Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Causton Bluff and the Father of Methodism

This story first appeared in Southern Tides Magazine. Whether you are reading it here again, or for the first time, thanks for stopping by. If there is a maritime topic that particularly interests you, let me know in a comment and I will get to work on it.

Image courtesy Georgia Historical Society, click image to enlarge

As you cruise the creeks and rivers around our region by boat, you glide by countless places, each with its own story. I often think to myself, “if only that place could talk, the tales it could tell!” Part of the fun of living here is learning these stories. As a tour-boat captain, stories are part of my job; I’m always looking and listening for another good one. My friend Jim Hughes, a real no-kidding renaissance man, recently shared a link to the history of Causton’s Bluff in Savannah, and as often happens, there is a distinctly human element to the story. (story continues below)

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I found an article originally published in Georgia Historical Society’s “Historical Quarterly,” Volume 23, No. 1, dated March 1939. Here are some excerpts with personal thoughts and observations.

“Approximately a mile east of the present limits of Savannah and along the Savannah River eastward as far as St. Augustine Creek lie about 2.500 acres of land that at one time formed three outstanding plantations…Brewton Hill, Deptford, and Causton’s Bluff; the last, though farthest from the city… ranks foremost in historical interest.”

Today we refer to the river at Causton Bluff, near Savannah, as the Wilmington, and St. Augustine Creek begins further northeast, connecting the Wilmington and Bull rivers.


I became curious about how the stretch of water called "St. Augustine Creek" in the image above and "Wilmington River" on today's charts and maps came by its name. A google search led me to believe that it was named after Walter Augustine who operated a sawmill "along its course.".

But when I downloaded the PDF of Kenneth Krakow's (fascinating!) work on Georgia Place Names - History and Origins - listed on that Wikipedia page and available for download here, and read what he wrote about Augustine Creek - "mistakenly called St. Augustine Creek and entering the Savannah River at Port Wentworth" I was confused. What's Port Wentworth got to do with this?

So I opened Google Maps and went finger-cruising up the Savannah River to Port Wentworth. Bigger than life, there it is, a "St. Augustine Creek" entering the Savannah River just west of the Houlihan Bridge and boat ramp. So, according to Krakow, that is the river that is misnamed "St. Augustine." That's where the sawmill was.

So, what about the other St. Augustine Creek? The only thing I can surmise is that this was the path that General Oglethorpe and others took when they rowed and sailed the inland passage down to Saint Augustine - in Florida - to do battle with the Spaniards there. If I am wrong about this assumption and you know better, please let me know in a comment. 

Okay, back to the story!

“In May, 1737 … [Thomas Causton] drew a ‘Bill of Exchange’ on Oglethorpe for fifty pounds… to enable Mr. Causton to settle his new Farm.”
“By 1738, …  Causton had settled at his plantation … Plat 6 and 7 were incorporated as part of Causton’s Bluff … containing 1,133 acres, of which 760 acres were suitable for cultivation while 373 acres, later resurveyed as 580 acres, were worthless marshland.”

This map dated 1779 indicates that Causton's Bluff was a 
"Place of Debarkation"

It’s worth noting that the idea of marshland being worthless was formed back when the cure for any physical ailment included cutting a patient on the arm and letting them bleed. George Washington’s doctor did that to him and undoubtedly contributed to his death. Those early colonists had no idea that the “worthless marsh” was the nursery for most of the bounty they enjoyed from the creeks, rivers, and ocean. Were it not for marshland we would have no Wild Georgia Shrimp to fry.

“Originally Causton’s Bluff plantation was made up of approximately 260 acres lying about five miles east of Savannah … at the peak of its prosperity, Causton’s Bluff  contained more than 3.000 acres extending north to the Savannah River.”

For a time, rice was grown in much of the low areas adjacent to the river, but as time went on and the Savannah River was dredged, saltwater intruded and ended rice cultivation this close to the ocean. When rice was grown and the fields were flooded with standing water, mosquitos bred and spread Yellow Fever.  These epidemics terrified the white people living here, who attributed the disease to “miasma” a noxious gas thought to be emanating from the muddy lowlands. Only when the Panama Canal was dug did we learn the truth about mosquitos and how to control them. Whenever you hear about a “mosquito ditch” in a marsh area, know that it was created to introduce salt water and reduce mosquito infestations.

“In the early part of November 1737 … a comfortable house had been built and was being occupied by the Causton family. The hospitality … was enjoyed by the Parson, John Wesley [the father of the Methodism]. Sophia Hopkey, Causton’s niece … spent many hours in the company of Wesley. The fact that Sophia lived at the plantation may be the reason that Wesley always accepted Causton’s invitation to visit … Causton apparently approved of the friendship and hoped they might marry …”

Alas, The Reverend John Wesley had no interest in marriage.

“Sophia, apparently piqued at Wesley’s procrastination [in asking for her hand in marriage] became engaged to William Williamson and four days later married him.”

Pause for effect; “four.days.later!”

Things deteriorated. Wesley wanted to continue giving Sophia the Sacrament in private. At her husband’s objection, she refused. Then Wesley refused to give her the Sacrament at the next church service. 

“Williamson then filed suit against Wesley, contending that by refusing his wife the sacrament Wesley had cast a reflection upon her character.  The case never actually came to trial, though it was still pending when in December, 1737 a great stir was caused by his flight. 

In his own words Wesley says, ‘about eight o’ clock, the tide then serving, I shook the dust off my feet and left Georgia…” 

We are only human, after all.

Image courtesy Wikipedia

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