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Native Americans

The story of Wormsloe revolves around the history of the land that it encompasses. Located on the Isle of Hope near Savannah, it is near a number of coastal islands such as Skidaway, surrounded by saltwater marsh and lies along the intracoastal waterway that provides sheltered sea travel along the coast of Georgia. It is this location, for travel and communication, fishing and hunting, which gives intrinsic value to the place that would become Wormsloe.

Prior to European contact, Native Americans used the area in a transitory fashion. They were probably Creek, one major branch of Muscogean Indians, and by the time of English colonization, belonged to Yuchi or Yamacraw groups. Earlier evidence indicates their presence along rivers, coastal areas and nearby islands, probably occupying small villages temporarily to take advantage of seasonal crops, both cultivated and wild, as well as the rich harvesting of coastal waters. Numerous oyster shell middens in the close environs of Wormsloe give testimony to long use of the area by native inhabitants.

Of course Native American populations were small from the beginning. These Eastern Woodlands Americans were seasonal nomads, living in small villages which were allied to other villages. Small groups thus allied formed clans, which, in turn, allied together as tribes. Their political organization was decentralized, local villages generally selecting their own leaders from among themselves. This leader, or Mico (Miko, Mingo), was leader because of his wisdom and deeds. He might even share leadership with a "Red Mico," or special war leader, at times. He consulted other important members of the village when making decisions and did not hold his position automatically. Such governing and leadership practices were similar to the ones Americans would adopt later when organizing against European rule.



Tomochichi
(Georgia Historical Society)

 

Initial contact with native peoples at Savannah's settling was the beginning of a time of good relations with the areas Indians. The village at Yamacraw Bluff with Tomochichi as Mico, along with the help of interpreter, Mary Musgrove, were treated fairly and respectfully James Oglethorpe, leader of the first Georgia colonization. Generally peaceful relations prevailed until the end of first the Spanish threat and in 1763, the French. Following that period native Americans were no longer courted as potential allies against other Europeans by the English. Further, they usually maintained minimal contact with the ever-growing numbers of English colonists. Native American population in the area steadily declined as European/American contact increased. While some left because of warfare, most simply moved away toward the interior. In addition, exposure to European disease took a terrible toll on their numbers, as well.

Colonial Georgia

Arriving late upon the stage of New World colonization, the British faced Spanish and French competition from the beginning. By 1732 the South Carolina colony marked the southern boundary of British America. Spanish to the south and French to the south and west posed constant threats to the wealth of Carolina. Raids by native allies and the threat of French and Spanish expansion supported the call for an additional colony. Strong economic motives fostered by the belief that wine, silk and indigo industries could prosper as well as the need for a growing landless English population to relocate were also factors. In 1732 King George II granted a charter to 21 Trustees to organize a new colony, Georgia.

 

 

Oglethorpe
(National Portrait
Gallery, London)
The Trustees chose as their representative James Edward Oglethorpe and began creating rules for the new colony. Transportation, land, tools and supplies would be provided for 114 individuals comprised of 35 families. They would serve as agricultural experimenters as well as a colonial militia to guard the British frontier. No slavery or alcohol was to be permitted. In 1733 after a brief stop at Charleston, the Anne anchored off the high bluff of the Savannah River. Arriving February 12, the settlers were faced with winter as they began building shelter and clearing land for spring planting. Fortunately, Oglethorpe and the local Yamacraw Mico, Tomochichi, became friends, the native population helping the new arrivals. Nonetheless, a number of them died of sickness and others left for South Carolina.

Over the next few years the experimental agriculture including wine, silk and indigo proved unrealistic. So, too, did the small villages and outlying fields of English farming. After the defeat of the Spanish in 1742, more and more colonists acquired large tracts of land devoted to plantation agriculture. Rice became a prominent crop along the coastal areas of Georgia, and with it, a change in law to allow slavery to provide the labor. Within forty-three years, the colony of Georgia would seek independence from England with her twelve other American colonies.

Wormsloe and Noble Jones

The development of the Georgia colony parallels the life of one of the original colonists, Noble Jones, who arrived with his wife, son and daughter aboard the Anne in 1733. Jones was an example of the colonial ability to perform many tasks and, from the beginning, was given a great deal of responsibility by his friend, Oglethorpe. Jones was appointed constable as well as having been identified as a carpenter on the ship's passenger list. Colonists were frequently called upon to perform many different jobs and soon, "surveyor" was added to Jones' tasks. The death of the colony's physician within the first year of the settlement led to Jones' assumption of that important job, as well.

The tedious rules for survey as well as the responsibility of measuring all of the colony's lands led to some criticism of Jones. Nonetheless, he continued to hold the confidence of both Oglethorpe and the Trustees. Despite the demands of travel, small recompense and complaints of colonists, Jones assumed the additional roles of agent for Tomochichi and his people and ranger for the colony, a combination of forester and soldier.

 

 

As all colonists, Jones received a town lot in Savannah and land. By 1736 he requested and received the lease of 500 acres on the Isle of Hope, about ten miles south of Savannah. He dug a well and began construction of a fortified house facing the Skidaway Narrows on the land he called "Wormslow." The location was a busy one as ships traveling between Savannah and Frederica would wait for the tides to change before proceeding to and from Savannah. Not only did Jones have an ideal position to monitor traffic and scout for danger, but he also carried messages. Jones service with Oglethorpe against the Spanish threat resulted in his accompanying the militia in an unsuccessful attempt to capture St. Augustine in 1740. He also commanded a company of marine boatmen stationed at Wormslow and charged with guarding the Narrow.

Despite his many duties, Noble Jones developed Wormslow as a working plantation, adding outbuildings and increasing planting as needed. His botanical interest resulted in the development and maintaining of experimental gardens that were a local attraction. The century plant with a twenty-seven foot blossom was noted by the local newspaper in 1756 and Wormsloe was, doubtless, the plantation near Bethesda written of by John and William Bartram in 1765. They noted unusual fruits such as pomegranates, oranges, figs, peaches and apricots among the many plants.

In 1752 when Georgia became a Royal Colony, Jones received a Royal Grant for his Wormsloe holdings. His support of the crown continued as he served on the Governor's Council, as Chief Justice, a Commander of the Militia and Treasurer of the Colony. His loyalty to the King continued despite his son's ardent support of the Patriots as the Revolution neared. Noble Jones' death in 1775 saved his family from the open conflict that marked so many Georgia families when the Revolution began in earnest. His death was probably the last of the original colonists who had arrived aboard the Anne some forty-two years before.

With Jones death, his son, Noble Wimberly, assumed the family's leadership role in Georgia. That position has been maintained by succeeding generations of the family. Descendants of the original family still reside at this site and are actively involved in heritage preservation at Wormsloe. The family's continued participation in civic and community affairs is a valuable contribution today, as in the past.

 

 

 


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