Sunbury, a seaport on the Medway River, is one of Georgia’s most famous “dead” or lost towns.
Founded in 1758, the original town had 496 lots arranged according to an orderly plan around three large squares. The town as platted was located on part of 500 acres that had been granted to Mark Carr by King George II on October 4, 1757.
The lots of the town covered around 200 acres and were arranged around three squares – Church, King’s and Meeting. As many as five wharves lined the Medway River.
Exactly how big the town grew is uncertain, but there is little doubt that it rivaled nearby Savannah for a time before beginning a slow decline. At its height, archaeologist Daniel T. Elliott, estimates that perhaps 200 of Sunbury’s nearly 500 lots were occupied.
Many of the original residents were Congregationalists who moved down from Dorchester, South Carolina, and the city of the same name in Massachusetts. Other early residents included store owners, dock workers, sailors and practitioners of numerous different trades.
By the eve of the American Revolution in 1774, Sunbury was at its height and boasted perhaps 1,000 residents. The second largest port on the lower Atlantic Coast, it was second only to Savannah in size. Coastal schooners and ocean-going ships left Sunbury via St. Catherines Sound carrying cargoes of timber, rice, corn, indigo and other commodities.
The higher needs of the community were served by a Congregationalist church founded in 1763-1765 with Rev. James Edwards as its pastor. A second church was established by the denomination a few miles to the west in Midway.
The famed naturalist William Bartram stopped in Sunbury on his way south to Florida in 1773:
There are about one hundred houses in the town neatly built of wood frame having pleasant Piasas [i.e. piazzas] around them. The inhabitants are genteel and wealthy, either Merchants or Planters from the Country who resort here in the Summer and Autumn, to partake of the Salubrious Sea Breeze, Bathing & sporting on the Sea Islands.
The first efforts to fortify the Sunbury vicinity actually predate the founding of the town itself. Captain Mark Carr, who later was instrumental in the founding of Sunbury, built a fortified plantation in the vicinity in 1741.
Known as Carr’s Fort, this outpost was attacked by Indians on March 18, 1741. Several people were killed and the plantation was looted. While no one is exactly sure of the location of Carr’s Fort, there is some evidence that it might have been located within the boundaries of today’s Fort Morris State Historic Site
In 1756 the residents of Sunbury, which by then was a growing town, learned that white men had killed some Creek Indians. On September 20 of that year they started work on a new fort “at Captain Mark Carr’s.”
On July 11 of the following year, 1757, the citizens built four artillery batteries around Sunbury, which they armed with the 8 cannon available in the town. Despite several alarms, however, the feared Creek attack never came.
In 1775, casting their lots with the Patriots in the developing American Revolution, the people of Sunbury drove off a customs collector from the town. That same year the Continental Congress ordered the formation of a Georgia Battalion of Continental Troops under Colonel Lachlan McIntosh. The force was stationed at Sunbury, which became a base for several failed attacks on English East Florida just to the South.
The British retaliated for these invasions in 1779 by launching a major two-pronged attack on Georgia. This invasion ended at
Fort Morris, a new fort built at Sunbury, when its commander, Colonel John McIntosh, defiantly told the British to “come and take it!” when they demanded his surrender. They decided to leave instead.