A jewel of the Golden Isles, Georgia's historic St. Simons Island is the setting for an array of historic sites touching every era of Georgia history.
Native Americans who called themselves the Guale lived on the island when Spanish explorers and missionaries arrived during the 1500s. St. Simons offered land that could be farmed to produce food and this led to the establishment of missions on the island. Efforts to convert the Guale to Christianity continued for many years, despite revolts and other disasters.
In 1733 the island became a focal point of James Oglethorpe's successful effort to establish an English colony in Georgia. The famed general built Fort Frederica and Fort St. Simons there to serve as a defensive bulwark to protect his fledgling capital of Savannah.
With the outbreak of the War of Jenkins' Ear, Oglethorpe used St. Simons Island as a base for his campaigns against the Spanish in Florida. His attacks on St. Augustine failed and in 1742 the Spanish retaliated. Fort St. Simons was captured, but the British won victories at Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh to successfully defend Fort Frederica.
Oglethorpe's victories on St. Simons assured British control of Georgia and opened the door for the modern development of the state. John and Charles Wesley preached to the early settlers and their legacy survives today in the form of Christ Church near Fort Frederica.
Although Oglethorpe's town of Frederica faded when the British military finally left the island, St. Simons remained occupied by planters and settlers who opened fields and used slave labor to cultivate sea island cotton and other crops. A lighthouse was built on the former site of Fort St. Simons to guide ships into the new harbor at nearby Brunswick.
Confederate troops planted artillery and built a new fort at the lighthouse during the Civil War, but withdrew from the exposed position before it could be attacked. Confederate and Union veterans now rest side by side at the Christ Church Cemetery.
The ghosts of the past can be felt everywhere on St. Simons Island, but according to some a real ghost or two rise there as well. The best known of these is the ghost of the St. Simons Lighthouse. Said to be the restless spirit of a former light keeper, the ghost has been reported since the late 19th century.