Calling this site 'Fort Frederica' is a bit of a misnomer...it is so much more. Prior to my visit, based on the few pictures I found, I assumed I would find a few old ruins associated with the fort but little else. How wrong I was! The fort at Fort Frederica was only a small (albeit important!) part of a line of defenses surrounding a settlement of impressive size and diversity...some 500 civilians called Frederica home at its height, along with some 650 soldiers. Though little does remain, the National Park Service has done a marvelous job of bringing the shadows of the past into the present in a very vivid way...Frederica enthralled and amazed me far beyond my initial expectations, it was a truly special place.
The history of Frederica and its fort began where the story of Fort King George, not far to the south, ended. After the sickly failure of that fort, a new location on St. Simon's Island was chosen as Great Britain's southern outpost in the newly minted Colony of Georgia. General James Oglethorpe, who founded the colony in 1733, decided upon a promising location along today's Frederica River for the site of a new settlement and fortification. Named for Frederick Lewis, Price of Wales, Frederica was established in 1736 and work quickly began on the fort itself and the defenses of the community which would be located alongside it. This military outpost was brilliant in location and impressive in design. The fort itself was to be located on a low bluff with a clear line of sight in either direction on a sharp bend in the river. Fully garrisoned, it would be home to some 650 British troops. The outposts defenses wouldn't be limited to the fort, however. To fully protect the settlement a six-foot high earthen wall, nearly a mile long, would encircle the community. Anchored by two large towers capable of housing 100 defenders each, the massive wall would be fronted by a moat which, in turn, was lined on each side by an eight-foot-high wooden palisade! Needless to say this was an impressive military outpost, and the Spanish knew it.
Spain soon decided such an outpost could not be allowed so close to their territorial claims in Florida and made plans to move against Frederica. Assembling a force comprised of troops from their colonies in Florida and Cuba, the Spanish landed on St. Simon's Island in 1742. General Oglethorpe assembled his men and moved out to meet the Spanish. A few miles south of Frederica the British and Spanish met in two skirmishes known as the Battles of Gully Hole Creek and (not-so) Bloody Marsh. A total of 19 Spanish were killed against 1 British (from heat exhaustion rather than bullets). Despite the relatively tame nature of the two fights it was enough to convince the Spanish to forgo further attempts at dislodging the British and Georgia thereafter remained firmly British.
With British sovereignty in the region secured the garrison at Fort Frederica was reduced in size over the successive years. Regardless, by the mid-1740's the town of Frederica was home to around 1,000 souls, an impressive settlement so far removed from civilization. It's prosperity was short-lived, however. In 1748, the war that had existed between Great Britain and Spain since 1739 ended. No longer in need of such a strong military presence along its southern frontier, the British Government disbanded the force garrisoned at Fort Frederica and the fortunes of the settlement, tied closely to the needs of the army stationed there, quickly fell into decline. By 1758 there were still a small number of hardy settlers calling Frederica home but then one final calamity, a disastrous fire, swept through what remained of the community. When the fire eventually died, the settlement of Frederica essentially did as well.
Fort Frederica National Monument was established in 1945 after years of growing interest in preserving the old site. Though nature had done its best to erase all remaining evidence of the fort and settlement some of the more weather-resistant structures built out of a type of cement known locally as 'tabby' either partially stood or had foundations still evident. The National Park Service since then has gone to great lengths to clear the old townsite, excavate foundations, mark historic toroughfares, and at least partially recreate some of the old earthen fortifications. What exists today is just a shadow of what once was but I think you'll agree, if you decide to stop by for a visit, that it is a fantastic monument to the people who once called this wilderness outpost home...