Fort Frederica National Monument | BLOODY MARSH MEMORIAL UNIT

Bloody Marsh battle site at Fort Frederica National Monument

Bloody Marsh battle site at Fort Frederica National Monument


The Bloody Marsh Battle Site and Memorial Unit is open daily from 8:30 AM to 4 PM, except when closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.


The site of the hour-long Battle of Bloody Marsh (July 7, 1742) is part of Fort Frederica National Monument, but it is separate from the main park unit. It is located six miles away at the south end of St. Simons Island on Old Demere Road. A map that shows all of the attractions on St. Simons, including Bloody Marsh, is available at the Visitor Center.

Unlike a Civil War battlefield where events can often be pinned to specific spots, the Bloody Marsh site simply marks the general location of the fighting. Most of the area is developed now, with the houses of Pier Village lining the opposite side of marsh. There is nothing to see at the memorial site other than the marsh itself, a few information panels, and a monument commemorating the battle. There are also three picnic tables situated next to the parking area (see the Picnic Area web page for details).

Bloody Marsh Battle Memorial (Fort Frederica National Monument)

Bloody Marsh Battle Memorial (Fort Frederica National Monument)

Inscription on the Bloody Marsh Battle Memorial

Inscription on the Bloody Marsh Battle Memorial

Exhibit pavilion at the Bloody Marsh Memorial Unit of Fort Frederica National Monument

Exhibit pavilion at the Bloody Marsh Memorial Unit of Fort Frederica National Monument

If you came to Fort Frederica National Monument to begin with, you either have an interest in English colonial history or are attempting to visit all National Parks. Either way, you might as well make the journey to Bloody Marsh and spend the five minutes that it takes to see the site, if for no other reason than to check it off of your list of things to do before you die.


BATTLE OF BLOODY MARSH

While Spain had been in North America since 1513, its interest in the east coast remained primarily in Florida and primarily military. Outside of scattered coastal Catholic missions that reached as far north as present-day South Carolina, it made very few attempts at establishing civilian settlements. However, this did not stop Spain from claiming the entire North American continent as its possession.

England, on the other hand, began to actively settle the continent with the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, much to the chagrin of the Spanish. However, Spain’s King Philip IV left Jamestown alone, figuring that it would end up like England’s previous failed colonization attempts. Though it nearly died an early death, Jamestown was an eventual success, and England began to expand up and down the Atlantic coast within fifty years, ending up as far south as Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1665, England’s King Charles II claimed all territory down to and even past St. Augustine, Spain’s main settlement, to be part of the Carolina colony. This prompted England and Spain to sign the Treaty of 1670, establishing Charleston as the effective border between the two countries. The land from Charleston to St. Augustine remained Spanish, though it was still empty of Spanish settlements other than for a few missions.

By 1732, England had a sound ally in the Cherokee Indians, which led it to be a little bolder in the disputed regions. England wanted to establish a buffer zone between Florida and Charleston, so a charter was granted by the king to Sir Robert Montgomery to establish a colony between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers. However, Montgomery’s plan never got off the ground, which is where James Oglethorpe stepped in. A philanthropist and soldier, Oglethorpe would go on to become the founder of the Georgia colony. In 1733, he and one hundred colonists set sail for America, settling in what would become Savannah on land obtained by treaty from the Creek Indians.

Because the territory was still in dispute with the Spanish, Savannah remained vulnerable to an attack. Oglethorpe returned to England to get approval to build a fort on St. Simons Island, an island he had scouted earlier and found to be of strategic importance. He also needed more colonists to come back with him. When he returned in December 1735 with approximately 250 new colonists, he took 30 men, along with cannon, rifles, ammunition, food, and building supplies, south to St. Simons, landing on February 18, 1736. The next day work began on a fort, and an initial earthen structure was completed within a month. Named after the son of King George, Frederick Louis, Fort Frederica was improved and expanded upon over the following years, evolving into a four-sided fort of brick and tabby construction with bastions at each corner, a dry moat, and a palisade wall. Between 15 and 20 cannon were mounted when the fort was in full operation.

