Case Studies in Historical Archaeology: Kings Bay, Georgia, by William Hampton Adams




Case Studies in Historical Archaeology:

Kings Bay, Georgia

by William Hampton Adams




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Kings Bay Plantation
Cherry Point Plantation
Marianna Plantation
Harmony Hall Plantation
Camden County: Historical and Genealogical Links



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 Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.

To assist in avoiding or at least minimizing damage to significant sites by construction of the Base, archaeologists from the University of Florida conducted a field survey, identifying and mapping prehistoric and historic sites. A site is an area of varying size containing evidence of past human occupation or use. This might be the remains of a single night's camp or a village occupied for centuries.

Once a site has been found, the archaeologists will excavate part of the site to learn facts about its size, depth, soils, artifacts, and features, in order to understand the people who once lived there, and to assess the site's significance to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and actively preserved from destruction.

Unlike forests or animal populations, archaeological sites do no regenerate. They are finite. "New" sites are merely discovered. On the other hand, as much as we might like, not all sites can be protected adequately and therefore we must make decisions on which sites are worth preserving.

When a site has been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places because it is significant and when it is located on federal land, it must be preserved in some manner. The site may be left alone with construction plans always respecting its boundaries (much like a cemetery is respected by setting it aside from the construction around it), or, a site can be investigated by archaeologists in a thorough, scientific study, with the artifacts removed for study, and all aspects of the site mapped, photographed, and recorded in notes. In this way, some of the site information is kept for future generations to see in museums or to study in books.

Both of these approaches were used at Kings Bay. While some of the naval base construction plans were altered to avoid damaging some sites, avoidance was not always possible because the most densely occupied prehistoric and historic sites were found along the Kings Bay bluff, the very place needed to build the Navy's waterfront structures and facilities. Archaeological excavations have revealed that, in fact, the bluff overlooking Kings Bay was occupied almost continuously from about 1650 B.C to the early 1700s by Native Americans, and from 1791 onward by Euroamericans and African-Americans.

Take, for example, the port service facility area, where archaeologists found evidence of an aboriginal village with houses and probably gardens, with occupations lasting about 3000 years. Canoes would be launched there into Kings Bay to obtain the abundant fish and shellfish, and to travel to Cumberland Island and other locations up and down the coast to trade and visit kin. The Spanish noted villages at Kings Bay, and from their nearby missions attempted to Christianize the villagers. A few items from Spain and Mexico were found here: ceramic jugs, glass, and iron artifacts. But these Spanish also brought new diseases and the native population lay decimated by epidemics like smallpox. The last indigenous people at Kings Bay were the Guale. They moved to St. Augustine for awhile and when the Spanish withdrew from there, the Guale went with them to Cuba. For most of the 1700s, the spot lay abandoned and the Guale corn fields became overgrown with weeds and shrubs. In 1791, a new era began at Kings Bay, when Thomas King bought he land and started Kings Bay Plantation.

Kings Bay Plantation

Thomas King was apparently born in Ireland and later moved to Jamaica, where he married Mary E. Faith. They moved to Georgia in 1791, where using the labor of 30 slaves, a plantation was built. Part of his 1000 acres was cleared to plant cotton. The King house was built by the slaves on the bluff next to where now is found the small craft facility. The house was built on the trash middens left by the Guale and consisting of thousands of oyster shells and broken pots, along with fish and animal bones. The house was likely a two-story frame dwelling, substantial but certainly no mansion. Nevertheless, it contrasted sharply with the four small (9x18 foot) dirt-floored cabins built south of the main house, along the bluff. This is near the wharf area guardhouse today, just a stone's throw from nuclear-powered submarines.

The Kings Bay Plantation operated into the 1820s and then as a country home until 1851 when it 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 in the community, after John H. McIntosh. In the yard and kitchen building, archaeologists found relatively expensive ceramic tableware from England, gold inlaid wine goblets, French and English wine bottles, a painted clock front. One shirt-sized button has a date of 1834 on the front, while the back is embossed True Whigs of '76 & '34. Found near brass sewing pins in their original papers, was a silver thimble with Bell King scratched on the side; this was lost by Isabella Kelly, his niece who lived there from 1805-1807 and 1808-1814.

