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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 Darien News.