A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A forgotten Georgia fort marks the final foreign occupation of the mainland U.S.
It was the forgotten invasion of a forgotten war. In January 1815, more than 1,500 British troops attacked a thinly defended American battery on Georgia's coast, overwhelming its 36 defenders. The British then proceeded to sack the nearby town of St. Mary's and burn its fort before departing just weeks later.
The hostilities marked the last invasion and occupation of the U.S. mainland by foreign troops. The fighting was all the more remarkable because the War of 1812 had ended a month earlier with the Treaty of Ghent. By time the invaders pulled out, even Andrew Jackson's victory over the British at New Orleans--often considered the final battle of the war--was history. It had taken a month for word of peace to make its way across the Atlantic to both British and American forces.
Nearly two centuries later, an unlikely chain of events has resurrected the memories, as well as tangible traces of Point Peter's colorful history: the foundations of its military barracks, a blockhouse, a parade ground, traces of tent encampments, garbage pits, privies, and old wells that yielded unmistakable evidence of the British pillage of St. Mary's.
In 2002, when Atlanta-based Land Resource Companies unveiled plans for an upscale waterfront development at Point Peter, the proposal caught the attention of Daniel Elliott, president of the LAMAR Institute, a nonprofit Georgia archaeological organization. As part of a long-term effort to identify sites important to Georgia's pre-Civil War military heritage, Elliott had found fleeting references to fortifications at Point Peter that were part of George Washington's "First System" of seacoast defenses. The precise location of the fort was unknown, but Elliott warned local leaders that the planned 1,200-unit housing development known as Cumberland Harbor clearly had the potential to affect a "great cultural treasure" somewhere on the banks of Peter Creek.
Elliott's information and the fact that the Cumberland Harbor project required a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers were enough to trigger an archaeological survey of the adjoining upland. To conduct the survey, the developer hired Scott Butler, senior archaeologist at Atlanta-based Brockington and Associates, one of Georgia's several cultural management firms. Neither Butler nor Land Resource had an inkling that the effort would become one of the largest archaeological undertakings in the state and bring to light a little-known chapter of early American history.
Mike Toner is a science writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.