Friday, December 2, 2011

Wesley's Reflections on Georgia (some very unkind)

Friday, December 2, 1737. During this time I had frequent opportunities of making many observations and inquiries concerning the real state of this province (which has been so variously misrepresented), the English settlements therein, and the Indians that have intercourse with them. These I minuted down from time to time; a small extract of which I have subjoined.


1. Georgia lies in the 30th and 31st degree of north latitude. The air is generally clear, the rains being much shorter, as well as heavier, than in England. The dews are very great. Thunder and lightning are expected almost every day in May, June, July, and August. They are very terrible, especially to a stranger. During those months, from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon, the sun is extremely scorching. But the sea-breeze generally blows from ten till three or four. The winter is nearly of the same length as in England. But the midday sun is always warm, even when the mornings and evenings are very sharp, and the nights piercing cold.
2. The land is of four sorts, pine-barren, oak-land, swamp, and marsh. The pine-land is of far the greatest extent, especially near the sea-coasts. The soil of this is a dry, whitish sand, producing shrubs of several sorts, and between them a spiry, coarse grass, which cattle do not love to feed on. But here and there is a little of a better kind, especially in the savannahs (so they call the low, watery, meadows which are usually intermixed with pine-lands). It bears naturally two sorts of fruit, hurtleberries (much like those in England) and chincapin nuts—a dry, harsh nut, about the size of a small acorn. A laborious man may in one year clear and plant four or five acres of this land. It will produce the first year from two to four bushels of Indian corn, and from four to eight of Indian pease per acre. The second year it usually bears half as much; the third, less; the fourth, nothing.
3. Vines, mulberries, and peach trees it bears well. The white mulberry is not good to eat. The black is about the size of a blackberry, and has much the same flavour. In fresh pine-land Indian potatoes grow well (which are more luscious and larger than the Irish). And so do watermelons and sewee beans, about the size of our scarlet, to be shelled and eaten like Windsor beans.
4. Oak-land commonly lies in narrow streaks between pine-land and some swamp, creek, or river. The soil is a blackish sand, producing several kinds of oak (though none exactly like the English), bay, laurel, ash, walnut, sumac trees, gum trees (a sort of sycamore), dog trees (covered in spring with large white flowers), and many hickory trees, which bear a bad kind of walnut. In the moistest part of this land some persimmon trees grow (which bear a sort of yellow, clear, luscious plum), and a few mulberry and cherry trees. The common wild grapes are of two sorts, both red. The fox-grape grows two or three only on a stalk, is thick-skinned, large-stoned, of a harsh taste, and of the size of a small Kentish cherry. The cluster-grape is of a harsh taste too, and about the size of a white currant.
5. This land requires much labour to clear; but when it is cleared it will bear any grain, for three, four, or sometimes five years, without laying any manure upon it. An acre of it generally bears ten bushels of Indian corn, besides five of pease, in a year. So that this at present is justly esteemed the most valuable land in the province.
6. A swamp is any low, watery place which is covered with trees or canes. They are here of three sorts: cypress-, river-, and cane-swamps. Cypress-swamps are mostly large ponds, in and round which cypresses grow. Most river-swamps are overflown every tide by the river which runs through or near them. If they were drained they would produce good rice; as would the cane-swamps also, which in the meantime are the best feeding for all sorts of cattle.
7. The marshes are of two sorts: soft marsh, which is all a quagmire, and absolutely good for nothing; and hard marsh, which is a firm but barren sand, bearing only sour rushes. Marshes of both sorts abound on the sea islands, which are very numerous, and contain all sorts of land. And upon these chiefly, near creeks and runs of water, juniper trees and cedars grow.
8. Savannah stands on a flat ‘bluff’ (so they term any highland hanging over a creek or river) which rises forty-five feet perpendicular from the river, and commands it several miles both upward and downward. The soil is a white sand for above a mile in breadth, south-east, and north-westward. Beyond this, eastward, is a river-swamp; westward a small wood, in which was the old Indian town. On the other side of the river is a marshy island covered with large trees. South-west of the town is a large pine-barren, which extends backward to a branch of the Altamaha River.
9. St. Simons Island, having on the south-east the Gulf of Florida, on the other sides branches of the Altamaha, is about a hundred miles south of Savannah, and extends in length about twenty, in breadth from two to five miles. On the west side of it, on a low bluff, stands Frederica, having woods to the north and south; to the east, partly woods, partly savannahs, and partly marshes. The soil is mostly a blackish sand. There is not much pine-land on the island, the greatest part being oak-land, intermixed with many savannahs and old Spanish or Indian fields.
