St. Marys has been described at different times over the centuries as a bustling seaport, a sleepy tourist resting place, or a strategic military location.
Established on the site of an abandoned Timucuan Indian village, Tlathlothlaguphta, St. Marys sits on land confiscated from two brothers of royal governor James Wright. Their Royalist sympathies resulted in their banishment after the American Revolution (1775-83) and the loss of their huge estates.
Soon after the town was laid out, the area became home to Acadian refugees (later called Cajuns). The French-speaking Acadians, having been deported from Canada by the British, had settled in many places, including the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Some fled Toussaint L'Ouverture's slave rebellion there, arriving in St. Marys in 1791. St. Marys was established by an act of the state legislature on December 5, 1792. It was not officially incorporated, however, until November 1802.
The strategic location of St. Marys on the Atlantic Coast just above Florida led to its involvement in several of the major military conflicts in U.S. history. Troops were sent from New York to the area during the American Revolution. It was captured by the British during the War of 1812 (1812-15), and Union gunboats shelled its waterfront buildings during the Civil War (1861-65). Its military connections have continued with the establishment of Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.
Early Population Losses
The losses to the city's population caused by the calamities of war were serious, a combination of casualties sustained during attacks and the migration of frightened civilians inland to avoid danger. In addition to war, raids by smugglers and Native Americans, and epidemics of yellow fever repeatedly occurred throughout the nineteenth century, killing many and causing others to leave. In one attempt to correct the loss of population, free land was offered to settlers in 1877.
Industrial development began after the Civil War,
The establishment of the Gilman Paper Company's St. Marys Kraft Corporation plant in 1941 was a welcome impetus to growth. Gilman Paper was purchased by the Durango Paper Company in 1999 and renamed the Durango-Georgia Company in 2000. After sixty-one years in Camden County the plant closed its doors in fall 2002, causing hardship to many in the local lumber industry who lost their jobs.
Shipbuilding, important in the town's earliest days, again gained importance in the twentieth century.
Although a hotel built in 1916 catered to such travelers as the author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote the children's book The Yearling (1938), and cartoonist Roy Crane, creator of such comics as "Buzz Sawyer,"
Patricia Barefoot, St. Marys and Camden County (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2001).
"Camden County," in The New Georgia Guide (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 691-93.
John H. Christian, Founders of St. Marys [n.p., 1990].
Marguerite Reddick, Camden's Challenge: A History of Camden County, Georgia (n.p.: Camden County Historical Commission, 1976).
Elizabeth B. Cooksey, Savannah
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