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A Beautiful Place at Beaulieu


Given from the Perspective of a Georgia Militia Man:


Welcome to Beaulieu Plantation!  We are about 13 miles from the Colonial Capital of Georgia, which is Savannah.  As Beaulieu in French means, “Beautiful Place,” I declare this place is well named!  Though the name of the place in southwestern England in Hampshire is from Beaulieu Abbey, which had 30 French monks founded by King John in 1204 AD, the name fits here as well.  It’s an honor to be with this brilliant assembly of guests from all over our country, who appreciate our heritage.



My name is Sergeant Bradford, and I am dressed as one of the Georgia Patriot Militia who served in our War for Independence.  This ground witnessed one of the most dramatic scenes during that contest for liberty, where Georgia Patriot Joseph Habersham played an active part.

If you have never stepped foot here before, the Guale, Yamassee, and Yamacraw Creek were some of the people who lived in this area.  A British Statesman named William Stephens, who had a difficult, 25 year career in British Parliament before coming destitute in Scotland, was invited to settle in the Province of Caroline in 1736.  I realize it’s difficult to imagine a politician losing money!  As the Governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, was not regularly sending reports to the Royal Trustees, William Stephens was appointed Secretary.  Stephens was granted 500 acres of land (the largest amount of land that anyone was allowed to hold under the Royal Trustees), that stretched from the mouth of the Vernon River to Bethesda.  At first, Stephens used six indentured servants to the work the land.  He named the plantation after a place near his home in England, near the Isle of Wight.  Stephens proved a wise judge and peacemaker and was appointed President of Georgia in October of 1741.  This was timely, as Oglethorpe had his hands full.  After a failed offensive against the mighty Spanish castle at Saint Augustine in 1740, 5,000 Spaniards came up the Georgia coast in the summer of 1742.  Across the way on the Isle of Hope at Wormsloe, Noble Jones had a fort of tabby around his home and Colonial Georgia Marines patrolling this intercoastal waterways. 



With the stirring victory at the Battle of Bloody Marsh, the Spanish soon after retreated back to Florida. When Oglethorpe soon returned to England, never to return to Georgia again, Stephens served as President until 1751, when Georgia became a Royal Colony.  At 80 years old, Stephens repaired to Beaulieu, with his son, Newdigate.  He passed away two years later.

Beaulieu had become one of the leading plantations in the area. When Georgia became a Royal Colony, the ban on slavery was ended.  On many of the coastal islands, the type of slavery used was known as the task system.  The enslaved workers would usually be given a series of tasks with little direct supervision.  If they worked hard and got ahead in their tasks, they would have time and the ability to work their own land and sometimes sell, barter, or trade.


Beaulieu remained in the Stephens family until 1772.  A Savannah merchant named John Morel the Elder, one of the most prosperous planters in the region, had various holdings and 155 enslaved workers.  His wife, Mary, was a daughter of the Patriot Statesman Jonathan Bryan.  Bryan and others believed that British Parliament was committing tyranny, by ignoring our Legislatures and taxing us without our consent.  When the War began, Captain Bryan commanded the Light Infantry Company, that was led by James Jackson in clearing Tybee Island of a suspected British led slave uprising in July of 1775.  In 1776, Morel the Elder passed away.  His son, John Morel the Younger, inherited Beaulieu Plantation, while operating two other plantations as well.


After failing to crush the head of the snake of rebellion, the British changed their focus and adopted their Southern Strategy.  By marching up from British held Florida and sending 3,500 men south to Savannah, the British believed most Southerners were loyal to King George and simply scared of being tarred and feathered by the Sons of Liberty.  Right after Christmas in 1778, Savannah was attacked.  The 863 man Patriot force was crushed, with 83 killed (with many slaughtered in the streets) and over 500 captured, and many more drowning in the Savannah River.  British forces swept up the River to Augusta and across the River into South Carolina to the gates of Charlestown, before backing down.  After the disappointing defeat at Stono Ferry in June, when 4,000 Patriots failed to destroy 800 British outside of Charlestown, the Patriot Army largely melted away.


And yet, the British forces presented a weakness.  The British forces were spread out along the Coast, with a small force in Sunbury, 1,200 Redcoats in Savannah, and their elite Scottish Highlanders and German Hessians in Beaufort, 50 miles by water up the Coast.  If the 1,200 Patriots could swiftly march 15 miles down the River from Purrysburg, we could catch the British in Savannah by surprise.  Clearly, we realized the need for help.


After being shocked that we “insurgents” were still fighting after almost four years, the new French King Louis XVI saw an opportunity to strike back at their rival British Empire after losing the Seven Years War. Although he was 50 years old, Tall Charles Henri, Comte D’Estaing – Vice Admiral of France, Lieutenant General of the Armies of the King, Chevalier of the Orders, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of His Most Christian Majesty in America, possessed the enthusiasm and fire of a man of twenty.  He was known to work at a maddening pace, only fall asleep at his desk.  On his chest he proudly wore a medal of the Chevalier of the Orders, the top knight in the Palace of Versailles.  In 1214, his ancestor saved the life of King Philip Augustus.  After being wounded and captured by the British in the Siege of Madras in India, he followed the letter of the parole when turning privateer ravaging British ships and settlements in the Persian Gulf.  He justified this by sitting in a small boat and watching the combat, rather than taking part.  A British Admiral threatened that, if he ever caught the “villain,” he would “chain him on the quarter-deck and treat him like a baboon.”  After being captured again by the British and released, D’Estaing’s fight was personal.