10. On the sea-point, about five miles south-east of the town, is the fort where the soldiers are stationed. But the storehouse in Frederica better deserves that name; being encompassed with regular ramparts of earth, and a palisaded ditch, and mounted with cannon, which entirely command the river.
11. About twenty miles north-west from St. Simons is Darien, the settlement of the Scotch Highlanders, a mile from Fort King George, which was built about seventeen, and abandoned about eleven years since. The town lies on the mainland, close to a branch of the Altamaha, on a bluff thirty feet above the river, having woods on all sides. The soil is a blackish sand. They built at first many scattered huts; but last spring (1736), expecting the Spaniards, they built themselves a large fort, and all retired within the walls of it.
12. Augusta, distant from Savannah one hundred and fifty miles, and five from old Savannah town, is designed to stand in an old Indian field, on a bluff, about thirty feet high. A small fort of wooden piles was built there in 1737, but no house was then built, nor any more ground cleared than Mr. Lacy and his men found so.
13. Old Ebenezer, where the Salzburgers settled at first, lies twenty-five miles west of Savannah. A small creek runs by the town down to the river, and many brooks run between the little hills: but the soil is a hungry, barren sand, and upon any sudden shower the brooks rise several feet perpendicular, and overflow whatever is near them. Since the Salzburgers removed, two English families have been placed there; but those too say that the land is good for nothing, and that the creek is of little use, it being by water twenty miles to the river, and the water generally so low in summer-time that a boat cannot come within six or seven miles of the town.
14. New Ebenezer, to which the Salzburgers removed in March 1736, lies six miles eastward from the old, on a high bluff near the Savannah River. Here are some tracts of fruitful land, though the greatest part of that adjoining to the town is pine-barren. The huts, sixty in number, are neatly and regularly built; the little piece of ground allotted to each for a garden is everywhere put to the best use, no spot being left unplanted. Nay, even one of the main streets, being one more than was as yet wanted, bore them this year a crop of Indian corn.
15. About ten miles east of this, on a creek, three miles from the river, was the village of Abercorn. Ten families settled here in 1733, but it is now without inhabitant. Four miles below the mouth of Abercorn Creek is Joseph’s Town, the settlement of two Scotch gentlemen. A mile below was Sir Francis Bathurst’s plantation. And a quarter of a mile from this, Walter Augustin’s settlement. But both these are left without inhabitant.
16. A mile below this is Captain Williams’s43 plantation; a mile from thence, Mrs. Matthew’s (late Musgrove), commonly known by the name of Cowpen; adjoining to which is the land belonging to Captain Watson, on which is an unfinished house, swiftly running to ruin. A mile from this is Irene, a house built for an Indian school in the year 1736. It stands on a small round hill, in a little piece of fruitful ground, given by the Indians to Mr. Ingham. The Indian town is within a furlong of it.
17. Five miles south-west of Savannah, on a small rise, stands the village of Highgate. It has pine-land on three sides, and a swamp on the fourth. Twelve families were placed here in 1733, nine whereof remain there. A mile eastward of this is Hampstead, settled with twelve families also, a little before Highgate, five of which are still remaining.
18. Six miles south-east of Savannah is Thunderbolt. Three families are settled here, near a small, ruinous fort. Four miles south of this is the Island of Skidaway, on the north-east point whereof ten families were placed in 1733–34 (a small fort was built here likewise), but nine of them are either dead or removed to other places. A small creek divides Skidaway from Tybee Island, on the south-east part of which, fronting on the inlet, the lighthouse is built. Ten families were settled here in 1734, but they are part dead, and part removed, so that the island is now again without any fixed inhabitant.
19. Twelve miles southward from Savannah (by land) is Mr. Houston’s plantation; and forty or fifty miles from him, up Ogeechee River, that where Mr. Sterling for some time lived. Fort Argyle stands twenty miles from this, on a high bluff, by the River Ogeechee. ’Tis a small, square, wooden fort, musket-proof. Ten freeholders were settled near it; but eight of them are gone, and the land they had cleared, lying waste, will in a few years be as it was before.
20. The southermost settlement in Georgia is Fort St. Andrews. It stands fifty miles south of Frederica, on the south-west side of Cumberland Island, upon a high neck of land, which commands the river both ways. The walls are of wood, filled up with earth, round which are a ditch and a palisade.
