Fort King George

     Settled by the English in 1670, Charleston was in no small part established to protect Virginia from the Spanish in St. Augustine, Florida.  Growing into a colony in its own right, South Carolina also sought protection by a southern expansion.  The Spanish had made their own attempts to settle land north of St. Augustine, but these efforts failed.  The Spanish established missions among the natives, but a rebellion in the 1660s eliminated these.  As a result, the English saw the area as "Debatable Land".  The English colonists in the Carolinas were concerned not only with potential Spanish expansion northward into this "Debatable Land" but also with potential French expansion east from Ft. Toulouse in modern Alabama.  The French could use the Atlantic coast as a link to their interior colonies using eastward flowing rivers.  The French had previous attempted settlements in the region.   

     Col. John Barnwell, a man who had gained a good reputation from fighting Indians, was selected to lead a company of troops under South Carolina pay, 108 men, mainly British invalids from the War of Spanish Succession, south to the Altamaha River to build a fort.  The men had scurvy by the time they reached South Carolina, and they only reached the fort in early 1722.  So when Barnwell arrived on July 12, 1721 at the Darien River, he had the Coastal Scouts, many of them reformed pirates, to begin erecting a fort there made of earth and wood.  The wood was cypress from the swamps.  Being naturally insubordinate and in a very unhealthy environment, the men were on the border of mutiny until they were paid more.  A drunken Coastal even dropped the Colonel in the water, forcing him to spend the night wet and at least in his mind causing him to get sick.  A number of the men would die at the post before a fire in 1727 destroyed the fort.  Barnwell had recommended that Fort King George be moved to St. Simon's Island a few miles to the south.

     In 1724 a Spanish delegation ad arrived to protest the settlement, to no avail, but criticized for its unhealthy location, the fort was abandoned after the fire except for two lookouts.  South Carolina lost interest in the area, but in Britain interest remained.  A few years later, James Oglethorpe led another attempt, this time fortifying St Simon's Island, including Fort Frederica.   

     In the 1990s the fort was reconstructed.  Originally built on the outer end of an oxbow, the site allows for firing up and down  the river in both directions while forcing the naval force to approach head-on rather than broadside.  Unfortunately the outer end of an oxbow tends to get eroded by the river, but in this case the river has been channelized, perhaps saving the site.

A wooden blockhouse is the most prominent feature of the fort, overlooking and supporting the land-facing wall.  With Back Creek joining the Darien River here, two of the three sides of the fort required minimal protection.

On the landward face, an earthen wall was fronted by a palisade and a ditch.  Sentry posts are at the salient angles, and three can be seen here.

      The blockhouse overlooks the bastion and the gate, an area protected by additional palisades.  On the left of the above panorama, you can see a sentry post at the northeastern end of the landward facing wall.  The sentry post at right is at the tip of the salient, and between it and the blockhouse in the distance is a sentry post at the other end of the land-facing wall. 

Entering the fort, we go to the salient angle of the bastion.  From the sentry post here you can see sentry posts on both side of the landward facing wall.  You can also see the firestep which allows infantry to load in safety before stepping up to fire.

The blockhouse in the center of the bastion supports the bastion and can enfilade the ditch along the wall.  The blockhouse is three stories high with storage for ammunition and food below and fighting positions on the top two stories, with cannon on the second floor.  Above the third floor are openings on either end for lookouts.  The blockhouse was completed by the fall of 1721 from cypress obtained 3 miles away.  


View from the blockhouse

From below you can see firing ports on the second floor for cannon and small arms.  The third floor has small arms firing ports, but it also overhangs, allowing for firing ports through the floor.  You can see theses cutaways in the floor.

Food and ammunition were on bottom floor

Armed with two cannon and equipped with small arms firing ports, the second floor was accessed by ladder, not stairs as in the reconstruction.


In both of the photos above you can see the firing ports - both out and down.  Above this level were two lookout positions.  Stairs and a walkway have been built for the convenience of visitors.

A simple palisade protected the approach from the creek.  Originally the river defenses were simply fascines, or tied up brush.

The defenses facing the river required less in the way of  obstacles, but cannon were needed to dominate the river approaches.  Small vessels patrolled the local waterways, but Col. Barnwell was not impressed by the men assigned the task.

Originally the men made do with tents and huts, but later on barracks were built.


One hundred forty men died at the fort, and among them was Col. Barnwell himself.  A number of graves were discovered during archaeological studies and were properly marked.

In the early 1800s a tidal sawmill operated next to the site of the fort.

In the 1730s, under James Oglethorpe, a Scottish settlement called Darien was made just outside the fort.  A few miles south, on St. Simon's Island Fort Frederica was established.

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