Spanish Invasion of St. Simon's
In its failure, the 1740 expedition against St. Augustine accomplished the opposite of its intended purpose. Stirred up like a nest of enraged hornets, the Spanish began a two year process of assembling a force of ships and men capable of driving the English from the Southeast. Their first goal was to capture St. Simons on which sat Georgia's main outpost to the south, Fort Frederica. If they succeeded in capturing this stronghold and Georgia's leader, Oglethorpe, who resided on St. Simons most of the time, the rest of the colony would fall easily. South Carolina would be next.
The leaders of the two colonies knew some sort of retaliation for the failed expedition would be attempted and began making as much preparations as their meager finances would allow to counter it. The day they long-dreaded arrived on June 22nd, 1742. A Spanish fleet suddenly appeared off St. Simon's Island. The fleet had attacked British positions on Amelia and Cumberland Islands on its way up from St. Augustine.
Accounts of the ensuing invasion of St. Simons in some history books accuse the South Carolina governmentof dragging their feet in sending adequate and timely aid to help repel the Spanish. These accusations were based primarily on an accusation made by Oglethorpe in a letter he wrote after the enemy had been repulsed. Gleanings from the journals of the South Carolina Governor and Council and the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly and day-by-day reports from the South Carolina Gazette's weekly issues refute this charge as well as provide a good thumbnail chronology of the historic encounter.
Two letters written to the South Carolina government by Major Alexander Heron, one of Oglethorpe's officers, and recorded in the July 4, 1742 session of the Governor and Council Journal, give a vivid picture of the battle zone's rampant confusion. One letter was written early in the day; the other that same evening
|His Honor the Lieut. Govr. produced several Letters he had just now received from Georgia giving an Account of the Spaniards having made an Incursion on that Colony.|
Camp at St. Simons 25th June 1742 Vizt
obedient and humble Servt.
June 25th. 8 o'clock at night
Your very humble Servant
N. B. There is another Boat returned with 52 men & only one killed and one wounded
|The South Carolina Gazette's June 28-July 4 issue reported that on June 26th, the number of Spanish vessels off St. Simon's had increased to thirteen, and row boats were observed landing 900 to 1000 men on Cumberland Island. In a letter read in the July 4th session, Oglethorpe apprised the Council of the urgency of the situation and of the consequence to Georgia and the Carolinas if the invaders were not repelled.|
Pursuant to the advices I gave you the Spaniards are come up. They attempted Fort William on Cumberland but were repulsed by Captn. Dunbar who commanded there in the Schooner and Fort. They then run in at St. Andrews sound with 11 Sail. I myself with two Boats broke my way thro' them and put a reinforcement of Provisions and Men into Fort William and left a Boat there being supported by Major Heron who was upon the land on Jekyl but he cold not follow me with three Boats that were with him so supported us by land. The engagement was very hot. How many the Spaniards have lost we know not. But we have not lost one man and I returned to this place from Fort William by Sea.
They landed this morning on Cumberland. If we had two 20 Gun Ships they would be all prisoners there since as long as we keep Fort William they can have no succour from St. Augustine. We must decide it very soon. I have lined this River with what Craft and Men I have. If we should be defeated and they take Fort William and Frederica I know nothing can stop them on this side of Virginia for they certainly have a correspondence with the Negroes and they have a very large body of Men and fine Craft with good Guns. I am Sir
Your humble Servant
N. B. Major Heron seeing nothing but Fire and Smoke round us thought we were lost and upon that wrote you.
|Immediately upon receiving first word of the Spanish assault
on St. Simon's, the South Carolina government began assembling assistance. The most urgent
needs were ships and men. The king's four men-of-war on the Carolina station, which were
not under direct control of the province, were to go to Georgia's aid. In fact, the
Flamborough had already headed down that way. Other than South Carolina's two new half-
gallies, the Beaufort, which had left earlier in company with the Flamborough, and the
Charles Town, which was still in the process of being fitted out, South Carolina had only
the brig Carolina, a recently captured Spanish snow Juan Batista, and the Ranger, a
schooner under hire. Providing adequate men on short notice to go on the vessels would
In addition, an embargo was immediately placed on all mercantile shipping within the colony's several ports and harbors, and a letter written asking the commander of His Majesty's men-of-war on the Virginia station to send ships.
