First Town in Saint Johns Parish

Mark Carr owned property fronting the Midway River, one part of which was known as Captain Carr’s Bluff. In early 1757 Carr sold lots on his property to various persons on which a trading post and wharves were built. It was on a hill adjacent to that land that a defense force built a fortification, probably on advice from Carr, and waited in vain for a French privateer to appear.


In the middle of 1758, Carr entered into an agreement with James Maxwell, Kenneth Baillie, John Elliott Sr., Grey Elliott, and John Stevens to establish a town where the trad­ing post and wharves were located. The five men were named trustees to build and administer the town. Carr delineated for them how the town would be layed out, the type of architecture to be used, and the cost of lots.


The town was named Sunbury, most likely because that was the name of Carr’s ancestral home in Sunbury, Middlesex County, England. It consisted of 496 lots, each 70 by 130 feet. Bay lots, numbers one through 40, fronted the river and extended to its low-water mark. The town was layed out with three squares and they were named Kings Square. Church Square, and Meeting Square.


All of the first buildings in Sunbury were made of wood. Tabby, a mixture of marsh mud, lime. and oyster shells, was used for foundations, chimneys, and outbuildings. Local residents and Savannah businessmen organized companies and built wharves and trading posts in addition to those already there. The wharves were made of palmetto pilings, filled with oyster shells and tamped earth. and covered with wooden flooring.


Sunbury was declared a port of entry in 1761. Its first officials were Thomas Carr, collector, John Martin naval officer, and Francis Lee, searcher. It became a main shipping point and within less than 20 years Sunbury had a population of more than 1,000 residents.


There was an island adjacent to Sunbury which became an integral part of Sunbury’s economic and social life. It was known as Bermuda Island because many immigrants from the Bermuda Islands settled there. Malaria fever decimated their number and the remainder eventually relocated elsewhere. Some residents of Sunbury established plantations on Bermu­da Island and enjoyed country living with the convenience of an urban residence. The island could be reached by inlets from the water front at the mouth of the Midway River. Its residents, however. built a causeway from the mainland to facilitate more convenient travel.


As the number of plantations and farms in Saint Johns Parish increased, its productivity caused a rapid acceleration of imports and exports to and from the Sunbury port. The port was considered by 1769, in point of commercial im­portance, to rival the port at Savannah, Georgia. It contin­ued in this prosperous state, with little interruption, until the Revolutionary War.


During those early years, the principal trade of Saint Johns Parish was with the West Indies and the Northern colonies. From the former came supplies of rum and sugar. From the latter came rum, livestock, biscuits, and provisions. Saint Johns Parish exported rice, corn, peas, indigo, lumber, shin­gles, livestock, and barreled beef and pork.


Merchants at Sunbury stocked such items as fashionable garments for men and women, books, hardware, flour, dried fish. medicine, Maderia wine, kitchen wares, jewelry, guns, and farm implements. They also had for sale fever powders, mustard, plain silver and gold-laced hats, silk and thread hosiery, pickles, rum and beer, Irish linens, cheese, butter, nails, and home furniture.


Vessels occasionally arrived at Sunbury with manufactured goods usually from England. But such vessels generally used Savannah as a port of discharge. Sunbury merchants made wholesale purchases in Savannah and transported their cargoes back to Sunbury in sloops using the islands passageway.


Below Sunbury, and on the causeway to Bermuda Island, was a locality known as “Stave Landing.” It was there that staves and shingles were manufactured and shipped to other points. There was eventually a shipyard on the eastern side of Bermuda Island where vessels were built and repaired.