Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Care-giving vs. Ownership


            We are only the sixth owners of this property since 1736. This thought amazed me fifteen years ago when we first signed the promissory note to the bank. I now realize, we are merely giving care to a place that will be here long after we are gone and other names are registered on the deed.


             Hugh MacKay was first deeded land on Turkey Buzzard's Island and another 450 acres known as the Mound Tract in a land grant from James Oglethorpe as reward for his service and leadership in the Scottish Highlander Regiment. In 1740, Hugh was denied a promotion to the rank of Major. He then quit the regiment and the colony and returned to Scotland leaving this parcel to his brother. In 1748, James petitioned the trustees for 500 acres on the great Ogeechee,which he then named "Strathy Hall" to honor his Scottish home. The next year, Georgia became a crown colony, and the experienced James was tapped to lead an independent company from South Carolina in service to His Majesty. This company was sent to Virginia under the command of Governor Dinwiddie for service at the beginning of what would become the French and Indian War at the beginning of 1754.
            MacKay and his company were ordered to provide relief to the young George Washington in the Ohio Country and arrived in June with 98 men and supplies. Washington's troops had been unable to advance their position due to a lack of food, munitions, and men. Apparently, when MacKay arrived, there was some dispute over whose leadership would be recognized,  that of the struggling  22 year old Washington, newly named a colonial colonel after his leader's unfortunate fall from a horse, or of the senior soldier in the British army, Captain MacKay, who was coming to his aid.
             When Washington had arrived at the spot where the Allegheny meets the Monongahela (presently Pittsburgh, PA), he had expected to find an English fort begun by the Ohio Company. Instead, he discovered  that it had been seized by the French and renamed Fort Duquense. He pushed on to a clearing called The Great Meadows to await orders and an opportunity to retake the fort.  In May of 1754, Washington lead a group of about 40 soldiers through a stormy night to surprise an "advancing" group of French based on intelligence reports provided by his Indian ally, Tanacharison. "I ordered my company to fire" into the group, resulting in a brief, fifteen minute battle that killed 10 Frenchmen and captured 21. Washington lost only one man. The French survivors claimed that they were on a diplomatic mission to meet with the British, thus explaining their lack of sentries. While their wounded commander, Monsieur De Jumonville, attempted to explain this to Washington, Tanacharison, who spoke fluent French, sank his hatchet into Jumonville's head, splitting his skull. The young Washington stood shocked in the face of such violence, his first engagement. His private journals detail that the Indians then scalped all the dead and decapitated one. Washington disputed the claim of  a diplomatic mission in his letter to Governor Dinwiddie, as the French had been encamped for days off trail and had not made contact with him. The responsibility for beginning the war that eventually led to the American Revolution ultimately fell on the shoulders of George Washington and this incident.
            Washington retreated back to The Great Meadows, where he built a small fortification called Fort Necessity. With the arrival of the rest of his regiment from Virginia and MacKay's  98 men, there were 391 men defending this position. Soon 600 Frenchmen and 100 Indians advanced on Fort Necessity. It rained all day and flooded the marshy land. The French waited in the woods, as the English became more and more vulnerable and lost men to French fire, "We continued this unequal fight, with an enemy sheltered behind trees, ourselves without shelter, in trenches of water, in a settled rain, and the enemy galling us on all sides incessantly from the woods, till 8 o'clock at night, when the French called to parley"(account by George Washington and James MacKay). The English were allowed to retreat with the honors of war, their baggage and weapons, but gave up their swivel guns, thus Washington surrendered his command. In one clause of the negotiated document, the French claimed that Washington had "assassinated" the leader of the French in the ambushed "diplomatic" mission. Washington later claimed that an inaccurate translation of his agreed surrender had been orchestrated by one of his own, Jacob Van Braam. Though Washington and MacKay claimed in their report to Dinwiddie that they had killed "to above three hundred" in the battle that resulted in their surrender, the French leader, Villiers, stated in his journal that he lost 2 men and 17 were seriously wounded though Washington had one hundred casualties.
           MacKay and his men began their return southward, and he wrote to Washington, "I had several despuits about our Capitulation but I Satisfyd every Person that mentioned that Subject as to the artickle in Questan, that they Were owing to a bad Interpreter and Contrary to the translation made to us when we signed them...." In 1755, James MacKay arrived home and retired from his company, having been commended with Washington for his leadership at Fort Necessity by the House of Burgess, which then decided to disband the Virginia Regiment and thus demote Washington. At that time, Washington also resigned his position in the colonial army and returned to Mount Vernon, discouraged.
           Upon his return "home" to Georgia,  James MacKay settled into life as a respected member of the Kings Council. He acquired another 100 acres southwest of Strathy Hall, and then another 550 acres by 1769. In 1757, he was one of the men named to erect forts for the defense of the great Ogeechee district, and in 1773, he was a commissioner charged to lay out a road from the Great Ogeechee causeway to a point on the lower end of the Ogeechee Neck and to establish ferry service to the port of Sunbury on the south side of the Medway River.
            Prior to his service with Washington in the Ohio Country, slaves were legally permitted in Georgia, though James Oglethorpe had intended for Georgia to remain a slave-free colony. The colonists were authorized to import slaves under a quota system that allowed for 4 blacks for every 1 indentured white manservant by 1750. It was the only way the early settlers could see to be profitable farming this wild, untamed land, and by 1758, James possessed a large number of slaves for his time, 40.


            Even with the tractor mower that can cut the remnant of this property in 3 1/2 hours instead of the 8 it once took our old John Deere riding mower, even with weed whackers, hedge clippers, and many a chainsaw and blade discarded, we have been unable to tame this land. It rules our lives; the temperature extremes, the insects, the sandy soil, the climbing vines, the moss falling, and the Magnolia Trees dropping all provide a humbling reminder that this place will never achieve the perfection of a photograph. So, if you've been fooled by the forgiving, fuzzy eyes of age or the tiny images of the screen, know that we are not perfect. The yard work is never "done." We measure progress in tamed inches, not acres. We measure in beds formed, mulch spread, not grass grown. We water individual plants, as there is no sprinkler system we could or would install to pamper this land. All must survive our benign neglect. Children, pets, family, friends, and paying jobs have kept us pretty busy. Oh well.

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