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Reading 2: War and Decline
While the colonists were building a new life in Frederica, Spain saw the Georgia settlement as a threat to its interests in Florida. In 1737 General Oglethorpe returned to England to raise additional troops for the war that he felt was inevitable. A year later he returned to Georgia at the head of a 640-man regiment of British regulars known as the 42nd Regiment of Foot. The regiment was formed from a few hundred troops from Gibraltar, most of the privates of a 25th Foot standing regiment known as the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, and a company of grenadiers. The grenadiers were considered the elite troops of the regiment. They carried grenades and were picked for their special skills in combat. Oglethorpe garrisoned these fresh troops at Frederica and at Fort St. Simons, a fort built on the south end of the island in 1738.
By 1739 Oglethorpe knew war was close at hand. Sea battles broke out between Britain and Spain over the slave trade. Fighting raged over the Caribbean and up the Georgia coast to Frederica. Expecting a Spanish attack, Oglethorpe ordered Fredericas population to stay within the high walls of the town. Not one to wait passively for the enemy to strike, the aggressive Oglethorpe set out, aided by troops and seamen from South Carolina, to capture St. Augustine, Florida early in 1740. He laid siege to the Spanish town but could not breach the towns extensive defenses and stone fort. By midsummer, his plans all awry, the frustrated Oglethorpe was back in Frederica. The initiative now passed to the Spanish. Collecting 52 ships and an army of more than 2,000 soldiers and sailors in 1742, they descended on Oglethorpe at Fort St. Simons. The resolute general rounded up Indians--the local Yamacraws and Creeks--and local militia to fight with his regulars. Altogether, he managed to arm about 900 men, but he faced twice that number.
The Spanish opponent was Manuel de Montiano, governor of Florida. His objective was of a punitive nature, to destroy Frederica and lay waste the coast as far north as Port Royal, South Carolina. After capturing that town, he planned to strike at the English plantation system by freeing the slaves in the surrounding countryside. In early July his ships ran past the guns of Fort St. Simons and landed troops a few miles up the inland passage. Outflanked, Oglethorpe pulled back to Frederica. On July 7 about 200 Spanish soldiers advanced up the military road connecting the two forts. Oglethorpe routed this column with a fierce attack. When Montiano learned of this repulse, he sent several hundred of his best men forward to cover the retreat. Several miles along the road these troops ran into a British ambush. That battle became known as "Bloody Marsh," because the marsh was said to run red with the blood of the dead and wounded. This British rout of the Spanish forces ended the final Spanish threat to Georgia. Oglethorpe proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for this deliverance.
Born of impending war, Frederica expired with the coming of peace. After one more foray against Spanish Florida in 1743, Oglethorpe sailed away to England for the last time. His regiment was disbanded in 1749. Without the money brought in by the several hundred soldiers stationed at the fort, the shopkeepers and tradesmen, and the town itself, could not prosper. By 1755 Frederica presented a picture, as a visitor put it, of "houses without inhabitants, barracks without soldiers, guns without carriages, and streets overgrown with weeds." Though the town survived for a few years longer, even withstanding a fire in 1758, it had outlived its purpose and soon fell into ruin.
Questions for Reading 2
1. Why would Spain have felt threatened by the Georgia settlement?
2. How did Oglethorpe amass his army? How was this army successful in defeating the Spanish at Bloody Marsh? What might be the reasons a force of 900 could rout a trained army of more than 2,000?
3. Why was the defeat of the Spanish so important to the British?
4. Why was Frederica deserted after peace was achieved?
5. Although it was short-lived, do you think Fort Frederica and the adjoining town served a vital purpose in the development of the English colonial system? Justify your answer.
Reading 2 compiled from Nancy Aiken, "Fort Frederica National Monument" (Glynn County, Georgia) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974; and the National Park Services visitors guide for Fort Frederica National Monument, 1992.