Darien History

Traveling along US 17, visitors who fail to explore this quiet town will pass by without the realization of its historical significance and role in Georgia's history.

Colonial Period

In 1720, 13 years before Savannah and the colony of Georgia were founded, John Barnwell, a successful planter from the Carolina colony, persuaded the British government to allow building of a fort on the Altamaha to defend Charles Town (Charleston) from the Spanish in Florida. Building began one year later and the fort became Fort King George, the southernmost outpost of the British empire in North America at the time. After seven years, the garrison of the fort was withdrawn to Port Royal, over 140 soldiers died of sickness, and the fort was abandoned. Its remains constitute the oldest fort on the Georgia coast.

The Spanish threat to British colonies continued on the Southern coast, and in 1733 James Oglethorpe founded the town of Savannah and the colony of Georgia. Three years later, 177 Scottish Highlanders arrived at Barnwell's Bluff on the Prince of Wales and the town of Darien (originally known as New Inverness) was born. Named for the Darien Scheme, a former Scottish colony in Panama, Darien was laid out in accordance with the now-famous Oglethorpe Plan. Recruited by Oglethorpe, the Scottish settler-soldiers of Darien protected the frontiers of Georgia from not only the Spanish in Florida, but also the French in the Alabama basin and the Indian allies of each colonial enterprise.

Despite the continuing Spanish threat, the arrival of the Scots flourished in the southern Georgia coastal areas of Darien and nearby Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, also established by Darien natives in 1736. War between Britain and Spain was formally declared in 1739. Oglethorpe summoned the Highlanders of Darien to assist in the defense of Fort Frederica during the attack of 1742, and they distinguished themselves in the Battle of the Bloody Marsh. The British victory would be the end of the Spanish threat to the English colonies in America.

In the peace following, the Scots built the thriving community of Darien. Lands were cleared for prosperous plantations and the colony was divided into parishes, with Darien being part of the St. Andrews Parish. The Revolutionary War wrote the name McIntosh in American history, as General Lachlan McIntosh commanded the first Georgia militia. His brothers William and John were also officers for the Patriot's cause. Lachlan McIntosh is best known for his duel fought with Button Gwinnett, signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also president of the Revolutionary Government of Georgia, a battle between men reflecting the times and Scottish clan structure of Darien. Gwinnett died of his wounds and McIntosh was sent north as a brigadier general to fight against the British.

The new state of Georgia, following the Revolution, was reorganized into counties, most of which were named for Revolutionary heroes. St. Andrews Parish became part of Liberty County, and in 1793, McIntosh County was split off from Liberty County and renamed after its most famous family. The county government seat was established at Sapelo Main (now Eulonia) and court was held in the home of John Houston McIntosh until a new courthouse could be built.

Civil War and After

The Altamaha River became the Highway for great rafts of pine, oak and cypress, and plantations produced cotton, rice, and indigo for world markets, making this a time of great prosperity for Darien. This growth of economic life in McIntosh County brought the seat from Eulonia to Darien in 1819, however during this same decade a few years early, a great fire ravaged the town in 1813 and a disastrous hurricane came a year later. The most severe threat to Darien, however, came in the year 1863 when the Union troops attacked from St. Simons and burned virtually every building down in Darien.

Following the Civil War, Darien was rebuilt with the financial aid coming in small part from the family of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who had been killed in the War but had written his family of his shame in participating in the destruction of Darien. The town was fully recovered when the era of lumbering reached its peak after the war, and Darien became one of the largest Southeastern ports of the 1890's. By 1900, the depletion of the forests brought the boom to an end. Darien was now a fishing village, known primarily for its Georgia wild shrimp and oysters.

In the 21st century, Darien has continued to grow as US 17 pushed south in the 1920's. With the formation of the Interstate Highway System, Interstate 95 was constructed and passes six miles west of the city, resulting in the growth of businesses and residents away from the city center. Today, downtown Darien has continued to flourish with an emphasis on its historic heritage and the waterfront views. While much of the physical evidence of this colorful history is no longer present, the beauty of the countryside remains and businesses continue to open, reclaiming the charming and inviting downtown.