by Guery Norwood
Neptune Park, located between the village and lighthouse, is St. Simons’s most popular park, where visitors can picnic, take a trolley tour of the island, fish off the pier, stroll on the pathway, or relax on a bench. Here visitors may listen to the cackling of iridescent boat-tailed grackles in the live oak canopies, or the screech of begging seagulls, or the noble silence of brown pelicans perched on the pier. One might want to examine finned trophies that lie gasping in buckets, if local fishermen have been lucky angling the deep currents that flow past the pier. The beach is best explored at low tide, when one might find whelks, horseshoe crabs, and sand dollars. The park’s name is not in honor of Neptune, the god of sea, but Neptune Small, a slave that belonged to the Thomas Butler King family of Retreat Plantation, today the site of Sea Island Golf Course. During the Civil War, Small accompanied one of the Kings’ sons, who was killed during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Small retrieved the body from the battleground and bore it back to Savannah under very difficult circumstances. The family buried the son at Christ Church, and Small chose to return to Virginia to accompany another son for the rest of the bloody conflict. After the war, Small was given a plot of land on the plantation, located at the park, and he continued to work for the King family as a free man. When he died in 1907, he was buried in a small graveyard on Retreat Plantation.