The Georgia Trust

2008 PLACES IN PERIL: Sunbury Historic Colonial Town Site

fragile archaeological site in danger of being bulldozed, looted and developed

The Story: Founded by the Puritans, the 1758-1864 archaeological site of Sunbury in Liberty County was once an important colonial port, trading regionally with Savannah and also with New England and the Caribbean colonies. Several important events occurred on this site:

  • The first Masonic meeting in Georgia was held at Fort Morris in Sunbury and presided over by General James Edward Oglethorpe in 1734.
  • The British used the town as a prisoner war camp for American officers captured during the Revolution, later abandoning the site in 1782 after burning most of it.
  • A notable Sunbury resident, Dr. Lyman Hall, was sent as a delegate from St. Johns Parish to the Second Continental Congress, and was later one of the three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence.
  • In 1864, the Sunbury Baptist Church was burned during Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea.”

At one time, this bustling seaport rivaled the port at nearby Savannah. Later abandoned, Sunbury is one of the few large colonial towns that has not been obliterated or buried under later development, although recent development and looters are gradually destroying it.

The Threat: Although the area has only been investigated enough so that the Georgia Historic Preservation Division and the National Park Service have determined it to be of national significance, it is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Adjacent Ft Morris is a state park but residential development and looting is destroying the town site itself; ten years ago one of the two known historic town cemeteries was partially bulldozed. The owner of a critical 40-acre tract agreed to donate it but died before changing his will.

The Solution: This is a high priority project for the Society for Georgia Archaeology, which has identified a six-point plan to encourage wider community involvement in preservation initiatives directed at Sunbury; create outreach and education campaigns; complete a National Register nomination working with the Georgia State Society-National Society Daughters of the American Colonists; develop a survey, mapping and mitigation strategy; develop a mitigation strategy for preservation-minded land owners; study the feasibility of a historic-greenway trail; and identify archaeologically rich areas for conservation by green space protection and/or acquisition.

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