St Catherines Island

Saint Catherines Island is 14,000 square acres in size, excluding the salt marches, and its soil is excellent for far­ming. Its forests contain mostly pine and oak trees. It is located four miles from the Liberty County mainland. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a bridge from the mainland to the island.

It was once the capitol of the Guale Indian kingdom which extended along the Atlantic seaboard from the lower Satilla River to the North Edisto River in South Carolina long before the European explorers reached North America. The kingdom was a well regulated federation of chiefdoms with a stable culture.

Spain, France, and England all sought to own the main­land and islands of Georgia. England and Spain waged war with each other for nearly 100 years over ownership of the land. A treaty between the two nations gave East Florida to Spain, and the Georgia mainland and islands to England.

The Guale Indian population of Saint Catherines Island, and on the mainland, was scattered and killed by the Spanish, French, and the English because the three peoples sought to impose on the Guale Indians a religion and culture no better than what they had, and which they did not want.

The Guale Indian culture and history finally lay buried under mounds of earth on the island, and would remain that way for more than a century. Saint Catherines Island became a part of the Creek Indian Nation.

An unbroken line of private owners of Saint Catherines Island was started by Mary Musgrove, the half-breed Creek Indian who was the official interpreter for James Edward Oglethorpe. She arranged a treaty of peace between the Creek Indians and Oglethorpe which gave the Trustees of Georgia all of the coastal land between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, with the exception of Ossabaw, Saint Catherines, and Sapelo islands. Mary Musgrove, and her aggres­sive and ambitious husband, Thomas Bosomworth, then sought to make Saint Catherines Island their own personal kingdom.

Mary Musgrove was born Princess Cousaponakeesa, daugh­ter of the sister of the Emperor Brim, Mico of the Creek Nation. Her father was an English trader at the village of Coweta, near Macon, Georgia, and site of the Charles Town Trading Post. She was given in marriage by Emperor Brim to John Musgrove as a pledge of friendship between the Creek Indians and the English. John Musgrove died and Mary Musgrove was married a second time. When the second husband died, she married Thomas Bosomworth.

It was Thomas Bosomworth who arranged the purchase of Ossabaw Island, Saint Catherines Island, and Sapelo Island from the Creek Indians. He then dispatched his brother, Abraham Bosomworth, to England to secure royal approval of his acquisitions.

Bosomworth and his wife then moved to Saint Catherines Island and established a home and plantation with slaves. She proclaimed herself a Creek Indian empress, an action which met with disapproval by the Creek Indians and the English.

There developed a grave threat of war between the Creek Indians and the English. When the Bosomworths came to Savannah, Georgia, the English put them in jail for the good of all concerned. Once out of jail, they departed on a good will tour of Creek Indian outposts to petition Indian chiefs for their approval of the acquisition of the three islands. The English sought to dissuade the Creek Indians from giving her their support and approval of the acquisitions.

The Bosomworths then sailed for England to seek royal approval of their purchase of the three islands, something Bosomworth's brother apparently had not been able to do. That was the general situation when the South Carolina people began arriving in the Midway District of Georgia in 1754. It was that year the Bosomworths sold a half-interest in the three islands to Isaac Levy, a London merchant.

English officials at first recognized Bosomworth's ownership of the three islands, and then withdrew the recognition when they learned that Levy had a half-interest in the islands. The English in 1758 0btained a grant from the Creek Indians of the three islands, and put Ossabaw Island and Sapelo Island up for sale, and granted Saint Catherines Island to the Bosom­worths. Levy continued for years trying to recoup funds he invested in the islands. He finally conceded defeat and accepted property in the West Indies for that which he lost in Georgia.

After Mary Bosomworth died, her husband advertised in the Savannah newspaper that Saint Catherines Island was for sale. Button Gwinnett, a Savannah merchant, bought the island on credit. He and his wife and their only child, a daugh­ter, moved into the Bosomworth home on Saint Catherines Island, acquired slaves, and started working the plantation abandoned by Bosomworth. Gwinnett could not keep up the payments and lost the island. It reverted to the ownership of Bosomworth.

