The Fort Morris State Historic Site in Midway hosted its annual cannon- and musket-firing demonstrations Monday as part of a Labor Day celebration. The event, which also included games and food that were popular more than 200 years ago, gave participants a chance to step back into the 18th century and learn about Fort Morris’ history.
Families watched volunteers dressed in colonial-era garments perform military drills, answer questions about history and serve refreshments in the coastal Georgia marshland, near the banks of the Medway River.
During the festivities, Site Manager Arthur Edgar explained Fort Morris’ role in the Revolutionary War.
“In 1776, the Continental Congress recognized the importance of the fort to protect their growing seaport (Sunbury) from the British,” he said. “Hundreds of soldiers served here during that time.”
The British, at that time, operated out of St. Augustine, so protecting commerce in and out of coastal Georgia was vital to the patriot cause. The British demanded the fort’s surrender in 1778. Fort Commander Col. John McIntosh responded to the threat by famously challenging the British to “Come and take it!” which caused the British to retreat. McIntosh then named the fort after its first ranking officer, Thomas Morris of Virginia.
“Just a month later, the British returned with a superior force and bombarded the fort,” Edgar said. “Fort Morris surrendered, and the British turned it into a prison camp for patriot officers after renaming it Fort George after King George III.”
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and Sunbury grew back a little but never really regained its pre-Revolutionary War prominence. The state of Georgia developed the fort as a historical site in the 1960s, and today visitors can tour the museum and stockade remnants.
“A lot of people don’t realize that more battles were fought in the South during the Revolutionary War than in the North,” Edgar said. “It is important to preserve this history and remember the hard work our ancestors did to form this country and fight for our independence.”
Fort Morris volunteers pride themselves on authenticity, ensuring everything from cookware and dress to the muskets and cannons are true to the time period. They host events throughout the year to give families fun and educational entertainment.
“So many parts of history are becoming lost at the expense of technology,” Edgar said. “People are so wrapped up with their smart phones and whatnot that no one takes a second to enjoy nature and pay tribute to these folks who suffered to birth our nation.”
Edgar is the only paid employee on staff at the historic site. His family and community members volunteer to keep the site operating.
“A lot of cutbacks came down in 2009,” he said. “We had a full staff and were open six days a week, but now we can only afford to be open three days a week with an all-volunteer staff.”
Edgar said he invites schools to take field trips to the fort to learn about 18th-century history from the volunteers, many of whom are skilled blacksmiths, cooks and seamstresses. Edgar and his wife, Debbi, have been promoting their colonial programs for the past 14 years. She oversees what she calls the womanly contributions to the events — weaving, sewing and cooking meals over an open fire in traditional cookware.
“We teach the importance of community teamwork, resourcefulness, adaptability and respect for our ancestors,” Debbi Edgar said. “We believe that if you don’t learn from your past, you are doomed to repeat it.”
When she hosts a colonial-era event like Monday’s, Debbi Edgar said she treats it as an invitation for the community to step back in time and experience the 18th-century way of life. She welcomed families as if she was hosting them in her own home. She cooked chicken over an open fire in a Dutch oven and prepared side dishes with ingredients that would have been harvested in the area during late summer.
“It is important to relive the past and remember what our ancestors had to do in order to survive,” Debbi Edgar said.
Other volunteers showed visitors how to spin wool and weave fabric. Eighteenth-century children’s toys also were displayed.
“There is a lot of great history out here,” site visitor Ray Puder said after watching a cannon firing. “It is hard to imagine how all these weapons were used at that time.”
Puder recently moved to the area from California and enjoyed the event with his friend Kathy Heritage, a Savannah native.
“They really need to keep preserving history with events like this … people need to get out and enjoy the history around us,” Puder said. “I am looking forward to seeing all that Georgia has to offer.”