On July 5th, 32 Spanish vessels sailed into the harbor. After a heavy exchange of fire with Oglethorpe and a garrison of men from Fort Frederica, they anchored four miles from Frederica and began landing troops. The General proposed that troops under his command begin drawing up into the fort to make their stand there. He then ordered his three vessels, the ship Success, the captured Spanish sloop Kingston, and the schooner Norfolk, to sail for Charles Town to advise Lieutenant Governor Bull and the commander of His Majesty's ships of the "scituation" and to seek assistance.
On July 6th, Oglethorpe and his men straggled into Fort Frederica at daybreak bringing their wounded on horseback. None were killed. In spite of the number of enemy vessels having grown to 36, optimismat least that which was voiced aloudreigned. The fort's tabby walls contained several 18 pounders, provisions enough for almost 12 months, and "men in very good heart." Besides, it was thought that with the path leading to the fort being too narrow to admit more than two men abreast, an enemy would not attempt a land attack.
Most importantly, they knew they had an effective leader in Oglethorpe. He immediately started preparing for defense of the fort. Scouts were sent out. Lost and broken arms and equipment were replaced. Companies were paraded.
Meanwhile, in a speech to the House, Bull made an impassioned plea for their advice and assistance to "enable me to send such succors for the relief of Georgia as may be sufficient to disappoint the designs and attempts of His Majesty's enemies against these frontier provinces" and the House's "readiness to make a proper provision for the expences that will necessarily arise thereby.
On July 7th, responding to Bull's speech, a committee of both South Carolina houses decided that as the man-of-war Flamborough and the Beaufort galley left on June 30th, men-of-war Swift and Hawk were dispatched on July 4th; and as the Success lately arrived from England was a ship of force, any more larger vessels would not be necessary. Instead, heavily manned smaller vessels would be more capable of acting against enemy's gallies and smaller vessels on the rivers and shallow waters. The committee recommended that 100 men and officers be immediately raised and that the Charles Town and other small craft be equipped for dispatching to assist Oglethorpe. Colonial history, one on which the continued existence of the lower colonies hinged, was unfolding in the wilds and marshes of St. Simons. The "Gazette" gave a vivid account of this engagement in its July 12-19 issue:
|On the 7th, about 10 o'Clock in the Forenoon, the Rangers who had
been on the Scout came, chas'd in by the Spaniards, giving an Account that the Enemy was
within a Mile of this Place, where they had killed one Small. The General leap'd on the
first Horse he met with, and immediately marched the Highland Company . . . and order'd
Sixty from the Guard to follow, he himself galloped with the Indians to the Place, which
was just within the Woods, about a Mile from hence, where he found Capt. Sebastian Saintio
and Capt. Mageleeto with One Hundred and Twenty Spanish troops and Forty-five Yamasee
Indians; Capt. Grey with his Chickasaws, Capt. Jones with his Tomobetaus, Tooanobowi with
his Creeks, and the General with Six Highlanders who out-ran the Rest, immediately charged
them; Capt. Mageleeto was kill'd, Capt. Sebastian Saintio taken, and the Spaniards
entirely defeated, Two of which the General took Prisoners with his own Hands; Capt.
Mageleeto shot Tooanobowi in the right Arm as he rushed in upon him, but Tooanobowi
drawing his Pistol with his left Hand, shot him thro' the Head. The General pursued the
Chase for near a Mile when he halted at an advantageous Piece of Ground, stayed 'till the
Guard came up, and posting the highlanders on the right, and the Guard on the left side of
the Road, hid in a Wood, with a large Savannah or Meadow in their Front, over which the
Enemy must pass to came to Frederica; this being done, the General return'd and ordered
the Regiment, Rangers and Companies of Boat Men to march; whilst they were preparing we
hear'd Platoons firing, upon which the General immediately remounted, rode toward the
Place and met Three Platoons coming back in great Disorder, who gave him an Account that
they had been broke by the Spaniards who were extremely numerous, notwithstanding which he
rallied them, and rode on; and to his great Satisfaction found Lieutenant Southerland with
the Platoon of the Regiment under his Command, and Lieutenant Mackay with the Highlanders,
had entirely defeated the Spaniards, consisting of Two Companies of Grenadiers making 100
Men, and 200 Foot; Don Antonio Barbara, who commanded them, was Prisoner but mortally
wounded, they also took the Drum and several other Grenadiers.
