ON THE GEORGIA TIDEWATER
Loading Sea Island Cotton at Darien c. 1862
By John Stobart
It was during a stay at a fishing camp some miles up the Altamaha River that I
had the privilege of being introduced to the port of Darien. I became fascinated
with the story of its colorful past.
The town's origins reach back to 1736 when a contingent of Scottish highlanders
came to establish a military outpost at the outset of James Oglethorpe's new
Georgia colony. It was to grow into great prominence as a major south Atlantic
seaport because of its strategic location on the Altamaha River delta.
Its surrounding region was, by the mid 1800's, one of the most prosperous rice
growing areas of the south. Darien was a seaport that rivaled Savannah in
commercial importance due to the prolific amounts of inland cotton rafted down
the Altamaha to the waiting coastal vessels. The town's status as a prominent
rice and cotton shipping center gave the port a brief period of international
significance, and several foreign countries even had consulates in the town.
This lofty status went into slow decline, however, as more and more inland
cotton began to be shipped to Savannah by rail following the advent of railroads
in the 1840's.
Waterborne transportation was then somewhat restricted by the shallows of tidal
rivers and channels between the barrier islands. The majority of vessels using
the port of Darien in the ante-bellum period were, therefore, coastal sloops and
schooners. These vessels would also make stops at tidewater rice and cotton
plantations while en route to greater commercial centers.
Darien continued to ship cotton until the town was burned by federal troops
during a naval raid in June 1863. All the waterfront buildings and docks were
destroyed and the port's usefulness as an ideal departure point for Confederate
blockage runners was thus effectively neutralized. Rebuilt after the Civil War,
the town became a prosperous sawmill and lumber center, exporting more of this
produce than any other seaport on the south Atlantic coast.
This scene, on a hot and hazy afternoon, shows the port in its heyday with its
initial waterfront architecture. The view is from the shade of a live oak on the
bluff. The buildings of the ante-bellum period were constructed of tabby, the
popular and readily available tidewater building material comprised of oyster
shells, quicklime, sand and water. In the foreground a tally man watches from
his shaded makeshift office as a tops'l schooner takes on bales of cotton. Along
the wharf a river steamboat rests prior to a voyage upriver to towns in the
Georgia hinterland. Apart from the carefully preserved tabby ruins of the old
warehouses, the only building in this scene which still exists today is the two
storied, red-shuttered Strain Building, formerly a warehouse and chandlery, on
the upper bluff.
Copyright 1995 Maritime Heritage Prints
Comments made by Peyton I. Lingle, November 1995
This painting of Darien had its origin at the Fort Barrington Club. In April
1995, John Stobart was a guest of member Mike Lingle. Mike's father Peyton
arranged for (John) Stobart to visit Darien. It was then that the artist saw the
possibilities of an historical picture telling the story of Old Darien. Upon
returning to the camp the same day, Stobart began sketches of the scene he
visualized and six months later this beautiful picture was complete.
For more details, see the front page of the November 30, 1995 issue of The