21. ’Tis hard to pick out any consistent account of the Georgian Indians from the contradictory relations of their traders. The following is extracted, partly from those wherein all, or the generality of them, agree, partly from the relations of such as have been occasionally amongst them, and have no interest in making them better or worse than they are.
22. Of the Georgian Indians in general it may be observed that they are not so properly nations as tribes or clans, who have wandered thither at different times, perhaps expelled [from] their native countries by stronger tribes; but how or when they cannot tell, being none of them able to give any rational account of themselves. They are inured to hardship of all kinds, and surprisingly patient of pain. But as they have no letters, so they have no religion, no laws, no civil government. Nor have they any kings or princes, properly speaking, their ‘micos’ or headmen having no power either to command or punish, no man obeying them any farther than he pleases. So that everyone doth what is right in his own eyes; and if it appears wrong to his neighbour the person aggrieved usually steals on the other unawares, and shoots him, scalps him, or cuts off his ears; having only two short rules of proceeding—to do what he will, and what he can.
23. They are likewise all, except (perhaps) the Choctaws, gluttons, drunkards, thieves, dissemblers, liars. They are implacable, unmerciful; murderers of fathers, murderers of mothers, murderers of their own children; it being a common thing for a son to shoot his father or mother because they are old and past labour; and for a woman either to procure abortion, or to throw her child into the next river, because she will go with her husband to the war. Indeed husbands, strictly speaking, they have none; for any man leaves his wife (so called) at pleasure, who frequently, in return, cuts the throats of all the children she has had by him. Whoredom they account no crime, and few instances appear of a young Indian woman’s refusing anyone. Nor have they any fixed punishment for adultery; only if the husband take his wife with another man he will do what he can to both, unless speedily pacified by the present of a gun or a blanket.
24. The Choctaws only have some appearance of an entire nation, possessing a large extent of land, eight or nine hundred miles west of Savannah, and many well-inhabited towns. They are said to have six thousand fighting men, united under one head. At present they are in league with the French, who have sent some priests among them, by whom (if one may credit the Choctaw traders) ten or twelve have been baptized.
25. Next to these, to the north-east, are the Chickasaws. Their country is flat, full of meadows, springs, and rivers. In their fields, though six or seven hundred miles from the sea, are found sea-shells in great numbers. They have about nine hundred fighting men, ten towns, and one ‘mico’ (at least) in every one. They are eminently gluttons, eating, drinking, and smoking all day, and almost every night. They are extreme indolent and lazy, except in war: then they are the most indefatigable and the most valiant of all the Indians. But they are equally cruel with the rest, torturing and burning all their prisoners, whether Indian or European.
26. East of them, in the latitude of 35º and 36º, about three or four hundred miles from Savannah, lie the Cherokees. Their country is very mountainous, fruitful, and pleasant. They have fifty-two towns, and above three thousand fighting men. In each town are three or more headmen, who keep up a sort of shadow of government, having power to set the rest to work, and to punish such as will not join in the common labour. They are civil to strangers, and will do anything for them, for pay, being always willing, for a small piece of money, to carry a message for fifty or sixty miles, and, if required, a heavy burden too. But they are equally cruel to prisoners with the Chickasaws, though not equally valiant. They are seldom intemperate in drinking, but when they can be so on free cost. Otherwise love of drink yields to covetousness, a vice scarce to be found in any Indian but a Cherokee.
27. The Yuchis have only one small town left (near two hundred miles from Savannah), and about forty fighting men. The Creeks have been many times on the point of cutting them off. They are indeed hated by most, and despised by all the other nations, as well for their cowardice as their superlative diligence in thieving, and for outlying all the Indians upon the continent.
28. The Creek Indians are about four hundred miles from Savannah. They are said to be bounded to the west by the Choctaws, to the north by the Chickasaws, to the east by the Cherokees, and to the south by the Altamaha River. They have many towns, a plain well watered country, and fifteen hundred fighting men. They have often three or four micos in a town; but without so much as the shadow of authority, only to give advice, which everyone is at liberty to take or leave. But age and reputation for valour and wisdom have given Chigilly, a mico of the Coweta Town, a more than ordinary influence over the nation—though not even the show of regal power. Yet neither age, wisdom, nor reputation can restrain him from drunkenness. Indeed all the Creeks, having been most conversant with white men, are most infected with insatiate love of drink, as well as other European vices. They are more exquisite dissemblers than the rest of their countrymen. They know not what friendship or gratitude means. They show no inclination to learn anything, but least of all Christianity, being full as opiniated of their own parts and wisdom as either modern Chinese or ancient Roman.

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