An Account of Carolina and Georgia,” so titled by Thaddeus Mason Harris, appeared in April 1739, in the three supplementary volumes that Thomas Salmon published through Bettesworth and Hitch to bring his Modern History up to date.1 In 1841 Harris reprinted it, editing it rather heavily, omitting about a fifth, and incorrectly identifying the provenance as Salmon’s “fourth” edition.2 Oglethorpe apparently wrote his account in late 1737 or early 1738, while he was back in England and had time to respond to Salmon’s request. Salmon prefaced the account with the acknowledgment: “The following pages are an answer from General OGLETHORPE, to some enquiries made by the author, concerning the state of Carolina and Georgia.”3
In this his third description of the region, Oglethorpe utilized a good deal of what he had already written in his Some Account and had published in his New and Accurate Account; but here for the first time he enjoyed the advantage of first-hand knowledge. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the piece, a section omitted by Harris, is his description of the Gulf Stream. It had been mentioned by various navigators for more than two centuries, beginning with Ponce de Leon’s pilot Antonio de Alaminas in 1513, and had been charted, though inaccurately, by Athanasius Kircher in 1665. Most striking is Oglethorpe’s measurement of its velocity at three miles an hour; for although the path was well known, the velocity seems to have been rarely measured and recorded. The earliest known published figure seems to have been Antoine François Laval’s estimate of a league an hour, in his Voyage de la Louisiane (1728). If Oglethorpe did not borrow his estimate from Laval, whose account the Oglethorpe booksale catalog shows (item 883), he may have taken it from Captain John Gascoigne, who had in 1729, in his log of the Alborough, remarked on the velocity.4 On the other hand, Oglethorpe could have made his own estimate.
I reprint from the Bettesworth and Hitch edition of 1739.
Carolina is part of that territory which was originally discovered by Sir SEBASTIAN CABOT. The English now possess the sea-coast, from the river St. John’s, in 30 degrees 21 minutes north latitude. Westward the King’s charter declares to to be bounded by the Pacifick Ocean.
Carolina is divided into North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia; the latter is a province which his Majesty has taken out of Carolina, and is the southern and western frontier of that province, lying between it, and the French, Spaniards, and Indians.
The part of Carolina that is settled, is for the most part a flat country: all near the sea, is a range of islands, which breaks the fury of the ocean: within is generally low-land for twenty or twenty five miles, where the country begins to rise in gentle swellings. At seventy or eighty miles from the sea, the hills grow higher, till they terminate in mountains.
The coast of Georgia is also defended from the rage of the sea by a range of islands. Those islands are divided from the main by canals of salt water, navigable for the largest boats, and even for small sloops. The lofty woods growing on each side the canals, make very pleasant landscapes. The land at about seven or eight miles from the sea, is tolerably high; and the farther you go westward the more it rises, till at about 150 miles distance from the sea, to the west, the Cherikees or Apellachean mountains begin, which are so high that the snow lies upon some of them all the year.
This ridge of mountains runs in a line from north to south, on the back of the English colonies of Carolina and Virginia; beginning at the great lakes of Canada, and extending south, it ends in the province of Georgia, at about two hundred miles from the bay of Appellachee, which is part of the gulph of Mexico. There is a plain country from the foot of these mountains to that sea.
The face of the country is mostly covered with woods; the banks of the rivers are in some places low, and form a kind of natural meadows, where the floods prevent trees from growing. In other places, in the hollows, between the hillocks, the brooks and streams being stopt by falls of trees, or other obstructions, the water is penn’d back: these places are often covered with canes and thickets, and are called in the corrupted American dialect, swamps.5 The sides of the hills are generally covered with oaks and hiccary, or wild walnuts, cedar, sassafras, and the famous laurel tulip, which is esteemed one of the most beautiful trees in the world:6 the flat tops of the hillocks are all covered with groves of pine-trees, with plenty of grass growing under them; and free from underwood, that you may gallop a horse for forty or fifty miles an end. In the low grounds, and islands of the river, there are cypress, bay-trees, poplar, plane, frankincense, or gumtrees, and other aquaticks. All parts of the province are well watered; and in digging a moderate depth, you never miss of a fine spring.
