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Cockspur Island, 1733-1829

After gathering its waters from the high valleys and slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, the Savannah River follows a course south-eastward 300 miles to the sea and forms a natural boundary between South Carolina and Georgia. Plunging swiftly through narrow gorges or drowsing through cypress swamps, this brown-red river moves onward past pine-crested hills and smothered plains. Twelve miles from the sea it leaves the firm land to sweep in lazy coils across a vast and quivering marsh. Here the river splits into two channels divided by low grassy islets almost completely submerged twice daily by the rising of the tide. The easternmost of these islets, a mile long by less than half a mile wide, is known as Cockspur Island from the shape of its dangerous reef that juts out toward the open sound. Within sight of the Atlantic Ocean, Cockspur guards the two entrances into the Savannah River, one of the Nation’s great avenues of commerce. Despite the fact that very few of its hundred or more acres lie above the highwater mark, this island has played a significant role in the economic development and military defense of coastal Georgia throughout the history of colony and state. The island was considered so important that one Royal Governor called it the “Key to Our Province,” and 20 acres on the eastern point were permanently set aside by the Crown and later by the State as a site for harbor fortifications.

To the north and south of Cockspur lie the barrier islands of the Carolina and Georgia coasts. On these great islands, and on mainland plantations across the marshes, aristocratic planters with many slaves developed the culture of rice, indigo, and cotton and helped to lay the foundation of an agrarian economy in the South, a factor which was to play a leading role in the controversies which divided the Nation in the 19th century and led to civil war.

Past Cockspur Island, then called “The Peeper,” in February 1733 sailed the pioneer band of English settlers under Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe. At Yamacraw Bluff, 20 miles up the river, they established Savannah, the small settlement which was the beginning of Georgia, the 13th American colony. To Cockspur Island, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, made a momentous visit 3 years later. Here, his journal records, he “... first set ... foot on American ground.” More important in the history of religion, Wesley, during this sojourn at Cockspur, engaged in serious theological discussions which seem to have implanted in his mind the basic idea of Methodism.

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