Lifestyles of the Early Settlers

The first settlers of the Midway District harvested their crops in South Carolina in the autumn and then came with their slaves to their new homes to clear the land and con­struct dwellings. In a season or two, they brought their families, slaves, and everything they owned and started culti­vating fields they had already cleared and living in dwellings they had already built. In such a matter, the move was made as safely and comfortably as possible.


They started out life in the Midway District with all of the conveniences to which they had been accustomed in South Carolina. They had household furnishings, horses and mules, modes of transportation, looms for weaving cloth, mills for grinding corn and wheat, farm implements, hogs and cattle, and poultry. Above all, they had slaves to build their planta­tions in the Midway District.


They came to an area in which several plantations were already established, so they had guides to help them find their way on streams, rivers, and roads in the coastal region of Georgia. Most of them had friends and relatives in Savan­nah, Georgia, who could assist them in the conduct of official business. If they had a legal grievance they could take it to a justice and three assistant judges, one of whom was referred to as the senior judge. It convened four times a year.


Homes built by the Midway District settlers in the begin­ning were constructed of wood, one story high, with dormer windows, small in size, with no inside lining, and chimneys made of clay. Slave quarters were simple in construction and made of clay and poles.


The first settlers of the Midway District were accustomed to mosquitos in South Carolina. They did not know that mosquitos caused death by malaria fever. Still, they must have realized that more people living in swampy areas died of fever than those living on high ground. Perhaps it was a necessity that they built their first homes in the Midway District in swampy, mosquito-infested areas. But Audley Maxwell” established his plantation in the Midway District in 1748, and it was on high ground.


The greatest number of deaths of fever in the Midway District in the period 1754-1764 occurred in the months of September through November. The healthiest months appear to have been April through August. It took a while but the settlers gradually started building homes, or “retreats” as they called them, on inland higher ground, where the planta­tion family lived during the summer months to get away from the mosquitos.


John Eatton Le Conte,” a well-educated and wealthy Northerner, established his plantation in the Midway District considerably before the Revolutionary War in the middle of Bull Town Swamp. There was water on all sides of the main house at high tides in the North Newport River. He never built an inland “retreat,” most likely because he was at his plantation only during the winter months when the mosqui­tos were not so prevalent.


It appears that more whites than slaves died in the Midway District and Saint Johns Parish during the period 1754-1771. The death rate among slaves, likely of malaria fever, was about four per hundred. There were more than enough births to replace those who died. When a field hand died, however, he had to be replaced immediately, and the cost of slaves in 1754 was high, although their cost was much higher in later years.


Male field hands in prime strength. but without other attributes, were bought and sold for between $150 and $250. Women field hands cost slightly more. Male slaves not in their prime sold for much less. A two-year-old male cost $25, while a female child cost about $50. Old men cost only slightly more. Because the settlers had such a heavy investment in slaves, they did everything possible to main­tain their health.


Although James Edward Oglethorpe brought about a peaceful relationship with the local Creek Indians, a few of them still went on the war path and killed white settlers and carried off slaves. There was always the danger of an Indian attack. For this reason, some of the Midway District residents constructed their homes of cypress logs, which gave them a bullet-proof blockhouse.


Because plantations in the Midway District were widely separated, the settlers needed some place where they could congregate and discuss matters of mutual concern, plan pro­tection against Indian attacks, and institute needed improve­ments in the district. They needed a rallying point, a com­munity center, and a seat of local government. All of these needs were met when the settlers established their meeting house.