Oglethorpe would go on to build other forts in the area, including Fort St. Simons (in 1738) at the southern tip of the island. A road connected it to Fort Frederica. The town was defended by Oglethorpe’s 42nd Regiment of Foot and portions of the Highland Independent Company, which was headquartered in nearby Darien, Georgia. About 200 soldiers were stationed at Frederica.

By 1739, disputes between Spain and England over a number of issues, including the Georgia territory, had not been settled, though negotiations were underway at the Convention of Pardo. Many politicians in England wanted to give Georgia back to Spain in order to avoid a war, but Oglethorpe was adamant that the colony was not only necessary for protecting Charleston, but also that it was rightfully England’s. In addition, the Treaties of Utrecht, which settled the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1714), had given the British South Sea Company (a private and government entity) the sole right to sell Spanish colonies slaves and up to 500 tons of goods each year. This set up a lucrative black market business involving other British merchants who were cut out of the deal.

By the Treaty of Seville, signed in 1729 to end the Anglo-Spanish War (1727-1729), England had granted the Spanish the right to board British merchant ships suspected of smuggling and to confiscate cargoes if found to be illegal. As English politicians debated what to do about the current situation, many British sailors came before Parliament to tell of the injustices that they had suffered at the hands of the Spanish. One such man was Robert Jenkins, who brought his severed ear to the hearings, claiming that it had been cut off by a Spanish Coast Guard captain who had boarded his ship looking for black market goods.

England demanded the end of Spain’s right to board its merchant ships, which prompted Spain to cancel the South Sea Company’s contract, withhold a £95,000 payment, and seize all British ships in Spanish harbors. This escalated the situation, and on October, 23, 1739, England declared war on Spain. The War of Jenkins Ear—a name coined over 100 years later–had begun.

While the following narrative focuses on the fighting that took place on St. Simons Island, keep in mind that the War of Jenkins Ear was much more than a war waged between Oglethorpe’s men in Georgia and the Spanish at St. Augustine. In fact, such fighting was a very small part of the conflict. This was an all-out assault by the British on the colonies of Spain in an attempt to disrupt commerce. Fighting took place on many of the Caribbean islands such as Panama, Jamaica, and Antigua, and in South America—any place Spain had colonies.

On December 1, 1739, James Oglethorpe took 200 men into Florida and captured the Spanish forts of Picolata and San Francisco de Puo located about 20 miles north of St. Augustine. In May 1740, he took an army of nearly 2000 men, half of them Indians, to attack St. Augustine, which had been protected by the massive Castillo de San Marcos since 1695 (part of the National Park system, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument). There was no way to take the fort directly, so his men lay siege to it beginning on June 15th. However, with the storm season approaching and supplies running low, Oglethorpe aborted the attack three weeks later and returned to Georgia. Another attack on St. Augustine was planned for 1742, but it never happened. Instead, the Spanish came to him.

Spain’s plans were to not only drive the English out of Georgia, but also to move on to Charleston. To do this there was no way to sail past the two forts on St. Simons Island, so the Spanish would first have to defeat the English at these southern military outposts. Spies had warned Oglethorpe of the plan and he was able to round up 900 men between troops from Savannah and his Indian allies. Unfortunately, his army was still out-manned and out-gunned.

On May 25, 1742, thirty Spanish warships departed from Havana, Cuba (Spain’s main naval base in the area), and sailed to St. Augustine where they were joined by twenty more ships stationed in Florida. On June 20th, under the command of Florida’s Governor Manuel de Montiago, the ships set sail for Georgia carrying 3000 men. However, a storm hit the next day and the fleet was scattered. Only 36 ships made it to the coast of St. Simons Island by the time the fighting started.

On July 5th, the Spanish sailed around to the southeastern coast of St. Simons, passing the blazing guns at Fort St. Simons without much problem. They next encountered four English ships, one of which was sunk and three that managed to escape and head to Charleston to raise reinforcements. With no more resistance, the Spanish anchored off the southwestern coast of the island at a place known as Gascoigne Bluff, which is located between the two forts, but closer to Fort St. Simons.