What we call the Atlantic Ocean, washes the east and south-east coasts of these provinces. The gulph stream of Florida sets with a tide in the ocean to the east of the province; and it is very remarkable, that the banks and soundings of the coast extend twenty or twenty-five miles to the east of the coast. To explain this, we will mention the manner of the voyage from Europe. You set out with variable winds, and having got enough to the west of Europe, you stand southerly till you meet with the trade winds; which you do, on this side the 20th degree north latitude. Those winds blowing generally eastwardly, and moderately brisk, soon drive you over the greatest part of the Atlantick ocean: you keep the same latitude, till you think you are near the Bahamas, and then you steer northwardly, to avoid falling in with them, till you come into 29 degrees, and then you run in to make the shore. You cross the gulph stream of Florida, which is a rapid tide, that sets out from between the island of Cuba and Bahama, on the one side, and Florida on the other. It is upwards of twenty leagues wide, and so rapid that it runs to the northward, at the rate of three miles an hour.7 When you are past the gulph stream, you throw the lead, and if you find the ground at twenty five leagues of the coast of Georgia or Carolina, these they call the banks, and the water shoals gradually to shore, till you come within two leagues, where the banks are so shoaly that they bar all further passage, excepting in the channels which lie between the bars. These bars are the defence of the coast against enemies fleets, and the reason that it has laid so long undiscovered; for without good pilots you cannot come into any harbour, the shoaliness of the coast frightened ships so from coming to make discoveries upon it: till Mr. OGLETHORPE had the entries on the coast of Georgia sounded in the year 1733, no ship attempted to go into ports in Georgia, nor did the merchants believe there were any ports upon that coast. Though now they find the river Savannah an excellent harbour; and upon the worst of the bar, three fathom at dead low water. There is also a noble harbour to the southward, called Teky-Sound,8 where there is anchoring for a large squadron in ten or fourteen fathom water land-locked, and a good and safe entry through the bar.
Between these harbours on the one side, and the Bahamas on the other, the Spanish ships must come home with all the treasures of Mexico; and a squadron here in time of war, can hardly miss intercepting them, and at the same time have safe harbours under their lee, and a healthy climate; have all Georgia, Carolina, and North-America, a plentiful country, to supply them with fresh provisions; so that they would be under none of those inconveniences from want and sickness, which those squadrons suffered who lay at Porto Bello.9
The tides upon this coast flow generally seven foot: the soundings are sand, or ooze, and some oyster banks, but no rocks: the coast appears low from the sea, and covered with woods.
Cape Fear is a point which runs with dreadful shoals far into the sea from the mouth of Clarendon river, in North Carolina. Sulivan’s Island,10 and the Coffin-land, are the marks of the entry into Charles-Town harbour: Hilton-head upon Trenches Island, shews the entry into Port-Royal; and the point of Tybee Island, marks the entry of the Savannah river.11 Upon that point the trustees for Georgia have erected a noble final or lighthouse, 90 foot high, and 25 foot wide; it is an octagon, and upon the top there is a flag-staff 30 foot high.12
The province of Georgia is watered by three great rivers, which rise in the mountains, viz. the Alatamaha, the Ogechee, and the Savannah, the last of which is navigable six hundred miles for canoes, and three hundred miles for boats. The British dominions are divided from the Spanish Florida by a noble river called St. John’s. These rivers fall into the Atlantick ocean; but there are besides them, the Flint, the Catooche, and even the Missisippi river, which pass through part of Carolina, or Georgia, and fall into the gulph of Apellachee or Mexico.
All Carolina is divided into three parts: North Carolina, which is divided from South Carolina by Clarendon river, and of late by a line marked out by order of the council: South Carolina; which on the south is divided from Georgia by the river Savannah. Carolina is divided into several counties; but in Georgia there is but one yet erected, viz. the county of Savannah: it is bounded on the one side by the river Savannah, on the other by the sea, on the third by the river Ogechee, on the fourth by the river Ebenezer, and a line drawn from the Ebenezer to the Ogechee. In this country are the rivers of Vernon, Little Ogechee, and of Westbrook.13 There is the town of Savannah, where there is a seat of judicature, consisting of three bailiffs and a recorder. It is situated upon the banks of the river of the same name. It consists of about two hundred houses, and lies upon a plain of about a mile wide, the bank steep to the river, forty five foot perpendicularly high: the streets are laid out regular. There are near Savannah, in the same country, the villages of Hampstead, Highgate, Skydoway, and Thunderbolt; the latter of which is a translation of a name: their fables say, that a thunderbolt fell, and a spring thereupon arose in that place, which still smells of the thunder. This spring is impregnated with a mixture of sulphur and steel, and from this smell probably the story arose. In the same county is Joseph’s Town, and the town of Ebenezer, both upon the river Savannah, and the villages of Abercorn and Westbrook. There are saw-mills erecting on the river Ebenezer,14 and the fort Argyle lies upon the pass of this county over the Ogechee. In the southern divisions of the province lies the town of Frederica, with its district, where there is a court with three bailiffs and a recorder. It lies on one of the branches of the Alatamaha. There is also the town of Darien, upon the same river, and several forts, upon the proper passes, some of four bastions, some are only redoubts; besides which there are villages in different parts of Georgia. At Savannah there is a publick store-house built of large square timbers; there is also a handsome court-house, guard-house, and work-house: the church is not yet begun, but materials are collecting, and it is designed to be a handsome edifice. The private houses are generally sawed timber, framed and covered with shingles; many of them are painted, and most have chimneys of brick. At Frederica, some of the houses are built of brick; the rest of the province is mostly wood. They are not got into luxury yet in their furniture, hewing only what is plain and needful; the winters being mild, there are yet but few houses with glass-windows.
