A Brief History of the Altamaha Region
A Brief History of the Altamaha Region - by Charlie Ford
There was a time when no one walked these lands or drank from these streams.
Humans first arrived in Georgia's the coastal plain in 9500 Be. Descendants of those early inhabitants formed tribes that grew into the civilizations the Spanish met here in the 1400s.
The powers of Europe began establishing settlements in the "new-world" between 1350 and 1540, but explorers passed this particular section of coast several times before landing. They stopped in the Carolinas and what is now Florida, but didn't see much use in dropping anchor amongst Georgia's swamps and barrier islands.
Hernando de Soto was the first European to travel through the state on his ultimately fruitless rampage from Florida, up to the Carolinas, and back southward to Alabama. He never found the gold he sought, but in his wake he left European diseases, which virtually decimated the native tribes. Many natives survived battles with DeSoto's army only to perish of imported diseases.
The Spanish returned in the early 1500's with the more peaceful intention to convert native tribes to Christianity. Spaniard Pedro Menendez is credited with eventually befriending the indigenous tribes and building fofts, or "presidios," in south Georgia.
The land between the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, sometimes called "Tama," is reported to have once been home to a Spanish mission between 1610 and 1640, and became a colonial-era trading post in the 1700s. The mission, Santa Isabel de Utinahica, was probably built of pine poles with a roof of palmetto.
As English settlements encroached southward, the Spanish were driven from the area little by little. Many of the missions were burned to the ground in the early 1700s. The royal colonists established an arms-length relationship with indigenous tribes.
The owner of the Tama trading post, Mary Musgrove, was the first interpreter between the Creek tribe and British Governor James Oglethorpe. Although she was very instrumental in Georgia's founding, Musgrove was also an antagonist of sorts. She led a native uprising against the English that quickly came to a peaceful end. The Tama granted to her and her third husband at the start of the Altamaha River was given to appease her.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, pioneers used the Altamaha to explore and settle middle Georgia. There the settlers built farms and raised families. The feftile soil of this new land provided settlers the oppoftunity to grow rice, cotton, and indigo, which was shipped downriver and on to England. At one time barges were a regular site along the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Altamaha.
Agriculture and trade survived the Revolutionary War, but the region's slavery-dependent economy collapsed in the wake of the Civil War. By the early 1900s there were few commodities on earth more valuable than yellow-pine timber from the heart of Georgia. Huge rafts were assembled from cut logs and guided by locals along the Altamaha to Jesup, and eventually on to Darien. Those rafts ferried away the last of the region's indigenous virgin timber, improving the economy but significantly altering the environment. Today, slash pines in neatly planted rows have replaced many wild pine forests.
The Altamaha River looked much different in its natural state, with no dams, bridges, or industry. But there remain stretches that appear as they must have centuries ago.
Successive civilizations have harnessed the river's power and admired its beauty. The area's earliest inhabitants relied on the river for transpoftation and food, for colonists and Antebellum Southerners it was a vital trade link, and today recreational boats ply its watersamong them canoes not unlike those paddled by Native Americans centuries before .