When the British army landed here in 1815, sixteen slaves were rounded up and taken to Nova Scotia. As a result of that raid, a new slave quarters was built away from the bluff. Several War of 1812 military buttons were found at the slave quarters; these were likely discarded American uniforms bought as war-surplus.

Excavation of the four slave cabins has revealed glimpses into slave life, some expected, some not. Those 30 slaves lived in four cabins with no glass windows and only dirt floors. Each room was 9x9 feet and each cabin had two rooms. Bowls were found in the site, reflecting the slave diet of stews which could be kept cooking while they worked in the 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 often outlawed in the South for fear of slave uprisings.

Thomas King died in 1819. His will provides important documentation about his plantation.

Cherry Point Plantation

The Cherry Point Plantation was started in October 1791 by John King, who had moved to Camden County in 1787, from the Satilla River in North Carolina. We have no evidence suggesting he was related closely to Thomas King. 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 there he rented to Woodford Mabry from 1801-1806, who ran the sawmill. The small house Mabry lived in was excavated, revealing artifacts associated with his occupation, including a brass caliper for woodworking, and every day items like eating utensils, plates, tea cups, and platters.

John King's house on the James King Site (9CAM183) has also been studied by archaeologists, who 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. Curiously, a Chinese coin found its way into the house.

Nearby excavations revealed a possible slave cabin and stables. Since King only had a few slaves and had a sawmill, he probably did not plant cotton, but instead derived his income from naval stores (turpentine and pitch) and lumbering.

"The lands around are very poor, incapable of producing anything but cotton & maize and these to so small an extent that the Planters have employed their Negroes for some years past in cutting down the trees on the banks of the river, which they find more lucrative than in agriculture. In consequence of this provisions are very scarce and some times the people are absolutely starving as they trust entirely for this article to their neighbors. The banks of the St. Marys river produces the finest pitch pine in the world. The unexhaustible forests on each side have been very lucrative of late years and have annually loaded forty or fifty vessels with this material to person who had contracts with the British Government" wrote a Scotsman who visited in 1811 (Mohl 1971).

John King served as city commissioner for St. Marys from 1792-1794 and as justice of the inferior court from 1794 to his death in 1803. His son, James, inherited the plantation at age 27. In 1820, he owned eight slaves and a four-wheeled carriage, according to tax records. In 1823, he established Woodlawn Plantation west of Kingsland (named for his grandson, William Henry King) and sold Cherry Point Plantation to John H. McIntosh.

Marianna Plantation

The largest plantation in the area began in 1786 by James Woodland and by 1795 Marianna Hall had been built. This bighouse had eight main rooms with two balconies. An 1804 newspaper ad described the property also having a kitchen, stable, chairhouse, cotton house, overseer's house, seven slave cabins and a fenced garden.

John Houstoun McIntosh bought the 650-acre plantation in 1811. In 1813, he moved there, following the Patriots Rebellion which tried to seize Florida from the Spanish. In 1819 he purchased the 2900-acre Dark Entry Plantation from John Boog, Isabella Kelly's husband. About 1820, McIntosh added single story wings on the north and south sides; these wings were unusual because they were octagonal. The house burned after the Civil War and the plantation divided among the heirs.

In about 1826, McIntosh began raising sugar cane and built a sugarhouse to process the cane syrup into sugar. By 1830 he owned 214 slaves. The McIntosh Sugarhouse is located in a county park just north of the Main Gate for the Base. The sugarhouse is built of poured concrete called tabby which is made from shell. Often the shell was mined from the extensive middens left by the Native Americans, for we sometimes find their pottery in the tabby. The tabby is very soft, so visitors should be careful not to climb on the ruins.

