November 5

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

nov-5-1151766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 5, 1766).

“A SMALL ISLAND or NECK of LAND in the RIVER MIDWAY … known by the name of Baillie’s Island.”

This notice in the Georgia Gazette advertises an island being sold by “the estate of Col. Kenneth Baillie, deceased.” This island, “containing 600 acres,” already had “a good dwelling-house and other convenient out-houses” and good land for growing crops. Land sales of this sort would have been interesting to men like Jonathan Bryan.

Bryan bought a lot of land in both Georgia and South Carolina during the eighteenth century. Alan Gallay notes that Bryan’s “possessions [lands he purchased or that were granted to him] placed him at the very top of the small group of men who ruled Georgia during the quarter century before the American Revolution.”[1] Bryan was able to capitalize on both undeveloped and developed lands, which would have made the island in this advertisement very appealing. To make the most of the land he had, Bryan created plantations and bought African slaves to perform the labor. By 1763, he owned 125 slaves in Georgia.[2] Owning land was an important step for colonists like Jonathan Bryan to become prosperous and powerful.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Colonel Kenneth Baillie’s executrix and executors painted quite a picture of the bounty available on Baillie’s Island. Whoever purchased this land would possess a variety of resources and could produce a variety of commodities to send to market, including corn, indigo, rice, barrel staves, lumber, and all sorts of livestock. All of these goods, the advertisement promised, could be easily transported because there were “four good landing places to said island, one of which the largest vessel that comes to Sunbury may lie and load it.” Furthermore, Baillie’s Island was close to Sunbury, “it not being more than five miles by water to that town, and seven by land.” The island’s proximity to Sunbury and the trade that took place there was a selling point.

Sunbury, founded in 1758, likely sounds unfamiliar to modern readers, but for a few decades in the middle of the eighteenth century it rivaled Savannah as a port city. Readers of the Georgia Gazette would have known that it was a seaport on the Medway River, south of Savannah. Today, however, Sunbury has disappeared. Some call it “one of Georgia’s most famous ‘dead’ or lost towns.” William Bartram, the prominent naturalist from Pennsylvania, visited Sunbury while en route to Florida shortly before the American Revolution. “There are about one hundred houses in the town neatly built of wood frame having pleasant Piasas around them,” Bartram wrote. “The inhabitants are genteel and wealthy, either Merchants or Planters from the Country who resort here in the Summer and Autumn, to partake of the Salubrious Sea Breeze, Bathing & sporting on the Sea Islands.”

Sunbury was a vibrant town and emerging center of commerce in the 1760s and 1770s, but it never recovered after the disruptions of the American Revolution.

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[1] Alan Gallay, “Jonathan Bryan’s Plantation Empire: Land, Politics, and the Formation of a Ruling Class in Colonial Georgia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 45, no. 2 (April 1988): 253.

[2] Gallay, “Jonathan Bryan’s Plantation Empire,” 275.

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