Ownership of Saint Catherines Island after the Revolu­tionary War until the end of the nineteenth century was held, at least in part, by John McQueen, Henry Putnam, Nathan Brownson, Thomas Bourke, Alexander Rose, Antho­ny White, Owen Owens, David Johnson, and Ardanus Bourke. In 1800 the northern part of the island was owned by Jacob Waldburg, while the southern half was owned by David Johnson. Waldburg purchased the southern part of the island from Johnson, or his estate, in 1812.

Waldburg, or perhaps it was his son, shut down operations on Saint Catherines Island when the Civil War broke out and resided in Savannah, Georgia, until the war ended. He left most of his servants and field hands on the island to exist as best they could, reasoning that federal troops would not harm them. The first occupant of the northern part of Saint Catherines Island after the Civil War was Tunis G. Campbell. Waldburg, or his son, leased the southern part of the island to Northern investors. The Northern investors may have pur­chased the entire island in 1866, or the Walburg family may have sold it to the Rodrigues family.

Anna Rodrigues sold Saint Catherines Island to Jacob Rauers of Savannah, Georgia, in 1876. It was Rauers who constructed the De Soto Hotel in Savannah. Rauers con­structed a large home on the island and established one of the best game preserves in the nation. The U.S. Census for 1880 says that Rauers and his wife and three children were residing on Saint Catherines Island that year.

J.C. Wilson of Louisville, Georgia, was affiliated with Howard E. Coffin in National Air Transport, an early air passenger and freight service which became United Air Lines. It was Coffin who developed the first Hudson automobile in 1909. They and John A. Keys, a New York investor, formed a company in 1929, purchased Saint Catherines Island, and commenced plans to build a hotel and resort on the island like that Coffin had just built on Sea Island near Brunswick, Georgia. They renovated and built some small structures on the island before the stock market crash in October 1929 brought an end to their plans. Coffin died in 1937. Wilson left the company to Keys, who relinquished it to the Rauers estate near the end of 1937.

Edward John Noble (see Edward John Noble in the Appendix) purchased Saint Catherines Island in 1943. It became a part of the Edward John Noble Foundation. The island was still owned by the foundation when this book was written.

John Toby Woods became caretaker of Saint Catherines Island in 1929. He remained in the position until he retired in 1961 and was replaced by his son, John Toby Woods, Jr. Royce Hays became superintendent of the island for the Edward John Noble Foundation in 1975.

The Edward John Noble Foundation in 1972 agreed for the New York Zoological Society to establish a Wildlife Survival Center, and the American Museum of Natural History to do anthropological and archaeological research on Saint Catherines Island. Both of the groups were still involved in their work when this book was written.

There were 40 species of endangered animals in the Wild­life Survival Center on Saint Catherines Island by 1984, and the Saint Catherines Island Research Program, to which the Edward John Noble Foundation made grants, by that year had enabled nearly 100 scientists and advanced students to conduct research on various aspects of the natural and cultural history of the island.

The American Museum of Natural History commenced anthropological research on Saint Catherines Island in 1974 when David Hurst Thomas, then assistant curator of North American Archaeology, traveled to Saint Catherines Island to assess its anthropological and archaeological potential. That visit precipitated excavations of prehistoric and historic sites on the island. From that work came a precise history of Saint Catherines Island in one volume which existed be­fore only in scattered papers and volumes.

"The Anthropology of St. Catherines Island, 1, Natural and Cultural History, Volume 55: Part 2, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History" was published by the American Museum of Natural History in 1978. Its researchers and writers and their positions at the time were David Hurst Thomas, chairman and associate curator, Department of Anthropology, The American Mu­seum of Natural History; Grant D. Jones, chairman and associate professor, Department of Anthropology, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York; Roger S. Durham, curator, Robert Toombs House, Department of Natural Resources, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Division, and Clark Spencer Larsen, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The author of this book, and all of the people of Liberty County, owe David Hurst Thomas, curator of the Department of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, a great debt for providing us with a history of Saint Catherines Island.  



From "Sweet Land of Liberty, A History of Liberty County, Georgia" by Robert Long Groover; Appendix Number 1, Page(s) 115-116; Used by the permission of the Liberty County Commissioners Office






Mailing Address

Liberty County Historical Society
PO Box 982
Hinesville, GA  31310