The sugarhouse was once thought by locals to be the remains of a Spanish mission, however, archaeological work there has found no Spanish artifacts or architecture. Instead, only early 1800s artifacts related to industrial use of the building were found. Fire bricks for the boiler were marked BERRY'S PREM. FIREPROOF. The same brand of bricks were found at Marianna Hall. This mill was regarded as very innovative for its time. It ceased operations when McIntosh died in 1836. His son moved the milling machinery to Refuge Plantation. Local sources say the building was used during the Civil War for manufacturing starch from arrowroot, but no direct evidence has confirmed this.

Harmony Hall Plantation

Located on the west bank of the North River, the Harmony Hall Plantation was started in 1787 by a land grant of 470 acres to Thomas Cryer, who in 1787 added 200 acres. Cryer then sold his land in 1792 to Richard Carnes who then received a land grant of 200 acres in 1793, 52 acres in 1795, and 46 acres in 1795 as well. In 1800, he sold the plantation to John Howell, who sold a half-interest in it to Hanes Learned in 1808. Learned defaulted, so at Howell's death in 1818, a Sheriff’s Sale was held. The same thing happened 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 the riverbank erosion might have removed adjoining rooms 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 served as the wash-house as well. Several buttons were War of 1812 U.S. Army buttons. Two cannon balls were found, possibly used as weights for turning a roasting spit. Tools found included two axes, calipers, scissors, dividers, chisels, file, splitting wedge. Over 180 broken dishes were found scattered around in the yard.

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, including nails, brick, and soil stains. However, the ceramics are a mixture of low status banded bowls and expensive transferprinted plates.


The historical archaeology of these four plantations has provided a wealth of information about not only the planers and their families, but also the slaves who made the plantations prosper. Most artifacts were everyday things like dishes, cups, buttons, buckles, and food bones. From these we can glimpse what they wore and what they ate, how they set their tables for dinner, and lived their lives.


Adams, William Hampton, editor

    1985 Aboriginal subsistence and settlement archaeology of the Kings Bay Locality, Georgia. Vol. 1, The Kings Bay and Devils Walkingstick Sites. University of Florida, Department of Anthropology, Reports of Investigations 1. Gainesville.

    1985 Aboriginal subsistence and settlement archaeology of the Kings Bay Locality, Georgia. Vol. 2, Zooarchaeology. University of Florida, Department of Anthropology, Reports of Investigations 2. Gainesville.

    1986 Archaeological testing of aboriginal and historical sites, Kings Bay, Georgia: The 1982-1983 field seasons. University of Florida, Department of Anthropology, Reports of Investigations 4. Gainesville.

    1987 Historical archaeology of plantations at Kings Bay, Camden County, Georgia. University of Florida, Department of Anthropology, Reports of Investigations 5. Gainesville.

Adams, William Hampton and Sarah Jane Boling

    1989 Status and ceramics for planters and slaves on three Georgia coastal plantations. Historical Archaeology 23(1):69-96.

Eubanks, Thomas H. and William H. Adams

    1985 Archaeological Resources Management Plan for the Kings Bay Archaeological Multiple Resource Area. University of Florida, Department of Anthropology, Reports of Investigations 3. Gainesville.

Mohl, Raymond L.

    1971 A Scotsman Visits Georgia in 1811. Georgia Historical Quarterly 60(2):269.

Smith, Robin L., Chad O. Braley, Nina T. Borremans, and Elizabeth Reitz

    1981 Coastal adaptations in southeast Georgia: ten archaeological sites at Kings Bay. Report submitted to the United States Navy, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida.

Genealogical Links
The GenWeb Project provides very useful data for not only the genealogist, but also anyone interested in the history of a region.
The links here will take you to the web sites for Camden County, Georgia, and the USGenWeb.
Individual counties vary, but often include census data, inscriptions of cemetery headstones, wills, deeds, diaries, letters, photographs, and other historic documents.

Please support local history by serving as a volunteer in your local museum, library, or genealogical society. Many such places are recording their local history and placing it on the web for everyone to use. If you cannot donate your time, consider donating funding to support the preservation of local heritage.


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All information is copyrighted, 2000, by William Hampton Adams. All rights reserved.

Last updated Monday, February 12, 2001.