The port town was established on the north branch of the Altamaha River in 1736 by Scottish Highlanders
After the American Revolution (1775-83) Darien became a port of increasing importance because of its position near the mouth of the Altamaha River. Locally cultivated rice and upland cotton rafted down the Altamaha from the interior were exported from Darien to larger ports up the coast. In 1816 Darien was incorporated as a town by a legislative act. In 1818, because of the rapid commercial growth of the port, the seat of McIntosh County was moved to Darien from Sapelo Bridge, ten miles to the north. The Bank of Darien, which became one of the most influential financial institutions in the South, was chartered in late 1818, largely because of the town's cotton trade, and opened in April 1819. Steamboat traffic on the Altamaha from Macon and the state capital at Milledgeville made Darien its ocean terminus.
In the 1840s and 1850s yellow pine timber was rafted down the river to Darien's sawmills
In June 1863 Darien was burned by Union forces composed of two African American units: the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Robert G. Shaw; and the Second South Carolina Infantry, under Colonel James Montgomery. This incident caused considerable resentment among Southern sympathizers. Darien was undefended and unoccupied, and it was not a place of strategic or commercial importance at the time.
After the Civil War the flow of timber down the Altamaha River to the local sawmills resumed, and Darien quickly rebuilt. The town's recovery from the war was rapid because of the demands for labor associated with the local lumber industry. The African American population of Darien developed increasing independence and self-sufficiency as a result as well. Tunis G. Campbell of Darien, an official of the Freedmen's Bureau and one of the first African Americans to serve in the Georgia legislature, was a key figure during Reconstruction. He provided leadership and direction for McIntosh County blacks in the chaotic years following the war. Other African Americans, such as Alonzo Guyton, Lewis Jackson, James Bennett, and Amos Rogers, played prominent roles in Darien business and politics during the Reconstruction and postbellum periods.
Pine timber rafted down the Altamaha to Darien from the interior made the town the leading center of export for lumber on the southern Atlantic coast during the late nineteenth century. Darien became an international port as ships from Europe, Asia, and South America frequented the local waterways to load lumber. The peak was reached in 1900, when more than 100 million linear board feet of timber and lumber were shipped from Darien. Shipment totals dramatically declined later, as the supply of timber from upriver, once thought inexhaustible, was reduced to a trickle because of overcutting. The Darien and Western Railroad, the town's first rail link with the interior, was completed in 1895, but it came too late to save the timber industry. The last of Darien's big sawmills, the Hilton and Dodge Lumber Company, went bankrupt in 1916, and an era came to an end.
Darien's population in 1900 was 1,739 residents. By 1930 the town had dwindled to 937 residents. Beginning in the mid-1920s Darien experienced renewed growth with the commercial seafood industry.
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, "The Darien Insurrection of 1899: Black Protest during the Nadir of Race Relations," Georgia Historical Quarterly 74 (summer 1990): 234-53.
Russell Duncan, Freedom's Shore: Tunis Campbell and the Georgia Freedmen (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986).
Anthony W. Parker, Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia: The Recruitment, Emigration, and Settlement at Darien, 1735-1748 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997).
Buddy Sullivan, The Darien Journal of John Girardeau Legare, Ricegrower (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Buddy Sullivan, Early Days on the Georgia Tidewater: The Story of McIntosh County and Sapelo, 5th ed. (Darien, Ga.: McIntosh County Board of Commissioners, 1997).
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.