4,400 to 3,000 years BP. Late Archaic Period, St. Simons Phase. Ossabaw Island occupied by migratory Native American tribes, living seasonally on the island, in small villages. Cane Patch Island was once a large prehistoric shell midden. Shell mining for tabby construction in the 19th century and road maintenance has destroyed the vast majority of the midden. More than 200 native archaeological sites are on Ossabaw Island. Artifacts found on Ossabaw date to 4,000 years ago.
3,000 to 1,500 years BP. Woodland Period. Ossabaw occupied by Native American tribes living more permanently in small villages.
1500-450 BP. Mississippian Period. Ossabaw occupied by large permanent settlements of Native Americans who relied heavily on agricultural production.
450-300 years BP. aka 1550’s to 1700’s. Proto-historic, Altamah Phase. This is the last period of known Indian inhabitants along the Georgia coast.
1568. Spaniards establish missions in coastal Georgia and rely for food on Guale Native Americans living on the coast (including on Ossabaw Island.) No archeological evidence of permanent missions has been found on Ossabaw, but three archeological sites on the island contain Spanish pottery fragments dating from this period, indicating some Spanish presence on the island.
1579. Spaniards burn the Guale village of Asopa on Ossabaw Island, along with other coastal Guale villages.
1600. Guale tribes hunt and fish the islands and mainland.
1680. The Spanish withdraw from the Georgia coast.
English settlers and governing bodies in Georgia set aside Ossabaw Island for a hunting and fishing reserve for the Creeks.
Ownership of Ossabaw, St. Catherine’s and Sapelo Islands are transferred to Mary Musgrove and her husband, Thomas Bosomworth. Musgrove is the mixed race translator between General Oglethorpe and the Yamacraw and Creek Indians, and Bosomworth is an English clergyman.
Ossabaw and Sapelo Islands conveyed to King George II of England after a court case. Ossabaw is then purchased by Grey Elliott, at an auction. Elliott sells to Henri Bourquin.
Henri Bourquin sells Ossabaw Island to his son-in-law John Morel, Sr. The island was farmed and timbered beginning in 1763 using slave labor. This is the earliest indication of African American enslaved people living on Ossabaw Island. Indigo, rice and cotton were grown on the North End of the island, later divided as North End Plantation.
Shipbuilding was recorded on Ossabaw. John Wand built the ship Elizabeth on the island, with a keel of 84 feet.
John Morel, Sr. dies. His three sons John Jr., Peter, and Bryan each inherit a portion of the island. Each establishes a plantation. By the 1800s cotton becomes the dominant crop on all three plantations.
Peter Henry Morel sells his third of Ossabaw Island (Middle Place Plantation) to David Johnston. Johnston sells it to Patrick Houston in the same year.
John Morel Jr. dies. His third of Ossabaw Island (South End Plantation) is divided into two properties: South End and Buckhead.
1802 – 1916 Buckhead is inherited by Morel Jr.’s daughter Mary Ann Morel, then passed to her daughter Mary Rutherford Skrine Simmons and then later to Simmons’ grandson Charles S. Cary. Cary sells the plantation in 1916 to Henry Davis Weed.
1802 – 1847
South End changes ownership several times, and is purchased by George Jones Kollock in 1847.
Bryan Morel dies. North End passes to his son, Bryan McQueen Morel.
Patrick Houston dies. His daughter and her husband, Georgia Ann Moodie Houston and Alexander McDonald, inherit Middle Place. After their deaths, their daughter Georgia McDonald inherits Middle Place.
South End owned by Kollock. His detailed plantation records reveal information on enslaved African Americans working the plantation.
Following the end of the Civil War, Ossabaw Island comes under the control of the US. Government’s Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. Freedmen and women communities are established on Ossabaw Island.
Owners of Ossabaw Island take an oath against the institution of slavery and are allowed by the U.S. Government to return to Ossabaw Island and reclaim ownership. African American freedmen communities remain on Ossabaw Island despite not owning property; their “40 acres and a mule” that was given to them on Ossabaw Island is removed from them and returned to pre-war owners.
Habersham family purchases South End Plantation.
Ossabaw’s African American community establishes Hinder Me Not Church on Ossabaw Island, most likely at Middle Place. First known minister was Reverend B.O. Butler. In the 1880’s Reverend Thomas Bonds served as minister.
Archibald Rogers purchases South End Plantation.
North End sold to James Waterbury of New York, who constructs a hunting lodge (now called the Club House) during his ownership.
Representatives of John Wanamaker purchase North End from Waterbury and South End from Rogers family. Wanamaker is owner of Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The African American inhabitants of Ossabaw Island relocate their community to the mainland, establishing Pinpoint and Montgomery communities, Chatham County.
Georgia McDonald and her husband Charles Harper sell Middle Place to James M. Furber, an intermediary acting on behalf of John Wanamaker. John Wanamaker owns all of Ossabaw Island except Buckhead.
1907 Henry David Weed of Savannah purchases North End, Middle Place, and South End properties from Wanamaker.
Henry David Weed purchases Buckhead from the Morel family, ending 153 years of Morel ownership of some portion of Ossabaw Island. Weed becomes the first sole owner of all of Ossabaw Island since 1777.
Weed sells all of Ossabaw Island to several Savannah-based partners of Strachan Shipping Company, who use the island as a hunting and outdoor recreation area.
1916 – 1950s. Despite having moved their community off the island in the 1890’s, many African American workers and their families spend extended periods living on the island.
1924 Henry Norton Torrey and Nell Ford Torrey purchase Ossabaw Island from the Strachan Shipping Company partners that own the island. The Torreys use the island seasonally from January to April to escape the Michigan winters.
The Torreys construct a 20,000 square foot winter Spanish Colonial style residence overlooking Ossabaw Sound.
Henry Norton Torrey dies.
The last known African American families to live on Ossabaw Island move off the island once more, many rejoining their relatives in Pinpoint, Sandfly and Montgomery. Families include the Bowens, the Emmanuel “Manny” Williams, the Julius “Joe” Williams, and the Cyrus “Jimbo” Martin families. Several individuals continue to live and work on Ossabaw for the Torrey family.
Nell Ford Torrey dies. The island is passed to Henry and Nell Torrey’s daughter, Eleanor Torrey West, and the four children of their late son, William.
Eleanor West begins the Ossabaw Foundation and the Ossabaw Island Project (1961-1980).
Eleanor West begins the Genesis Project. (1970 – 1982).
The State of Georgia purchases Ossabaw Island from the William Torrey children and Eleanor West, at 50% of its appraised value. Ossabaw Island is established as Georgia’s first Heritage Preserve, set aside for natural, scientific, and cultural study, research and education. Eleanor West receives a life estate of the family home and immediately surrounding grounds and outbuildings. Management of Ossabaw Island is established under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Eleanor West establishes full time residency on Ossabaw Island.
The Ossabaw Island Foundation is established in order to facilitate programming and preserve the architectural and historical resources on Ossabaw Island.
2009 and beyond.
The Ossabaw Island Foundation and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources work collaboratively to manage the island and fulfill the mission of the Heritage Preserve. Eleanor West continues to live full time in the family home on Ossabaw Island.
1) Ossabaw Island, Georgia/North End Tabby Quarters. Conditions Assessment and Recommendations for Interpretation and Treatment. Report by the Conservation of Historic Building Materials Class, Georgia State University, October 2004.
2) National Register Nomination, written by Ken Thomas 1996.
4) Interview with Marion “Bo” Bowens, 2007.
5) Ossabaw Island, by Ann Foskey. 2001.
Chronology of Ownership and Occupancy