Oglethorpe immediately abandoned Fort St. Simons, destroying all guns that could not be transported easily, and moved his men to Frederica. When the Spanish came ashore they occupied the fort and used it as their headquarters.

On July 7th, the Spanish sent out two small units of soldiers and Indians to scout the road to Frederica. A small skirmish broke out when the scouts came across five English soldiers. One Englishman was killed and the rest ran back to the fort. Oglethorpe immediately took a group of Highlanders and Creek and Chickasaw Indians and attacked the Spanish at Gully Hole Creek, only a mile-and-a-half south of the fort, killing half the Spanish, including two officers, and taking fourteen prisoners, also including two officers. The English chased the survivors back towards Fort St. Simons, but stopped short at a good defensive spot along the road and hid in the woods. When Oglethorpe returned to Frederica, he sent more men to join those waiting to ambush the Spanish.

Later that afternoon, 300 Spanish troops departed north along the road. When they reached the awaiting English the fighting began, but hidden well in the woods, the Spanish were not able to hit anyone. The English, on the other hand, had no problem killing a few Spanish soldiers. However, despite what appeared to be shaping up into a certain victory, the English turned and ran. Two miles up the road they met Oglethorpe, who was able to convince them to return south and resume the fight. These men were joined by a platoon of his 42nd Regiment of Foot, a few Highlanders, and some Indians, about fifty men in all. When they reached a bend in the road that was flanked on one side by marsh and the other by thick forest, they once again slipped into the woods and waited for the Spanish.

Figuring that the English had high-tailed it back to Fort Frederica, the Spanish continued their march up the road. When they reached the bend, they decided to take a break. Once they had laid down their weapons and began their meal, the English sprung the ambush. The British claimed to have killed anywhere from 50 to 200 Spanish soldiers while suffering on casualties. Then named the Battle of Blood Bend, in modern times the encounter would become known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh, as it is said that the marsh ran red with blood that day. The Spanish, however, reported that only seven soldiers were killed, possibly making the Battle of Bloody Marsh not that bloody after all.

The victory did not end the fighting. The English retreated back to Fort Frederica and began preparing for an attack, while Indians continued to harass the Spanish at Fort St. Simons. Not wanting to venture out on the road again, which was so narrow that they often had to march single file, the Spanish decided on a naval attack of Fort Frederica. On July 11th, three Spanish galleys moved up the coast to just outside the fort in search of a place to land the men. Once spotted, the English opened fire and the ships retreated back to Gascoigne Bluff.

Oglethorpe sent a message to Charleston saying that two British warships is all that it would take to drive off the Spanish fleet, which certainly was not the case. Heeding Oglethorpe’s word, only two ships were sent to Frederica, but when the sailors saw fifty or so Spanish ships, some of which had arrived after the Battle of Bloody Marsh, they turned around and sailed back to Charleston. Though certainly not what Oglethorpe wanted, this action was taken by the Spanish to be a sign that the ships were returning to muster a much larger fleet.

On July 12th, Oglethorpe took his men south to once again attack the Spanish, but a Frenchman in his army gave a warning shot and took off running for Fort St. Simons before anyone could catch him—turns out that he was a Spanish spy. Not to be deterred, Oglethorpe came up with a brilliant plan to write a letter in French as if it were from a friend of the traitor, making it look as if the man was really an English spy giving bad advice. He paid a Spanish prisoner to return to Fort St. Simons and deliver the letter to the Frenchman. Upon arrival, the man was searched and the letter was found. Though his life was spared, the Frenchman was nearly hung as a double agent.

The Spanish, not knowing what the truth was regarding the Frenchman, having seen the two English ships sail back to Charleston for possible reinforcements, and being low on food and water, packed up and left the next day, though before doing so they burned Fort St. Simons to the ground. Spain never attempted an invasion of the English settlements in North America again.

While the fighting that can be attributed to the War of Jenkins Ear was largely over by 1742, in reality it just became part of a larger conflict, the War of Austrian Succession. In fact, a number of smaller wars melded into this global conflict, which wasn’t settled until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

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Last updated on April 4, 2022
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