The General having order'd all the troops to march from Frederica, as soon as they arrived he pursued the Enemy Four Miles. In the Two Actions there was one Captain, One Corporal and sixteen Spaniards taken, and about 100 killed; the rest are dispersed into the Woods, for the general halted all Night at a Pass through the Marshes, over which they must go in their Return to their Camp, and thereby intercepted them, the Indians are out hunting after them in the Woods, and every Hour bring in Scalps.
|A party of Indians sent out before daybreak of July 8th by the General reported that the Spanish had retreated to Fort St. Simon's and had "all retired into the ruins of the fort, under the cannon of their men of war." According to accounts in Kenneth Coleman's "Colonial Georgia - a History" and Robert Preston Brooks' "History of Georgia," quoting sources other than South Carolina colonial records and the "Gazette," a planned night assault on the Spanish camp was aborted when a Frenchman, who was part of the General's force, suddenly deserted and warned the Spanish. Thinking quickly, Oglethorpe released a Spanish prisoner with a note to the Frenchman giving him instructions on how to lead the Spanish into an ambush, and if he failed to do so, to try to keep them on the island a few more days until an expected large British naval force arrived. As hoped, the letter was discovered by Spanish officers.|
|On July 9th, Oglethorpe wrote Captain Charles Hardy of the
man-of-war Rye that he wanted his vessels Norfolk and Success
to return; that his people had defended themselves bravely and defeated the Spaniards in
two actions, but could not hold out longer if not supported, therefore he desired speedy
assistance against an enemy numbering 1000; and that if Hardy and the Rye
appeared off the bar, the enemy would surrender. Oglethorpe's ruse with the note to the
Frenchman apparently worked.
On July 13th, the Spanish began evacuation. However, according to information furnished to the Gazette and published in its July 19-26 issue, their departure was prompted by more than the ruse. The Flamborough, Swift and Hawk men- of-war and the Beaufort galley appeared off the bar of St. Simon's and upon sight of them "the Spaniards betook themselves to their vessels with the utmost confusion, and left the General again master of the island." Seeing that the enemy fleet had increased to 52 vessels, a force much too superior for their few number to contend with, the four vessels sailed for Charles Town. Their report raised concerns that the Spaniards would have the time and opportunity to escape before an adequate fleet to challenge them could be ready and on the scene.
Although the July 12-19 issue of the "Gazette" reported that the man- of-war Rye, in the company of the Charles Town had departed on the 10th., no vessels had gotten underway since the 4th. The Council gave all attention to the reason for this delay, a lack of sufficient sailors to man them. Lingering animosity over the failed St. Augustine expedition was one reason cited for the difficulty in recruiting men, according to the Governor and Council journal:
|Captn. Lyford having been sent for attended
and assured His Honor the Lieut. Govr. that the Charles Town Galley should be ready to
sail tomorrow at Noon. . . .
It was agreed that the Captains of the vessels taken into the Service of this Government do immediately return a List to his Honor the Lieut. Governor of the number of men which they have already entered into the Service and that a press warrant be issued to some Officers to be appointed to impress 42 Seamen to be immediately put on board His Majesty's Ship Rye to enable her to proceed to join Captain Hamar and the Sloops of War in the defence of Georgia and this province. . . .
The Commanders of vessels at present employed in the Government service attended at the Board among whom Captn. Barratt who has the command of the Privateer Snow prize said he had enlisted 60 volunteers into the Service and was promised 100 more.
Captn. Lyford of the Charles Town galley said he got but nine Volunteers.
Caleb Davis who commands Genl. Oglethorpe's schooner said he had got Eighteen Men.
His Honor having asked those Captains the reason why those Sailors and Volunteers do not enter so briskly on this present Emergency they answered that some declined going into any of the vessels belonging to Georgia to be under Genl. Oglethorpe's pay nor the command of Col. Vanderdussen and others thought the Enemy would proceed no further than Frederica. . . .