After failed actions in New York Harbor and Newport, Rhode Island, D’Estaing’s mighty force of 54 ships, 5,000 men, and 2,000 guns sailed into the Caribbean.  On the 4th of July, 1779, D’Estaing led troops to with the battle of, “Vive le Roi!”, and captured a British stronghold atop a mountain and the Island of Grenada.  John Paul Jones attended a play in Paris that celebrated this victory. An old French Royal Musketeer in Charlestown convinced D’Estaing of the opportunity.  With two 50 ships of the line, the French could easily sail right into Savannah and take the Capital.




Despite the Golden Lily of the Fleur de lis on the French Royal Banner, proud Regimental flags with colors such as purple and green with a large cross that flew upon many a blood stained battlefield in Europe, and their varied white, red, and blue colored uniforms, white crossbelts, and broad cocked hats, the well groomed powdered whigs served as a façade to cover filth and vermin.  Many times, French soldiers were recorded by nick names, such as Lajoculair and Vive le Amour.  Compared with their American counterparts, the average soldier from France and England was shorter.


In this three way race to Savannah, the French had the advantage of sailing.  On the afternoon of September 9th at Tybee Island, which is at the mouth of the Savannah River, D’Estaing sought to reduce a British fort.  He was in the first boat during this landing on the beach.  However, due to a breakdown in communication, there were no fellow French troop transports to be found.  D’Estaing and his personal escort marched up and down the beach, with D’Estaing shouting and blaming another officer.  Meanwhile, 500 French soldiers remained overnight crowded into open boats.


The next day, it was determined that the British had burned their fort and retreated the 13 miles up the River back into Savannah.  Rather than sail up the treacherous Savannah River, D’Estaing was encouraged by Savannahian Philip Minis to sail into Ossabaw Sound and up the Vernon River to Beaulieu Plantation. 


On September 11th, the day that the French were to rendezvous with the Americans and march triumphantly into Savannah, the small French vessels proceeded.  At 2 PM, troops loaded in boats.  However, the large ships with a deep draft had trouble passing the bar.  1,500 troops remained cramped in open boats offshore. 


On September 12th at 4 PM began to land at Beaulieu in heavy rain and wind.  D’Estaing wrote that Joseph Habersham’s “diligence and zeal merited the highest praise.”  The particular landing site was at the base of a stiff bluff.  One can picture the French forces struggling mightily in the mud to scale the bluff during the night.  Though not leaning heroically into musket and cannon fire, the storms in these parts may be similar enough!  There was a great fear that the British might catch wind and hurl the French off the bluff.  Without the support of artillery, this was a concern indeed.



On September 13th, it was revealed that an easy path 100 yards away was a much easier undertaking.  The rain continued, and no cannon or tents were offloaded.  Pulaski’s 350 Horse, rather than the American Army, to greet them.  Only about 400 Georgia Militia were outside of Savannah, while the rest of the American Army had been delayed by the flooded Savannah River.  Offloading continued during lulls on the 13th and 14th.  Pillaging and looting occurred by several French regiments, along with hunting down suspected Tories.  Despite being the daughter of Patriot Jonathan Bryan, the widow Mary Sorel experienced her home at Beaulieu being pillaged of all types of livestock and crystal.  D’Estaing got a horse from Bethesda.  200 French grenadiers hunted a suspected herd of 500 cattle.  After tromping through at times waist high mud all over one of the islands, they returned empty handed.  Two boats capsized and the crew lost.  Several French ships had to escape out to sea.  Swedish Nobleman Von Stedinck wrote that his soldiers were in cramped, open boats for three days, much of it in the driving rain.  Only good news was captured British General Garth, who was to replace the British General Prevost, the daughter of Royal Governor Sir James Wright, HMS Victory and Experiment, along with three transports.  This gave food and pay, but was soon consumed. On September 15th, storms finally broke and rest of forces were unloaded. On the 16th, the French Army marched to the outskirts of Savannah.


This ground witnessed the glory of the French, along with the crushing disappointment from the storms that foreshadowed the Storming of Savannah.  Rather than being able to starve the British into surrender, the French were losing 35 men a day to scurvy.  The ship biscuits were so riddled with worms, that a dog or cat would not even touch it.  The British had already gathered much foodstuffs from the countryside.  A spectacular bombardment of over 1,000 shots over 5 days killed 40 women and children, and failed to reduce the British fortifications.  On October 9th, a  grand assault at dawn resulted in the bloodiest 55 minutes of fighting and carnage during the entire War, with at least 750 French and Americans cut down compared with 55 British.  Yet, the American and French Alliance were forged in the crucible of battle.  The lessons learned would not be in vain, and would be applied at the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia.  As we lift a bumper here at Beaulieu and celebrate the ultimate victory, we may give thanks that the Storm at Beaulieu and Savannah subsided to give us this beautiful land, friendships, and a country we call home. “Continental Congress and American Liberty!”

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