Gascoigne Bluff - St. Simons Island, Georgia
The magnificent live oak trees at Gascoigne Bluff
provided timber for the building of the famed warship
USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides").
The bluff on St. Simons
Island is home to live oak
trees that have been growing
for hundreds of years.
One of several markers on
Gascoigne Bluff provides
visitors with an overview of the
significance of the site.
Gascoiqne Bluff - St. Simons Island, Georgia
Georgia Oak & Old Ironsides
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: January 1, 2014
Naval History in the South
Naval Power from the Earth
The massive limbs of the
oaks at Gascoigne Bluff were
perfectly formed for making
the ribs of wooden warships.
Original Slave Cabin
Two historic slave cabins of
the Hamilton Plantation can
be seen at Gascoigne Bluff
on St. Simons Island.
Gascoigne Bluff overlooks the Frederica
River on the western shore of St. Simons
Island, Georgia. Timber for the famed ship
USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") was cut
A beautiful natural and historic resource, the
bluff is home to Gascoigne Bluff Park and the
Methodist Church's Epworth by the Sea
conference center. It stretches north from the
point where the F.J. Torres Causeway
touches St. Simons Island.
Gascoigne Bluff is hauntingly beautiful and
its sheltered location on the Frederica River
side of the island made it an ideal location
for living. Archaeologists have learned that
prehistoric American Indians camped and
lived on the bluff for thousands of years
before the arrival of the first Europeans.
When Spanish explorers and missionaries
arrived on St. Simons Island during the
1500s they found Guale Indians living
beneath the massive live oaks. To convert
them to Christianity, the Franciscans built
three missions among them and tradition
holds that one of these - Mission Santa Cruz
y San Buenaventura de Guadalaquina was
located at Gascoigne Bluff.
The mission was occupied from 1606-1684,
but its actual site has yet to be found. The
bluff offered a sheltered deep water port and
would have been a good spot for San
Buenaventura, which is known to have been
somewhere on the southern end of the
The bluff gained its current name in 1736
when Gov. James Oglethorpe arrived to build
Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island. The two
ships that brought English settlers to St.
Simons Island were escorted by the sloop of
war HMS Hawk. James Gascoigne was the
captain of the Hawk and his arrival at the bluff
is memorialized in its name today.
Gascoigne was granted a plantation of 500
acres on the bluff and he settled there,
building a house and other buildings needed
for the operation of his farm. The location
was convenient for him as Gascoigne Bluff
became Oglethorpe's southern naval base
when the Hawk, Ranger and other vessels
were stationed there to protect Georgia from
Spanish attack. Oglethorpe also built a
storehouse at the bluff.
The peace of Gascoigne Bluff was shattered
in 1739 when England and Spain engaged in
the War of Jenkins' Ear, a conflict sparked by
the alleged removal of an English sea
captain's ear after his ship was captured by
Oglethorpe and his troops from St. Simons
Island went south to try to capture St.
Augustine, the Spanish capital of East
Florida. Despite an extended siege, the
campaign ended in failure when the English
cannon failed to dislodge the Spanish from
the massive fort of Castillo de San Marcos.
Spain retaliated three years later by sailing a
fleet of 51 vessels directly past the guns of
Fort St. Simons. The army of 3,000 Spanish
soldiers came ashore at Gascoigne Bluff,
destroying Oglethorpe's storehouse and the
buildings of Gascoigne's plantation before
taking possession of Fort St. Simons which
had been evacuated by its English garrison.
The Spanish attempt to take Frederica ended
at the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and Battle of
Bloody Marsh on July 7, 1742. Spain never
again seriously threatened to retake its lost
lands in what is now Georgia.
The bluff remained a center for agriculture
and shipping, even as the population of St.
Simons Island dwindled during the decades
leading up to the American Revolution. A
battle of that war was fought in the Frederica
Gascoigne Bluff's greatest contribution to
America's defense, however, came in 1794
when live oak timbers from St. Simons Island
were shipped out from the small port there
for use by the United States Navy. These
heavy timbers were used in the building of
the famed frigate USS Constitution. The ship
still floats today in Boston Harbor and is best
known as "Old Ironsides" because of the way
British cannonballs bounced off its solid oak
sides during the War of 1812.
The introduction of Anguila cotton onto the
sea islands of Georgia coupled with the
invention of the cotton gin produced a boom
in production of the staple. Gascoigne Bluff
became the site of James Hamilton's
plantation during the late 18th and early 19th
centuries. Two of its original slave cabins are
preserved and can be seen on the bluff near
the entrance to Epworth by the Sea, a church-
affiliated conference center.
British troops raided the Hamilton Plantation
in early 1815 as the War of 1812 entered its
final days. Sent ashore by Admiral George
Cockburn, the same officer responsible for
the burning of Washington, D.C., the Royal
Marines and sailors looted Hamilton's home
and liberated many of his slaves. The War of
1812 Raid on St. Simons Island was part of
the last campaign of the war.
Ironically, Captain John Fraser came after the
War of 1812 to manage the plantation. He
had been an officer in the British marines.
Under his guidance, the Hamilton plantation
became the "finest estate on St. Simons."
The U.S. Navy occupied Gascoigne Bluff
during the War Between the States (or Civil
War), but no serious fighting took place in the
vicinity. In later years it became a center for
the timber industry and several sawmills
Much of Gascoigne Bluff is preserved today
as a public park area. Other parts have been
developed for residential purposes and the
northern end is preserved at Epworth by the
Sea, the conference center and retreat built in
1949 by the South Georgia Conference of the
United Methodist Church.
Gascoigne Bluff Park is located along Arthur
J. Moore Drive at its intersection with
Hamilton Road on St. Simons Island,
Georgia. It is open to the public daily and is
free to visit.
Please click here for a map and more
Gascoigne Bluff was the
center of a large plantation.
British troops raided the farm
during the closing days of the
War of 1812.