreed that the Captains of the vessels taken into the Service of this Government do immediately return a List to his Honor the Lieut. Governor of the number of men which they have already entered into the Service and that a press warrant be issued to some Officers to be appointed to impress 42 Seamen to be immediately put on board His Majesty's Ship Rye to enable her to proceed to join Captain Hamar and the Sloops of War in the defence of Georgia and this province. . . .

"The Commanders of vessels at present employed in the Government service attended at the Board among whom Captn. Barratt who has the command of the Privateer Snow prize said he had enlisted 60 volunteers into the Service and was promised 100 more.

"Captn. Lyford of the Charles Town galley said he got but nine Volunteers. Caleb Davis who commands Genl. Oglethorpe's schooner said he had got Eighteen Men.

"His Honor having asked those Captains the reason why those Sailors and Volunteers do not enter so briskly on this present Emergency they answered that some declined going into any of the vessels belonging to Georgia to be under Genl. Oglethorpe's pay nor the command of Col. Vanderdussen and others thought the Enemy wouldproceed no further than Frederica. . . .

". . . It was resolved that the Charles Town Galley belonging to this Government be forthwith manned and equipped and sent with the utmost expedition from hence to Georgia to get Intelligence about affairs there and particularly about the Flambro Man of War and the other two Man of War Sloops that are probably on that Coast. . . ."

A greater concern than that of the Spanish fleet escaping arose on July 14th. Intelligence was received that an invasion attempt would be made against South Carolina. A report that a large Spanish galley was hovering off Charles Town's bar seemed to confirm the intelligence. Lieutenant Governor Bull ordered the Charles Town galley, now under the command of William Lyford Sr., and the Norfolk, commanded by David Cutler Braddock, to be "forthwith" completely manned and equipped to go in search of the enemy vessel. According to entries in the Governor and Council journal for the session of July 15th, the Council addressed several matters concerning getting vessels ready and on their way
Please go to Page Two Heron's letter
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