The Indians are a manly well-shaped race; the men tall, the women little: they, as the antient Grecians did, anoint with oil, and expose themselves to the sun, which occasions their skins to be brown of colour. The men paint themselves of various colours, red, blue, yellow and black: the men wear generally a girdle, with a piece of cloth drawn through their legs, and turned over the girdle both before and behind, so as to hide their nakedness. The women wear a kind of petticoat to their knees. Both men and women in the winter wear mantles, something less than two yards square, which they wrap round their bodies, as the Romans did their toga, generally keeping their arms bare: they are sometimes of woollen, bought of the English; sometimes of furs, which they dress themselves. They wear a kind of pumps, which they call morgisons, made of deer skins, which they dress for that purpose. They are a generous good-natured people, very humane to strangers; patient of want and pain; slow to anger, and not easily provoked; but when they are thoroughly incensed, they are implacable; very quick of apprehension, and gay of temper. Their publick conferences shew them to be men of genius, and they have a natural eloquence, they never having had the use of letters. They love eating, and the English have taught many of them to drink strong liquors, which, when they do, they are miserable sights. They have no manufactures but what each family makes for its own use; they seem to despise working for hire, and spend their time chiefly in hunting and war; but plant corn enough for the support of their families, and of the strangers that come to visit them. Their food, instead of bread, is flour of Indian corn boiled, and seasoned like hasty-pudding; and this is called homminy. They also boil venison and make broth: they also roast or rather broil their meat. The flesh they feed on is buffaloe, deer, wild-turkeys, and other game; so that hunting is necessary, to provide flesh, and planting for corn. The land belongs to the women, and the corn that grows upon it; but meat must be got by the men, because it is they only that hunt. This makes marriage necessary, that the women may furnish corn, and the men meat. They have also fruit-trees in their gardens, viz. peaches, nectarines and locusts, melons and watermelons; potatoes, pumpkins, and onions, &c. in plenty, and many wild kinds of fruits; as parsimonies, grapes, chinquepins, and hickary-nuts, of which they make oil. The bees make their combs in the hollow trees, and the Indians find plenty of honey there, which they use instead of sugar. They make what answers salt of wood-ashes, and long-pepper which grows in their gardens; and bay-leaves supply their want of spice. Their exercises are a kind of ball-playing, hunting, and running; and they are very fond of dancing: their musick is a kind of a drum, as also hollow cocoa-nut shells. They have a square in the middle of their towns, in which the warriors sit, converse, and smoke together; but in rainy weather they meet in the King’s house.
They are very healthy people, and have hardly any diseases, except those occasioned by the drinking of rum, and the small pox: those who do not drink rum are exceeding long-lived. Old BRIM, Emperor of the Creeks, who died but a few years ago, lived to one hundred and thirty years;15 and he was neither blind nor bed-rid, till some months before his death. They have sometimes pleurisies and fevers, but no chronical distempers. They know of several herbs that have great virtues in physick, particularly for the cure of venomous bites and wounds.
The native animals are, first the urus or zorax, described by CAESAR, which the English very ignorantly and improperly call the buffaloe.16 They have deer of several kinds, and plenty of roe-bucks and rabbits. There are bears and wolves, which are very small and timerous; and a brown wild-cat, without spots, which they very improperly call a tyger;17 otters, beavers, foxes, and a species of badgers, which they call racoons. There is great abundance of wild fowls, viz. the wild turkey, the partridge, doves of various kinds; wild geese, wild ducks, teal, cranes, herons of many kinds, not known in Europe: there are great variety of eagles and hawks, and great numbers of small birds, particularly the rice bird,18 which is very like the ortelan. There are also some rattle snakes, but not near so frequent as is generally reported. There are several species of snakes, some of which are not venomous. There are crocodiles, porpoises, sturgeon, mullets, cat-fish, bass, drum, devil-fish, and many species of fresh water fish, that we have not in Europe; oysters upon the sea islands in great abundance. But what is most troublesome there, is flies and gnats, which are very troublesome near the rivers; but as the country is cleared, they disperse and go away. Besides the animals that are natives, there are all the same animals as in Europe, cows, sheep, hogs, &c.
The vegetables are innumerable; for all that grow in Europe grow there; and many that cannot stand in our winters thrive there.