by Tom Talleur
Georgia. The mere utterance of the name invokes imagery of the Deep South and Savannah, with its antebellum homes, wrought iron gates, cobblestone streets, Spanish moss and lush green scenery. Then there’s the well-known island getaways: Tybee, St. Simons, and Jekyll. But there’s more — much more.
If you’re like many of us, chances are you’ve traversed the 110-some odd miles of I-95 spanning the South Carolina and Florida borders, without ever gaining a glimpse of the Georgia coast.
Yet, the curious venturing off the interstate down a coastal road less traveled will discover small, once dead towns, scores of historic sites, folksy family-run restaurants, and public dock access to the Atlantic and barrier islands home only to wildlife.
A Revolutionary War Era Town
Just minutes east of I-95 at exit 76 lies Sunbury, a seaport village of notable commercial importance before the American Revolutionary war. Situated south of Savannah at the end of Old Sunbury road, it features a safe and spacious harbor for deep draft vessels.
It is here on June 20, 1758, five prominent families sparked residency of about 1,000 enterprising planters, traders, fishers and slaves, to build 496 homes and, wharves suitable for berthing trader ships. By 1761, the Governor declared Sunbury a port of entry, one of two on the Georgia coast, at a time featuring arrivals of seven square rigger trading vessels a day.
The pre-Revolutionary War days at Sunbury saw a populace leading easy, comfortable, simple lives given to hospitality with fishing, sailing, riding and hunting as amusements. Residents could
marvel at the 180° view of the vast aqua ecosystem out to the St. Catherine’s sound. But the good days didn’t last for long.
The Revolutionary War triggered the decline of the village and the area. Natives Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett , two signers of the Declaration of Independence, led Sunbury residents in rebellion against the British even though most colony residents were loyalists.
Intent on compelling the colonists to yield, the British destroyed trade routes, property, livestock, and inflicted such cruelty to invoke an unshakable resolve among colonists: liberty or death. The destruction of the village, nearby Fort Morris , and misfortune through the War of 1812, placed Sunbury in the ranks of Georgia’s “dead towns” by the 1830’s.
Sunbury today: Where to go and what to do
Sunbury is an active recreational port today. Every Friday afternoon, roads to the area bulge with pickup trucks hauling boat trailers to the public dock , a gateway to the Atlantic and local waters for nature watchers, fishers, sailors and weekend water warriors. It’s a great place for sightseeing, beachcombing and snapping photos.
It’s also home to the Sunbury Crab Company , a family-run seafood restaurant of critical acclaim and a great place to sit, relax and enjoy the panoramic view in a Key West style atmosphere.
Fort Morris offers tours and historic references. Some residents from the old days are buried in the Sunbury cemetery , where the oldest marker dates from 1788. And the Midway Museum , about a 15-minute drive from Sunbury, offers daily tours and lectures about area history.
Today, it’s difficult to grasp the notion this village and land and the name America were once the dominion of a foreign power. Gone is the active commercial seaport. Gone are the patriots who risked life and fortune in a struggle for independence. But the history and beauty remain. And it’s something you can see, touch and hear only a few minutes away from I-95.