Years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Stevens' stunning home stood perched on top of several brick-fortified terraces, overlooking the Midway River and surrounding marshes.
Allen Stevens reportedly owned quite a bit of land throughout Sunbury, including a fish camp and restaurant. Locals also recall that the Stevens couple planted azaleas on all their properties.
Sunbury, GA history by Georgia Department of Natural Resources
This scallop shell lies at the dock's entrance to Sunbury Crab Company. It reminded me of similar scallop shell symbols throughout the Coastal South – specifically in Florida (originally a Spanish territory).
Historically, the scallop shell often symbolized the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James). The Camino is a huge network of ancient routes used for the pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The lines in the scallop shell are representative of these numerous trails – all leading to one point. This point, or destination, is the location of the tomb of James (one of the Twelve Apostles), which is believed to be in northwestern Spain. During the Middle Ages, the Camino was responsible for the largest movement of people in Europe. Once the pilgrims had completed their journey, they would pick out a scallop shell from the nearby coastal town of Finisterre. Finisterre was said to be the end of the earth – ‘finis’ meaning end and ‘terre’ meaning earth.
The symbol has spanned centuries and continents – making its way to our region. Today, treking the Camino is still a popular recreational activity, with over a quarter of a million visitors completing the journey annually.
The Sunbury Crab Company is a family-owned restaurant located near Blackbeard Creek. If you call to ask for directions, they’ll ask you, “By land or boat?”
This multilevel open-air restaurant still has the cozy feel of a coastal crab shack, plus a riverfront bar with a full band stage for live music.
It’s the perfect spot to take in the Georgia coast, while enjoying fresh-caught blue crabs, shrimp, oysters, and flounder.
Sunbury Crab Company dock/marina services include:
- Wet slips with 20' at low tide
- Shore power w 30/50 amp service
- On-site restaurant
- Fuel (diesel & special mid-grade unleaded with no ethanol)
- Showers available with reservation
- Historic sites within walking distance
Location: 31° 46' 16" N 81° 16'40" W
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Come and take it!” But, did you know that it’s attributed to a historic moment that a Coastal South town resisted more than 500 British troops?
P/C Explore Georgia
The people of Sunbury didn’t just build an extremely successful port, they also wanted to make it impenetrable against the Creek Indians and, later, the British. How? They fortified their properties with earthworks (imagine an M. Night Shyamalan-style Village).
Sunbury’s substantial defense included Fort Morris. In 1778, when the British demanded the fort and town’s surrender, Sunbury’s defiant Col. John McIntosh replied, “Come and take it!”
The British withdrew back to Florida. Forty-five days later, they gathered more forces and returned. On January 9, 1779, Fort Morris was bombarded and fell shortly after.
However, the citizens of Sunbury were undeterred. After the Revolution, they renamed their fort as “Fort Defiance” and used it against the British again during 1812.
Aside from the earthworks, the only remaining feature of the ghost town is the Sunbury Cemetery. Only 34 grave markers have survived, however, there are numerous depressions in the ground – indicating that many more people are buried there. The oldest stone dates back to 1788, but prior to this, it was also common to use wood markers (which eventually decomposed).
If you’re an outdoors-person or gardener, you may have heard butterflies being referred to as a proverbial “canary in the mine.” For instance, for unknown centuries, the yearly Monarch migration flies down our coast, heading south to survive the winter in warmer climates. However, Monarch & other butterfly populations in the Coastal South have dramatically declined over recent decades. This has been attributed to loss of habitat and increased pesticide use.
How can you help? Plant milkweed!
While a variety of butterflies enjoy milkweed, Monarch butteries are 100% dependent on a this group of plants to support their young. Adult Monarchs can eventually sip nectar from a variety of flowers, but their caterpillars can only eat the leaves of milkweeds.
AVOID (considered parasitic):
Ghost. Lost. Dead. These are the words associated with the town of Sunbury, Georgia. And, it is quite literally the ghost of a town. There’s nothing there. No surviving buildings. No ruins. Almost no visible evidence that the colonial town ever existed – though it was once one of the most popular coastal south towns in our nation’s history.
While visiting Sunbury in 1773, famed naturalist William Bartram described the town: “There are about one hundred houses in the town neatly built of wood frame having pleasant piazzas around them. The inhabitants are genteel and wealthy, either merchants or planters from the Country who resort here in the Summer and Autumn, to partake of the salubrious sea breeze, bathing and sporting on the Sea Islands.”
The tale of plantation owner John Lambert is highly unusual. He was rumored to have been abandoned as an infant on the Lambert Bridge in South Carolina, for which he was named. The legend claims that he was passed between plantation families as a child, accumulated some money as a young man, went into the livestock business, and then applied for a land grant. By the time he died, John owned nearly 1000 acres. Yet, he never married or had children. According to the legend, he deliberately refrained from marrying – out of fear that he might marry into his unknown biological relatives.
Factually, we know this:
As I previously posted, John encouraged the religious instruction of his slaves - even going so far as to hire the local black preacher named Mingo (a freed man) to make weekly visits to the Lambert Plantation for the religious instruction of his slaves.
Additionally, John Lambert made a very curious request in his will. He stated that his estate (both land and slaves) would be kept whole and continue to operate under the supervision of the Midway Church. The plantation’s profits were to be donated to poor or widowed families in Midway.
As a result:
For the next ~60 years following John's death, his original 31 slaves and their descendants lived and worked free of white oversight, except for the infrequent visits of the trustees. Because of this, the Lambert Plantation became one of the few fragile areas of African American socialization and independence in the South.
The heavy emphasis on religious instruction also fostered Gullah-Geechee culture – where old traditions, immersed in magic and superstition, thrived and mixed with Christian practice.
To this day, Lambert’s reasoning is unknown. Perhaps his generosity was owed to his religious convictions and involvement in the Midway Church. Or, perhaps there was more to this story. Regardless, he was highly-regarded and overwhelming liked throughout both white and black communities, and has since been called “the pride of Midway.” His trust has evolved over the years (and no longer relies on slave labor), still surviving to benefit the residents of Midway.
While some slaves had been able to attend services in the gallery of the Midway Church, additional services were held outside the building and at nearby plantations, led by both white and black preachers. The Midway Church advocated for the role of the black preachers – even going so far as to purchase their freedom in exchange for the promise that they would “give themselves wholly to their work.”
It was rare that Southern plantation owners would encourage their slaves to be taught religious ideals, much less instructed by a freed man. One of these freed men was named Mingo, who lived on Peter Winn’s plantation. On Sundays, between the morning and afternoon services at the church, Mingo would preach at the ‘stands.’
“They would meet in the piney woods a short way from the Midway Church. The place was fitted up with booths of bushes with wide seats and a raised platform in the center, on which Mingo stood, called ‘the stand.’” (Erskine Clarke)
Mingo was hired to visit the Lambert Plantation weekly and preach to the enslaved. The plantation has been described as “an unusual place” in that John Lambert was one of the first planters in the area to advocate for the religious instruction of his slaves. Mingo preached there until his death. His position was then replaced by Jack, a well-liked Lambert slave who was purchased by the Midway Church to continue the tradition.
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!