. . . It was resolved that the Charles Town Galley belonging to this Government be forthwith manned and equipped and sent with the utmost expedition from hence to Georgia to get Intelligence about affairs there and particularly about the Flambro Man of War and the other two Man of War Sloops that are probably on that Coast. . . .
|A greater concern than that of the Spanish fleet escaping
arose on July 14th. Intelligence was received that an invasion attempt would be made
against South Carolina. A report that a large Spanish galley was hovering off Charles
Town's bar seemed to confirm the intelligence. Lieutenant Governor Bull ordered the
Charles Town galley, now under the command of William Lyford Sr., and the Norfolk,
commanded by David Cutler Braddock, to be "forthwith" completely manned and
equipped to go in search of the enemy vessel.
According to entries in the Governor and Council journal for the session of July 15th, the Council addressed several matters concerning getting vessels ready and on their way:
|An Order was issued to David Cutler Braddock
to receive on board the Schooner Norfolk for the present Expedition against the Spanish
Galley off the Bar 40 Muskets, 40 Cartouche Boxe flled. 40 Grenades 200lb weight of powder
40 pistols 40 cutlasses 40 Launches & 40 Swivel Guns. . . .
. . . that Captn. Hardy with the Rye when his complement of men is complete which is hoped will be very soon repair thither with Captain Thompson's Ship and the General's Schooners the Charles Town Galley and whatever other vessels shall be in readiness.
The Captains Murray Thompson Lyford and Chapman being sent for waited on his Honor accordingly. The first gave an account that that he had got 35 men Thompson 30 Lyford 30 Chapman 35 and Capt Barratt had about 60 in all 200 Seamen. They then withdrew. . . .
The Clerk was ordered to make out a List of the Vessels and the Commanders of the Vessels to be employed in the Intended Expedition and is as follows
|Capn Thompson of the Success
Chapman a Sloop
Barratt the prize Snow
Lyford the Charles Town Galley
Davis the Walker Schooner
Murray in the Brigantine
|In his letter of July 16th, Lieutenant Governor William Bull informed Oglethorpe of South Carolina's support efforts:|
Since my last of the 6th. inst. Capt. Davis Capt. Thompson and the Guard Schooner Prize Sloop arrived here and also Capt. Braddock from Port Royal and I have been endeavoring to enlist men and in order for your further assistance I have commissioned the following Captains to proceed with their vessels to your immediate relief (viz') Capt. Thompson Capt. Murray Capt. Lyford and Capt. Chapman so there will be a Ship a Snow a Brigantine a Sloop and the other Galley will be well fitted & manned and sent to your Assistance at the expence of this Government wch I hope will be ready in two days I have wrote to acquaint His Grace the Duke of Newcastle the Govr. of Jamaica General Wentworth and Admr. Vernon the Governor of Virginia and the Govr. Providence to acquaint them with the present situation of affairs And as I shall send you that relief wch I hope will be sufficient with His Majesty's Ships of War to defeat His Majys Enemies now invading you I have the Militia of this province under Arms and have disposed them in the most proper method for the defence thereof I am Sir,
Your most Obedt. humble Servant
p. s. Since I wrote the above Capt. Davis has offered to carry for your use 4 Nine and 2 Twelve pound Cannon with 50 rounds of Shot, Cartridge paper &c. for each Gun wch he is to take this morning 16th. 1742.
|Departure of some vessels continued to be delayed by a shortage of men. In the Council session Bull took extreme measures:|
In all Enlisted
|His Honor the Lieut. Govr. communicated to the Board a Letter
he had received from the Honble John Oatland dated George Town in Winyaw July 12th 1742.
Wherein he acknowledges he had received from his Honor a Warrant for apprehending all Vagabonds Vagrants & Straggling Sailors to execute which he had wrote to several Justices in that neighbourhood and directed the Constables to take all such persons and that shall be wanting in either of them to promote so necessary a piece of Service.
|Still literally beating the bushes for sailors, the South
Carolina government decided on July 17th to send immediately all vessels that were ready.
The "Gazette" reported in its July 19-26 issue that several sailed that day,
"one after another," to join the men-of-war off St. Simon's. One exception was
the Beaufort, which was delayed a day in sailing. The vessels carried on board more than
600 men and 140 carriage and swivel guns.
Word was received from Virginia on July 23rd that the 40-gun man-of-war South Sea-Castle was being dispatched from that station.
