CHAPTER XIII. FROM THE SAVANNAH RIVER TO FLORIDA.
ROUTE TO THE SEA ISLANDS OF GEORGIA. - STORM-BOUND ON GREEN ISLAND. - OSSABAW ISLAND. - ST. CATHERINE'S SOUND. - SAPELO ISLAND. - THE MUD OF MUD RIVER. - NIGHT IN A NEGRO CABIN. - "DE SHOUTINGS" ON DOBOY ISLAND. - BROUGHTON ISLAND. - ST. SIMON'S AND JEKYL ISLANDS. - INTERVIEW WITH AN ALLIGATOR. - A NIGHT IN JOINTER HAMMOCK. - CUMBERLAND ISLAND AND ST. MARY'S RIVER. - FAREWELL TO THE SEA.
On February 24th, the voyage was again resumed. My route lay through the coast islands of Georgia, as far south as the state boundary, Cumberland Sound, and the St. Mary's River. This part of the coast is very interesting, and is beautifully delineated on the Coast Charts No. 56-57 of the United States Coast Survey, which were published the year after my voyage ended.
Steamers run from Savannah through these interesting interior water-ways to the ports of the St. John's River, Florida, and by taking this route the traveller can escape a most uninteresting railroad journey from Savannah to Jacksonville, where sandy soils and pine forests present an uninviting prospect to the eye. A little dredging, in a few places along the steamboat route, should be done at national cost, to make this a more convenient and expeditious tidal route for vessels.
Leaving Greenwich, Bonaventure, and Thunderbolt behind me on the upland, the canoe entered the great marshy district of the coast along the Wilmington and Skiddaway rivers to Skiddaway Narrows, which is a contracted, crooked watercourse connecting the Skiddaway with the Burnside River. The low lands were made picturesque by hammocks, some of which were cultivated.
In leaving the Burnside for the broad Vernon River, as the canoe approached the sea, one of the sudden tempests which frequently vex these coast-waters arose, and drove me to a hammock in the marshes of Green Island, on the left bank and opposite the mouth of the Little Ogeechee River. Green Island has been well cultivated in the past, but is now only the summer home of Mr. Styles, its owner. Two or three families of negroes inhabited the cabins and looked after the property of the absent proprietor.
I waded to my knees in the mud before the canoe could be landed, and, as it stormed all night, I slept on the floor of the humble cot of the negro Echard Holmes, having first treated the household to crackers and coffee. The negroes gathered from other points to examine the canoe, and, hearing that I was from the north, one grizzly old darky begged me to "carry" his complaints to Washington.
"De goberment," he said, "has been berry good to wees black folks. It gib us our freedom, - all berry well; but dar is an noder ting wees wants; dat is, wees wants General Grant to make tings stashionary. De storekeeper gibs a poor nigger only one dollar fur bushel corn, sometimes not so much. Den he makes poor nigger gib him tree dollars fur bag hominy, sometimes more'n dat. Wees wants de goberment to make tings stashionary. Make de storekeeper gib black man one dollar and quarter fur de bushel of corn, and make him sell de poor nigger de bag hominy fur much less dan tree dollars. Make all tings stashionary. Den dar's one ting more. Tell de goberment to do fur poor darky 'nodder ting, - make de ole massa say to me, You's been good slave in ole times, - berry good slave; now I gib you one, two, tree, five acres of land for yoursef.' Den ole nigger be happy, and massa be happy too; den bof of um bees happy. Hab you a leetle bacca fur dis ole man?"
From the Styles mansion it was but three miles to Ossabaw Sound. Little Don Island and Raccoon Key are in the mouth of the Vernon. Between the two flat islands is a deep passage through which the tides rush with great force; it is called Hell Gate. On the south side of Raccoon Key the Great Ogeechee River pours its strong volume of water into Ossabaw Sound.
I entered the Great Ogeechee through the Don Island passage, and saw sturgeon-fishermen at work with their nets along the shores of Ossabaw, one of the sea islands. Ossabaw Island lies between Ossabaw and St. Catherine's sounds, and is eight miles long and six miles wide. The side towards the sea is firm upland, diversified with glades, while the western portion is principally marshes cut up by numerous creeks. All the sea islands produce the long staple cotton known as sea-island cotton, and before the war a very valuable variety. A few negroes occupy the places abandoned by the proprietor, and eke out a scanty livelihood.
Ossabaw Island. One of its late proprietors informed me that there must be at least ten thousand wild hogs there, as they have been multiplying for many years, and but few were shot by the negroes. The domestic hog becomes a very shy animal if left to himself for two or three years. The hunter may search for him without a dog almost in vain, though the woods may contain large numbers of these creatures.
The weather was now delightful, and had I possessed a light tent I would not have sought shelter at night in a human habitation anywhere along the route. The malaria which arises from fresh-water sinks in many of the sea islands during the summer months, did not now make camping-out dangerous to the health. Crossing the Great Ogeechee above Middle Marsh Island, I followed the river to the creek called Florida Passage, through which I reached Bear River, with its wide and long reaches, and descended it to St. Catherine's Sound.