Fort Frederica National Monument St. Simons Island, Ga. Visited: February 2, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 142 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? James Oglethorpe, leader and founder of the Georgia colony, began construction of Frederica Town in 1736. It was the southernmost outpost under British rule. Today, only the ruins remain.
BEAUTY (4/10) Fort Frederica must have once been a beautiful little town with its wide streets, live oaks, orange trees, a tabby (oyster shell) fort and Georgia-style architecture red brick structures. Little remains of the town today except portions of the fort and the base of the old houses. Oglethorpe built Fort Frederica on a planned square grid of roads that the Park Service still marks with street signs. You need to use your imagination to transform the house shell ruins and overrun old streets into a vital English city.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) James Oglethorpe settled Georgia, and Fort Frederica, with the “worthy poor”, or English citizens who had found themselves homeless or in debtor’s prison. Frederica was both a bustling town and the southernmost British defense line in the American colonies. Its primary purpose was military.
As we learned at the Castillo de San Marcos NM in St. Augustine, Oglethorpe launched many attacks from 1740 to 1743 on the Spanish colony from Fort Frederica, none of them successful. One of his sneak attacks was stymied at Fort Matanzas, an NPS site just south of St. Augustine. In turn, the Spanish invaded Georgia in 1742 but were repelled at Bloody Marsh, an adjunct section of the Park near the southern tip of St. Simons Island.
CROWDS (4/10) We were the only visitors to Fort Frederica NM. The Visitor Center was stuffy; the watchful eye of the volunteer unwavering. Perhaps more visitors would have lightened the mood and made us less claustrophobic.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) The Site is 12 miles from Interstate 95 and Brunswick, Georgia. Fort Frederica is located on St. Simons Island. The Island can only be reached via the E.J. Torras Causeway.
U.S. Route 17 leads to the bridge’s entrance. Route 17 is known by many names its short loop around Brunswick. They include Georgia Route 25, Glynn Avenue, the Ocean Highway, the Jekyll Island Road and the Darien Highway. Just follow signs to St. Simons Island.
St. Simons Island’s roads are narrow, crowded and have a low speed limit. They are also very well marked. Many signs point you on you way to Fort Frederica NM.
The 12 miles from the Interstate to the Fort could take as long as forty-five minutes to traverse.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) Georgia is the one thing books at Fort Frederica have in common. This small store maintained by a local non-profit association offers journals and replicas of official documents from the colony’s early days. If those seem a little dry, pick up books describing Fort Mose, a Spanish fortification armed solely by escaped slaves or read social histories or Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia. St. Simons Island and the nearby town of Brunswick are settings for several titles, including Eugenia Price’s historical novels.
COSTS (3/5) Entrance is $5 per vehicle.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) No Rangers on duty. We are fortunate that, earlier that week, we had asked a Ranger at the Castillo de San Marcos NM about Fort Frederica’s place in the American story.
TOURS/CLASSES (4/10) We have the distinction of being two of the last people to view This is Frederica, an intriguing NPS video starring John Ireland. Remember the soap Santa Barbara? This Is Frederica is essentially a soap opera set among the ruins of the town of Frederica. Actors dressed in colonial garb sporting an array of accents go about their daily chores, interact and recount the history of the 18th-century town in buildings without walls or doors. This makes scenes with bickering neighbors and constables “knocking” on doors even funnier.
Yes, the 1965 film was horribly dated and difficult to follow. Yes, the narrative technique bordered on ridiculous, with Mr. Ireland switching from omniscient observer to active participant with no regard for chronology or linear narrative. We did not learn much, but my goodness the film was fun to watch.
We arrived just days before Fort Frederica NM would unveil their brand new video as part of a celebratory anniversary weekend. Will future visitors ever know This Is Frederica?
There is a small exhibit area in the Visitor Center. It pales in comparison to watching the ”uppity wives of the worthy poor” preen and gossip amid the ruins of Frederica. No Ranger-led activities are offered in the winter months.
FUN (5/10) It is really impossible to explain how wonderful/horrible This Is Frederica was. Our guffaws echoed in the empty theatre. This film will probably reach mythical proportions in our minds before our trip is over.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10) The absence of regular Ranger-led activities makes it difficult to recommend this Site. Its historical significance is minimal; access is not as easy as it should be. With the lovely towns of Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida so close in either direction, you might stop here en route between them. No need to go out of your way.
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