On July 24th, the Council compiled a list of naval support sent to Georgia's aid: "List of the whole Naval Force sent from this province to the relief of Georgia
King's Ships of War The Rye Capt Hardy 22 Great Guns 160 men Flamboro Capt Hamer 22 150 Swift Sloop Capt Bladwell 8 12 Swivel 90 Hawk Sloop 8 12 90 Carriage Guns 60 Swivel 24 400 Men "List of Ships and other Vessels fitted out and manned at the Charge of the Government of South Carolina G. Guns Swivel Men The Success Captain Thompson 22 12 110 Brig Carolina Captain Murray 10 10 70 Prize Snow Cpt Barrett 10 12 85 Cha: Town Galley Capt Lyford 6 10 65 Beaufort do Capt Gibson 8 60 Schooner Ranger Capt Davis 12 12 80 Sloop Capt Chapman 10 10 82 Schooner Capt Braddock 6 12 50 84 78 602" After being delayed in departing Charles Town because of a fouled anchor, Captain Hardy arrived on July 26th on the Rye. Seeing that the enemy has departed, he ordered the provincial vessels home. Four of them, the Carolina, Juan Batista, Kingston, and the Norfolk, left immediately. Upon their arrival in Charles Town on July 30th, their commanders were ordered to lay their journals before the Council. The Council, who was of the opinion that the provincial vessels would join the men-of-war in pursuing and destroying the Spanish should they retreat, were surprised and furious that the vessels were ordered home. They instructed the commanders to keep their vessels in readiness. Oglethorpe had detained the Beaufort and Charles Town gallies when the other vessels departed. William Sr., who arrived with the Charles Town too late to engage the enemy, wrote a letter to the lieutenant governor on August 3rd complaining about being made to cool his heels at St. Simon's instead of coming home. The letter was read in the August 12th Council meeting: "Sir This comes to acquaint you that on the 24th July in Latitude 30d 34m in 12 fathoms of water at 2 oclock in the afternoon I received orders from the Commander to take Ensign Eyres on board with a Letter to General Oglethorpe and to go to Egg Island sound at 10 oclock the same night I came to anchor in 4 fathoms of water about 2 leagues to the Southward of Egg Island In the morning by daylight I discovered a small Boat under the land, who was in search of the Genls. Schooner whom after I hailed told me Spaniards were gone away I sent Mr. Ayres immediately on shore and run with my Galley immediately into St. Simons to water and wait further orders from the Commander On the 26th I received a Letter from Gen. Oglethorpe strictly charging me not to go out and on the same day I received orders from the Commodore by Captain Thompson to make the best of my way to Charles Town I waited on the General shewed him my Instructions and likewise my orders from the Commodore and his reply was he could not answer letting me go, for he did not yet think himself safe but promised to let me go as soon as the Men of War were returned from their cruize off St. Augustine Capt Gibson arrived here the 30th July and at his arrival the General promised to the Volunteers on board Capt. Thompson's ship to send me away to carry them to Charles town. But Capt. Gibson sailing without acquainting the General put him in such a rage that he sent Capt. Davis on Board his Schooner to assist the commander at St. Simons that no Vessel or Boat should go out without his leave or orders I waited on the general the next day who told me he would not suffer me to go before the Men of War returned from their Cruize who as he tells me promised to call in here And am lying here with my people all in good health here but very much disheartened for being detained therefore I hope your Honor will advise with Genl. Oglethorpe concerning of dispatch home In case the Men of War should not call here As for a full account of the siege here I refer your Honor to the young Volunteers I am Your Honors most obedient and humble Servant St. Simons 3 Aug.. 1742 William Lyford p. s. Aug. 4th. Captain Gibson last night arrived and gives an account of 9 Sail in at St. Juan's and since this news I believe everybody will be stopt." On August 13th, a letter from Oglethorpe was read in the Council meeting. Either not knowing, or not fully appreciating the difficulties South Carolina met in adequately manning ships of the hodgepodge fleet they hastily assembled to send to his aid, Oglethorpe, his breath probably still hot from the fast and furious pace of chasing and being chased over land and water the last several days, voiced his displeasure at not receiving support until the threat was all but over: "The Honorable John Fenwicke laid the following Letters which he