We have partnered with the Southern Conservation Trust and Georgia-Alabama Land Trust to permanently protect over 5,000 acres since 2015, including over 2,000 acres of tidal saltmarsh and over 16 miles of tidal rivers and creeks. The goal of this project is to keep what was once part of two larger coastal Georgia family-owned plantations, Maybank and Melon Bluff, intact and protected from development while maintaining working forests, enhancing forest health and preserving the valuable saltmarsh and estuarine functions of the land. The protection of this land is an important part of the extensive network of coastal conservation occurring on the Georgia coast
Saltmarshes are salt-tolerant grasslands, dominated by cordgrasses and rushes, over soils with circumneutral pH. Brackish marshes occupy a wide ecotonal zone in the vicinity of river mouths serving as nurseries for marine life and as vital buffers against storms. According to a recent study completed by the University of Georgia’s Marine Science Institute and published in the journal Remote Sensing, vegetation along the Georgia coast has declined significantly in the last 30 years. Using data collected by NASA’s Landsat TM 5 satellite, which provided 28 years of nearly continuous images of the Earth’s surface between 1984 and 2011, the researchers found that the amount of marsh plant biomass had dropped 35 percent making efforts to protect coastal marshlands more important than ever.
This area of Georgia has one of the highest tidal amplitudes on the eastern seaboard at 8-10 feet. This creates a strong and swift tidal current that causes the tidal creeks and marshes to become completely exposed twice a day. These tides also bring in nutrients creating extremely productive habitats critical for shellfish and fish nurseries. The freshwater and nutrient inputs from the uplands and rivers support a healthy estuarine marsh complex that provides important recreational and commercial shellfish and fishing areas. Although the marsh is not home to many permanent residents, various land and aquatic species visit the marsh in order to feed and take shelter and the marsh’s shallow tidal water is home to the young of many marine species before they return to the open sea.
The extensive marsh system of these coastal properties is important in filtering pollutants and for recharging the groundwater aquifer, which provides the coast’s drinking water, and in protecting Georgia’s coast from storm surge and wind created by hurricanes.
“A decrease in the growth of marsh plants likely affects all of the animals that depend on the marsh, such as juvenile shrimp and crabs, which use the marsh as a nursery,” said Merryl Alber, director of the Marine Institute and UGA professor of marine sciences. “These decreases in vegetation may also affect other marsh services, such as stabilizing the shoreline, filtering pollutants and protecting against storm damage.”
Historic & Cultural Significance
Maybank Plantation derived its historic name from Colonel Maybank, the original owner of the Plantation. After the Colonel’s death, the Property was left to the Jones family who owned it for several generations. George Brown purchased the Property from the Jones family and was the last owner of the Property prior to the Devendorf’s ownership.
The Melon Bluff plantation was assembled with multiple acquisitions by the Devendorf family over the last century. Parts of the region have a long history of human alterations.
Native Americans cultivated corn, melons, squash, and beans; a Spanish mission period during the 1500-1600’s included crops of citrus, figs, peaches, olives, artichokes, and onions; and a plantation agriculture economy in the late 1700’s through the 1800’s produced indigo, rice, sugar cane, and sea island cotton.
This area was also a thriving colonial town during the Revolutionary War period and has historical significance to Georgia’s Revolutionary War and Early Colonial period history. Ft. Morris is a state owned historic site open to the public near Sunbury and just upstream from this tidal saltmarsh property. Fort Morris is one of the few remaining Revolutionary War era earthwork fortifications in the United States. First fortified in the 1750s, the fort was manned to protect the once prosperous seaport town of Sunbury. Fort Morris was surrendered to the British on January 9, 1779, the last patriot post to fall in the American Revolution. Under the name of Fort Defiance, the fort was once again used against the British during the War of 1812.
From the fort, St. Catherine’s Island, an undeveloped barrier island just east of Colonel’s Island can be seen. St. Catherine’s Island is the historic site of the Santa Catalina de Guale mission, one of the earliest known Spanish settlements in Georgia and has an abundance of Native American artifacts.
A search of Georgia’s Natural, Archaeological, and Historic Resources Site (NARGHIS) revealed several historic buildings and historic cemeteries on Colonel’s Island where this property is located and nearby Sunbury, GA. For generations Indian artifacts have been found on these property’s and there are a few known Indian mounds that have been excavated. Given the location of this land along the marsh edge and the number of artifacts and shell middens, it was likely heavily populated by Native Americans before English settlement.
Both Fort Morris and St. Catherine’s Island are on the National Register of Historic Sites. The cultural significance of this area to Georgia is significant and the protection of the valuable costal marshland tracts will ensure the historical and archaeological resources are preserved for future generations.
This area of Georgia was home to many large plantations, sustained by thousands of slaves during the Sea Island Cotton era of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the plantation owners were wealthy northern families who visited in the winter and used the properties for recreation. Cotton was the main crop and thrived in the island’s mild climate and sandy soils.
The Georgia coast was the ancestral home of the Gullah Geechee. The Gullah Geechee are a distinct people, descendants of African slaves who were first brought to the Southeastern United States to work in rice plantations. They retained many of their African cultural traditions and developed a separate creole language apart from other African American populations. Their isolation on coastal barrier islands helped them retain and develop their own unique culture. The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was designated by an act of Congress on October 12, 2006 to recognize the importance of these communities and help preserve their cultures and traditions. Some Gullah Geechee still live in Coastal Georgia today.
The Maybank Plantation was described in a book entitled The Dwelling Place, a plantation epic which features Maybank and describes low country life (Clarke 2005). The plantation is very much the way it was in the 1800’s only with pine timber instead of cotton as the main agricultural commodity. Maybank is also featured in a famous book The Children of the Pride – an 1800 page collection of letters from the Jones family that won a National Book Award in 1973 (Myers 1972).
The Jones family was unique in that they kept detailed notes and correspondence from the period that provides us with insight on plantation culture, and African American life after the Civil War and the end of slavery.
Today, as a direct result of private investment this collection of conservation easement properties ensures the perpetual protection and continued public benefit of significant tidal saltmarsh and maritime forest in Georgia.