Regional history buffs celebrated a significant event Oct. 23 at Mallow Plantation at Pine Harbor in McIntosh County. Lt. Col. John McIntosh, best known as the commander of the Continental Troops at Fort Morris in 1778 during the American Revolutionary War, was interred for a third time.
I was given short notice and thus was unable to attend the burial, but I notified Sarah Hein, president of the Liberty County Historical Society, and my son David DeLoach, who lives near Pine Harbor. Sarah, David and David’s three girls attended, took photos and filled me in on what I missed. I had been following the story since it first was published in the Tattnall Journal.
McIntosh’s story is fairly well known in Southeast Georgia. In November 1778, British Lt. Col. Fuser and his mighty force threatened to attack Fort Morris if the Continental Army refused to surrender it. Even though McIntosh knew he could not defeat the British, he sent them a reply we all remember today.
“Sir, we would rather perish in vigorous defense than accept your proposal. We are fighting the battles of America and therefore disdain to remain neutral until its fate is determined. As to surrendering the fort, receive this laconic reply, come and take it!”
Lt. Col. Fuser did not attack Fort Morris at that point, but he did four months later when McIntosh was no longer the commander.
To acknowledge his gallantry, the Georgia Legislature later presented Lt. Col. McIntosh with a sword with the words “come and take it” inscribed on it.
After the war, McIntosh relocated in Florida and was accused by Spanish forces there of espionage. He was imprisoned in Morro Castel in Havana, Cuba, for one year. He died in 1826 and was buried on his Fairhope Plantation, one mile from Mallow Plantation, his brother William’s home.
The Fairhope Plantation had been granted to William McIntosh by the British Crown. It was the home of the McIntosh clan after whom McIntosh County is named. William fought in the War of Jenkin’s Ear and in the Battle of Bloody Marsh. After his father’s death in 1801, John inherited Fairhope.
On Dec. 8, 2006, Ben Kennedy of Reidsville was cutting limbs and cleaning up property recently bought by Lamar Smith. At the edge of the marsh on Sapelo River, he saw what appeared to be a large gas can. He looked closer and thought he saw a body wrapped in a sheet like a mummy. It turned out to be a very old iron coffin. He notified Lamar and the McIntosh coroner. After verifying that it was a coffin, it was taken to the Darien Funeral Home where it remained until last week.
Ben and Lamar did a lot of research and told many officials about the coffin. It was a Fisk coffin, named after Almond Fisk who began making cast iron coffins around 1850. They were “person-shaped” and had glass over the face so the deceased’s family could view the corpse. The dead person was put in the coffin along with some gases for preservation and the coffin was sealed tight.
Fisk coffins were very expensive at that time and only wealthy and very important people could afford them. They sold for almost $100 each, but a wooden coffin sold for $1. A big selling point for this coffin was that it prevented grave robbery, which used to be very common.
After four years of digging through many records and analyzing the piece of leather chap that had fallen through a small crack in the bottom of the coffin, researchers declared they were 99 percent certain the coffin holds the remains of Lt. Col. John McIntosh. Billy McIntosh, John McIntosh’s great-great-great-grandson, who lives in Savannah, made plans for the re-burial, which wasn’t the colonel’s first.
Sometime around 1848, according to records, his casket was washed up by a great hurricane and had to be buried again. It is unclear how he came to be buried in a Fisk coffin at that time as they supposedly had not been invented yet. Maybe the years are off by a few. He was probably buried in a plain wooden coffin the first time.
On Saturday, McIntosh’s Fisk coffin was carried by a horse and buggy hearse from the Fairhope Plantation to Mallow Plantation for a third burial. The plantations are about a mile apart. State Rep. Debbie Buckner brought a state flag that was draped over the coffin and then presented to the McIntosh Preservation Commission. The Rev. Danny Grace, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Darien, said John and his family helped found the church and were missionaries in their day by helping other people and seeing the good in people.
Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes. Sons of the American Revolution and Daughters of the American Revolution, Savannah Pipe and Drums and others came to celebrate McIntosh’s memory. Arthur Edgar, Fort Morris State Historic Site manager, and volunteer David Roberts attended dressed in colonial uniforms. Several members of the Scottish Clan were there including G.W. “Dub” Peder from Hinesville and Reese Acklen.
Billy McIntosh and seven others lowered the casket into the deep square grave at Mallow Cemetery and carefully pulled the rope from under it. A ladder was placed inside the grave and Billy climbed down and placed a small plastic container with the remains of one of John’s granddaughters in it.
Hopefully, this will be the last time Lt. Col. John McIntosh has to be buried. Maybe John decided he needed to have a special burial on Oct. 23, 2010 — 184 years after the first one!
The ceremony was sponsored by the McIntosh County Historic Preservation Committee and the Sons of the Revolution State of Georgia and D.L. and Mary Ann McIntosh, John’s descendants and friends of mine who lived in Liberty County for many years and also worked a lot on this project.
Love is a history buff and writes Liberty lore periodically for the Courier.