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Bloody Marsh Monument

by Guerry Norwood

Bloody Marsh Historical Site, St. Simons Island

This small park provides a panorama of the eastern marshes of St. Simons Island, while it informs the visitor of the Battle of Bloody Marsh. Though it was a relatively small engagement, the outcome had a tremendous influence on the future course of Georgia. An exhibit explains the engagement and a plaque honors Oglethorpe’s resolve to keep the Georgia territory in the hands of the British empire.

Geologically, the high ground of the park is the Pleistocene (35,000 years ago) shoreline of St. Simons Island, which existed before Sea Island and East Beach were formed to the east 5,000 years ago. The “Bloody Marshes” filled the lagoon created by the younger, sandy barriers. Marsh species display zonation, with Live Oaks  on the highest, driest ground, cedar at the woodland edge, and marsh elder and groundsel trees by the edge of the marsh, going down to saltwort, glasswort, bunch grass (Spartina bakeri), salt meadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), and needlerush. Wading birds, such as herons and egrets, are observed fishing the shallower open waters of the marsh, which drain into Postell Creek and enter the ocean at Gould’s Inlet.

In 1739, Britain declared war on the Spanish, called the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Jenkins was an English smuggler who had his ship boarded by the Spanish off the Florida coast. When the Spanish couldn’t find any contraband, Jenkins testified to the English House of Commons, one of the officers grew angry and sliced off his ear. This outraged England, which had been spoiling for a fight with Spain for years. In the vulnerable southern colonies of America, Oglethorpe decided to act first, and laid siege to Spanish-held St. Augustine in 1740, but he was unsuccessful. Two years later, the Spanish sailed past the guns of Fort St. Simons and landed near Gascoigne’s Bluff with approximately 2,000 men supported by 50 ships. Flanked and outmanned, Oglethorpe abandoned Fort St. Simons and withdrew his 900 troops along Military Road toward Fort Frederica.

The first action of the day occurred within sight of Fort Frederica at Gully Hole Creek, where a force of Scottish Highlanders, English Rangers, and Indians led by Oglethorpe repulsed an advancing regiment of 200 Spaniards, causing them to retreat. Back in camp, the Spanish commander and governor of Florida, Manuel de Montiano, learning of the defeat, sent several hundred troops up the military road to cover the retreat. Meanwhile, Oglethorpe’s men waited in ambush near the road, and at the last possible moment, the Scots and English rangers opened fire on the unprepared Spanish troops, causing anywhere from 100 to 500 casualties, depending on whose account one believes. The marshes reportedly “ran red with blood.” The Spanish returned to the south end, and after contemplating the situation for a week, destroyed Fort St. Simons, boarded their ships, and left the Georgia coast for good, ensuring that Georgia and the territories to the north would be of British heritage and speak the English language. The military clash passed into the history books as the Battle of Bloody Marsh.

  • Directions: From Brunswick, cross F.J. Torras Causeway. Go left on Demere Road. Bloody Marsh Monument is located on the left after the Demere/Frederica intersection.
  • Activities: Historic touring, bird-watching, nature study.
  • Dates: Visitor center is open 7 days a week from 8–4.
  • Facilities: Park, exhibit shelter, audiotape.
  • Fees: None.
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