received from Genl. Oglethorpe before His Honor the Lieut. Govr. and Council one dated at Frederica the 4th August . . . "Sir By the Blessing of God upon His Majesty's Arms we have driven the Spaniards out of the Colony. After our defeating them two fights in the woods they retreated from the Island with such precipitation that they left behind them Cannon Shot and even Musket Bullets. In their retreat they assaulted Fort William as far as which place I followed them where they were also repulsed and from whence I sent out Boats after them as far as the River St. Johns. As their loss has been but small tho' their Terror is great. I expect when they have had a little recovered their freight that they will attempt something with better Conduct. I send you enclosed the Account of a Spanish prisoner whom we have released from their power. I do write to Mr. Bull because I find he took no kind of notice of the Early Accounts I gave him of this design and even spoke very slightly of those Intelligences upon which the safety of His Majesty's Subjects depended. Besides as he is oftener at his plantation than in Town Letters which go to you will be more immediately communicated to His Majesty's Council and Assembly without loss of time. I am, Sir Your most obedient humble Servant James Oglethorpe p. s. Necessity will force the Spaniards soon to attempt something. They have a vast number of Men in St. Augustine and little to subsist on." The "Gazette's" August 9-16 issue reported that on the 13th, three men-of-war and several provincial vessels sailed: "Last Friday Capt. Frankland in his Majesty's Ship the Rose, together with the Flamborough and Swift Men of War, and Four of the Provincial Vessels (commanded by Captains Murray, Barrett, Chapman and Braddock) sailed over this Bar to cruize against the Spaniards. We hear that they are to touch at St. Simon's and be joined by our Gallies now there. No doubt the Rye and Hawk Men of war (which weighed anchor off this Bar and stood to the Southward just after Capt. Frankland arrived here) will meet with the Fleet and join also." In its August 30-September 6 issue, the "Gazette" gave an account of the fleet's movements for the next several days: "On Tuesday the 24th of August, our Fleet (join'd by the General's Guard- Schooner and Two Scout-Boats) consisting of 15 Sail, set sail from Fort William for the bar of Augustine. "On the 26th, Twelve of the Fleet arrived in sight of the Place, and at 4 in the Afternoon anchor'd off the Bar. The Castle distant about Two Leagues. "On the 27th, the Provincial Vessels received their Orders from the Commodore and some of them look'd into the Harbour, when they Descry'd 7 sails lying under the Castle, and 6 Half-Galleys just within the Bar. "On Saturday the 28th, the Commodore having made the proper Signals for all the Boats, &c. belonging to the Fleet to be mann'd and arm'd, at 12 o'Clock the Beaufort, Gibson; the Charles-Town, Lyford; the Norfolk, Braddock; the Carolina, Murray, and the Kingston, Chapman, weighed Anchor and stood close in for the Bar, in Company with the General, then on board Mr. Demitree's Scout-Boat; at 4 in the Afternoon those Vessels began to fire at the Half- Galleys, but none of our Shot was perceiv'd to reach them except from Charles-Town and Beaufort Galleys, which had Nine-Pounders; in the Evening (the Spaniards retiring under the Castle) our Vessels were order'd to draw off, and the next Morning set sail for the Matansas, where they arrived in the Afternoon, and came to an Anchor. "Two of the Spanish Galleys were so much damaged that the Enemy was obliged to hawl them on shore to stop their Leaks: On the other Hand, one of the Enemy's Shot breaking a Swivel Gun on Board the Scout-Boat commanded by Mr. Demitree, killed One Man, slightly wounded the General and Three Others, and broke Mr. Demitree's Thigh, who is now under the Care of a Surgeon, in this Town. On Monday the 30th, they designed to land some Men to make Discoveries, but there being a Swell that Design could not be executed. The Fleet then left that Coast . . . ". . . On Saturday last [September 4] returned from the Cruize against the Spaniards, the Rose and Swift, Men of War, and Beaufort Galley. And on Sunday also the Charles-Town Galley, the Schooner Norfolk, and Sloop Kingston. The South-Sea-Castle is, we hear, returned to her Station; the Flamborough (in want of Provisions and Water) detain'd by the Change of Wind, with our other Vessels, near Edisto. And the Rye and Hawk Men of War are gone, with the General's Craft to St. Simon's." The Spanish never again mustered a major threat against the lower colonies.