McIntosh County, on the Georgia coast, was created from Liberty County by an act of the state legislature in 1793. The county was named for the McIntosh family, who were among the earliest Scottish Highlanders to settle the area three years after the founding of the Georgia colony. The most prominent member of this family was General Lachlan McIntosh, commander of Georgia forces in the Revolutionary War (1775-83) and a primary force in the colony's movement toward independence.
The earliest settlers in the lands that became McIntosh County were Guale Indians, followed by Spanish missionaries from about 1595 to 1686, both on the mainland and on nearby Sapelo Island. The first English presence was established by South Carolina Rangers, who built Fort King George in 1721. The first permanent settlement was a group of Highland Scots from Inverness, who, under the auspices of James Edward Oglethorpe, founded the town Darien in January 1736.
McIntosh County was devastated by Union military and naval action during the Civil War (1861-65). Darien, deserted and undefended, was sacked and burned by Union colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts regiment in June 1863, and most of the county's river plantations were destroyed in a series of raids in 1862-64.
During Reconstruction, Tunis G. Campbell, an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau, became McIntosh County's first African American elected official, serving in the Georgia General Assembly as well as in various local positions. During his period of public service, Campbell did much to enhance educational and economic opportunities for McIntosh County's freed slaves.
McIntosh County was an international timber market for four decades after the Civil War. The volume of rafts of virgin yellow-pine timber floating down the Altamaha River from the interior of Georgia established Darien as the primary outlet for lumber and timber on the Atlantic coast. Sawmills and loading docks in the county provided employment for hundreds of local black citizens displaced by the war.
Sailing vessels and steamships from Europe, South America, and the Far East loaded cargoes of lumber processed at mills in and around Darien. Later, investments of northern capital further energized the county and led to the construction of a railroad into Darien in 1895. In 1900 an all-time record of more than 112 million board feet of lumber was processed and shipped overseas from McIntosh County.
During World War II (1941-45) the U.S. Army operated an air training facility with concrete runways, barracks, and support facilities at Harris Neck in a remote section of McIntosh County, for the training of P-40 fighter pilots. The Coast Guard had submarine watch stations on Sapelo and Blackbeard islands. In 1953 the University of Georgia established its Marine Institute on Sapelo Island.
The county population, according to the 2010 U.S. census, was 14,333, an increase from the 2000 population of 10,847.
Melissa Fay Greene, Praying for Sheetrock (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1991).
Buddy Sullivan, Early Days on the Georgia Tidewater: The Story of McIntosh County and Sapelo (Darien, Ga.: McIntosh County Board of Commissioners, 1997).
Buddy Sullivan, The Darien Journal of John Girardeau Legare, Ricegrower (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Buddy Sullivan, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.