Historic Horton House a Vital Reminder of Jekyll Island's Colorful Past

Standing outside the Horton House ruins on Jekyll Island, it's hard to imagine how it looked in all its glory.

Major William Horton built his home way back in 1740, but had lived on Jekyll Island before then. He was one of James Oglethorpe's most trusted military aids, and was acting as ambassador to the Spanish settlements in Florida in St. Augustine in 1736 when he was arrested as a spy.

Horton House, Jekyll Island, Georgia

Historic Horton House, Clinton Steeds (Flickr)

While Horton was a reluctant guest in a St. Augustine jail, the Spanish decided to advance into Jekyll Sound and Ft. Frederica, but were turned back by determined colonial resistance. After their defeat, the Spanish released Horton. From June 17th to June 22nd, 1736, Horton, along with Georgia's British and Creek Indian allies, met with Spanish diplomats to try and work out their colony's differences through negotiations.

In 1738 Horton was granted possession of Jekyll Island by James Oglethorpe and the Trustees of the Georgia Colony, partly in recognition of his services, but mostly as part of Oglethorpe's plan for expanding, fortifying, occupying and settling the Georgia coast.

Suddenly finding himself an island owner, Horton realized he needed a place to live that fit his station. The Horton home mansion - two stories, built of tabby - was one of the largest dwellings outside Savannah.

Horton built his home in what was at once a wilderness outpost and a frontier. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine the hardships our colonial brothers faced. Could you live with

  • the ever-present threat of malaria from rogue mosquitoes?
  • constant worrying about Indian attacks?
  • the fear of Spanish invasions?

But worse things were out there. How about

  • no air-conditioning?
  • no Deep Woods Off?
  • no internet, iphones or MTV?

It's almost too much to contemplate!!!

Horton House Beginnings -

Not one to sit idle or rest on his laurels, Horton rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He built his home using tabby construction, a popular building material along the Georgia and Florida coasts. Tabby was like a coastal concrete. It was made by burning shells to extract lime, then mixing the lime with equal parts of water, shells and sand.

When you see a building made from tabby, it's not hard to think coastal living.

Horton settled in to his new home and surroundings, building barns and outbuildings to support his burgeoning farm. He was still a military man, however, officer in charge of the troops garrisoned at St. Simon's Fort Frederica, and used his farm to grow crops to supply the fort.

This included his "sideline" - growing hops to brew Georgia's first beer. Horton built a brewery & warehouse near his home (the remains which can still be seen today, next to DuBignon Creek). Jekyll Island beer, as well as ale, was shipped to Fort Frederica for thirsty soldiers.

Crops and adult beverages were most likely sold off-island as well. Imagine thirsty settlers sailing over from St. Simons, poling up DuBignon Creek, and lining up at Horton's brewery, empty kegs in hand.

Horton also cut the first road across Jekyll Island, one still being used to this day.

More territorial squabbling with the pesky Spanish resulted in the house being burned after the Battle of Bloody Marsh, but Horton regrouped and the house was rebuilt in 1743.

The Horton mansion served as an outpost of the British Empire, a working farm, and Major Horton's private residence, until his death in Savannah in 1748.

Today, the house is a wasted ruin. Then, however, it was part of a vital farm, with barns, outbuildings, fertile fields, and even a brewery on the site.

The DuBignon Era -

After Horton's death, Jekyll Island and the Horton House were acquired by Christophe Poulain du Bignon, a Frenchman who brought his family to the island in 1790's to escape the bloody excesses of the French Revolution. DuBignon's occupied the house from 1790 to the mid-1800's.

A DuBignon cemetery is across North Riverview Drive from the Horton house.

Explore Major Horton's Home -

Put on your explorer's hat and learn a little more about this intriguing historical treasure.

If you're on Jekyll Island in June, make a note to attend a living re-enactment of the 1736 negotiations between Horton, the British, the Creeks and the Spanish. You'll meet historic leaders like James Oglethorpe, Spanish diplomats Don Pedro Lamberto and Don Manuel d'Arcy, Creek leader Hyllispilli and, of course, Major William Horton.

Watch them as they negotiate the future of Georgia's coastal colonies. You can also join in hands-on demonstrations of colonial crafts-making. Learn to card and spin wool, brew beer, and do blacksmithing tasks. The King's troops also put on a pretty impressive demonstration of black-powder musketry.

More Horton House Info -

Take a moment to stop at the Horton House ruins, and breathe in the air of rich colonial history!

For more info, contact the Jekyll Island Museum at (912)635-4036.

The Horton home is on the National Register of Historic Places, and received an Excellence in Preservation award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

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