Being a native Floridian is something I have always felt equal amounts of pride and trepidation about because the geography and history of the state (we were occupied by France, Spain and England), itself implies that my heritage should resemble vegetable soup – a little of this and a little of that with a dash of whatever.
If you have read any of my Florida road trip series, you know that Florida was pretty much a dumping ground during the Civil War and that although a couple of significant battles were fought here, mostly it is where deserters, slaves and an assortment of ‘conscientious objectors’ fled to escape the war. I have always assumed that my ancestors were probably among them. While that may still be partly true, my story appears to have begun much earlier. My daughter, tired of hearing that she is a purebred on one side and a mutt on the other, gifted me with a DNA kit, and firm instructions to spit! It is as easy as that.
Results from the test arrived via my email inbox in about three weeks. Drum roll please…..As it turns out, I am 79% English and 16% Scottish. What? No way!
No American Indian, no Spanish, no French and not a sliver of German, as family members have contended for years. I’m English! Ha, not a mutt after all.
The neat thing about the Ancestry report that I received is that it pinpoints not only where my ancestors came from in Europe but where they likely settled in the new world sometime during the 1700’s. My DNA matches show that my ancestors settled along the Carolina Coast, down through Georgia and into Florida. Hmmm…English, Scottish with origins dating back to the 1700’s. A quick look at history reveals that there were several English/Scottish settlements along that coast during that time.
As fate would have it, Malcolm and I had a trip scheduled to Jekyll Island, GA in early February, which was just a few weeks after my DNA results arrived. We love the region and have visited there many times, but this time it took on a whole new meaning. Just across the bridge from Jekyll Island is St. Simons Island, where in 1733 General James Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica named for the Prince of Wales, Frederick Louis (1702-1754).
Hmmm…connecting the dots. My ancestors were 95% English/Scottish and there was an English/Scottish settlement on St. Simons Island. My DNA matches have a high concentration in this region. So, for lack of collaborating or disputing evidence, I am going to contend that I have found my people and that is that!
My brother and his wife joined us at Jekyll for a few days, and after hearing of my ancestry results we decided to visit the place that could very likely be our family’s hallowed ground. Our day at Fort Frederica was educational and fun, as we posed with the British flag and paid homage to ‘our people.’
There are several accounts of how Fort Frederica was settled. Below is my very brief summary of a whole lot of history that can be learned when you visit this historic site.
Georgia was considered ‘disputable ground’ since the English held South Carolina and the Spanish held Florida. England decided to claim the territory and initiate a grand experiment, under the leadership of General James Oglethorpe. The plan was to build a Utopian Society, of sorts, comprised of people from all walks of life. Each person would have a purpose and fulfill a need to the society ensuring self sufficiency for this ‘slave free’ settlement.
A disputable account of who the original settlers were, is that they were families released from ‘debtors prisons’ in England and given passage to the new settlement. Records show that approximately eleven families did fit that description, however, it is widely believed that Oglethorpe hand picked most of the early colonists based on their ability to provide a specific service or contribution. The settlement, which is easily distinguished from the ruins, was perfectly laid out on a grid (much like English villages), with a wide center street and neat rows of homes and businesses. A Garrison on the bay provided protection for the colony.
Although Oglethorpe tried for the better part of ten years, the colony never materialize as the economic and social success that he had dreamed of. Not all was lost, since Fort Fredrica proved to be an excellent stronghold for England and after a nine year battle with the Spanish, the British Crown successfully claimed the remaining territories in the region.
From a genuine English settlement to a historic lighthouse to majestic Spanish Oaks, St. Simons Island is rich in history and picturesque landscapes. Yep, that’s Malcolm looking about the size of an ant at the base of a three hundred year old oak tree.
In addition to historic St. Simons Island, this entire region is dotted with unique barrier islands that draw history buffs and photographers from across the globe. The photos below are from Jekyll Island and Sapelo Island respectively. While we prefer staying at Jekyll Island, (which we wrote about here), St. Simons is also a great base for island hopping. Sapelo, which is well worth the effort, can be reached by a short ferry ride from Darien, GA.
While I may never know for sure that I have a legitimate connection to coastal Georgia, I do have a lot of dots that seem to connect; possibly because I want them to. It is fun to imagine that my British/Scottish ancestors might have been candle makers, blacksmiths, pub owners or clergymen looking for a new life in a brave new world; or maybe they were just trying to get out of jail free! Who knows for sure. What I do know is that this place draws me back time and again. From I95 the car turns East and I see endless vistas of salt marsh, compelling me toward the barren shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the kind of peace that has no words.
Note: My experience with Ancestry.com is based entirely on the basic DNA results which are given with the price of the kit. I did not take the offer to subscribe to the complete program, but that is still an option should I wish to take my ancestry quest further.
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