Butler Island Plantation - Darien, Georgia
|Butler Island, Georgia
Noted writers Fanny Kemble and Owen Wister
were fixtures of Butler Island, Georgia. Famed
baseball great Babe Ruth also spent time there.
Butler Island, Georgia
Located near Darien in the
Altamaha River delta, Butler
Island was the center of a
cotton and rice plantation.
Famous Butler Authors
Butler Island has connections
to several famous authors
and this historical marker
notes its literary significance.
Butler Island Plantation - Darien, Georgia
Life on a Georgia Plantation
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: January 7, 2014
History on the Georgia Coast
Butler Rice Mill
The towering chimney of the
19th century rice mill stands
as a reminder of the Butler
Plantation's importance to the
early Georgia rice industry.
Butler Island, the site of a noted plantation, is
one mile south of Darien, Georgia.
Located in the coastal marshes formed by
the mouth of the Altamaha River, the island is
now part of the Altamaha Waterfowl
Management Area. It is open to the public
daily and features plantation ruins, historical
markers, walking trails and is a great place
for heritage and eco-tourism adventures.
The Butler Island Plantation dates its history
back to the 1790s when Major Pierce Butler
first began to plant its lands. An officer of the
American Revolution, Butler was one of the
men who drafted the U.S. Constitution. He
fought against the British alongside such
noted officers as Francis Marion, Nathaniel
Greene and Thomas Sumter.
He sold of his South Carolina lands following
the death of his wife in 1790 and invested
heavily in two plantations on the Sea Islands
of Georgia. One of these was on St. Simons
Island and the other was on Butler Island.
Described as "eccentric" by those who knew
him, he was a leader in the Georgia rice
The delta of the Altamaha River and its vast
marshlands were ideal for the production of
rice and his plantation became one of the
most successful rice farms in Georgia. The
earliest rice mills used "green" power
provided by the tides to turn the millstones.
When Major Butler died in 1822, the Butler
Island Plantation passed to his grandson,
Captain Pierce Butler. He was married to the
noted English actress and writer Fanny
When he finally took over the plantation from
his grandfather's estate, Captain Butler took
his wife and family there for the winter of
1838-1839. The results were probably not
what the plantation owner had in mind.
Fannie Kemble became a major advocate for
the slaves on the plantation, complaining
repeatedly to her husband about the living
conditions of the slaves on the farm as well
as about their treatment by his manager,
Roswell King, Jr. Her experiences at Butler
Island during the winter of 1838-1839 led her
to develop strong opinions in favor of the
abolition of slavery.
Tensions increased between the actress
and her plantation-owner husband and he
threatened to deny her access to their
daughters if she wrote and published her
views about plantation-life and slavery. They
were divorced in 1847 and in 1863 - after her
daughters were grown - Kemble published
her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian
Plantation in 1838-1839.
At the time of its publication, Great Britain
was thought to be considering the possibility
of intervening in the War Between the States
(or Civil War) on behalf of the South. The
book is credited by many with ending any
possibility of such an alliance.
A steam-powered rice mill was built on Butler
Island in 1850 and operated until the war. Its
75-foot chimney towers over the island today
and is its major landmark. Other ruins can be
seen around it.
Captain Pierce Butler lost most of his huge
fortune during the 1850s and managed to
save his Georgia plantations only by selling
off 439 of his slaves in 1859. The auction,
held near Savannah, was the largest in
Attempts were made after the war to return
the plantation to profitability using hired labor,
but it never regained its former success.
It was run for a time by a daughter of Pierce
Butler and Fannie Kemble, author Frances
Butler Leigh. She later defended her father in
the book Ten Years on a Georgian Plantation
since the War, a publication that was a
rebuttal of her mother's earlier book.
A third noted writer associated with Butler
Island was Owen Wister, a grandson of
Captain Pierce Buter. He wrote the popular
western novel, The Virginian and often visited
The large white home still seen on Butler
Island today was built in 1927 by Col. T.L.
Huston, half-owner of the New York Yankees.
He hosted many professional baseball
players there, among them Babe Ruth.
Butler Island today is part of the Altamaha
Waterfowl Management Area. It is open to the
public daily and is accessed from U.S. 17
one mile south of Darien, Georgia. It is free to
In addition to its historic sites, it is a major
waterfowl area and features observation
towers, waterfowl impoundments and an
The area around Butler Island is also famed
as the haunt of the Altamaha-ha. A massive
sea monster or river monster, it has been
seen since at least 1826 in the Altamaha
River area. Please click here to learn more!
Power from the Tides
The rice mill used water that
flowed through this tidal gate
to power its machinery long
before the advent of electric