Wealthiest Woman in the South Despised Plantation Life

Genealogy Tips by Jeannette Holland Austin

Pierce Mease Butler from New England came south to plant rice in South Carolina and Georgia, where he owned thousands of acres of land. Before the American Revolution (1775 to 1783), rice was a vibrant, lucrative crop grown in the marshes of coastal Carolina and Georgia. Another lucrative crop followed in the colonies when the Sea Island Cotton was imported from the West Indies and grown along the coast because it produced a long, strong fiber easily separated from the seed. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitley was a welcome relief to planting and weaving. Southerners wove their own cloth from raw cotton, hemp and other crops. The plantation life from sun up to sun down was shared by all of the family members, including the lady of the house.

It is laughable to read how the actress, Fanny Kemble, hated plantation life on the Butler Plantation in Darien, Georgia. She wrote a stinging criticism and rebuke of it in her book Life on a Georgia Plantation. Yet, Fannie was married to one of the richest men in America, Mease Butler, who owned hundreds of slaves and thousands of acres in New England, South Carolina and Georgia. No doubt, the actress lived a finer existence than the average planter!  

The old Butler plantation house still stands in Darien, Georgia. Unfortunately, early McIntosh County records did not survive, however, it is worth a personal visit because some of the first colonists who came over with Oglethorpe are buried in the downtown Darien Cemetery. The early settlers were highlanders from Inverness, Scotland. They are the ones who helped Oglethorpe to win the War with Spain (known as the War of Jenkin’s Ear) for Great Britain. This was a trade war which began when an Englishman by the name of Jenkins traded (in violation of the Trade Act) in Spain, was caught, his ear was cut off and he was sent back to England. The Spanish Armada occupied southern Florida and was a threat to the colonists. Over 2000 Spanish conquistadors landed on St. Simon’s Island. Although Oglethorpe’s settlers were outnumbered, the highlanders attacked from the marsh, guerrilla-style, aka The Battle of Bloody Marsh. Ultimately, the Spanish Armada sailed back to Cuba, and that is how the British got Florida! Ordinarily, Oglethorpe would have been lauded a hero in England, however, he did not return home to England until fifteen years later. Also, there is an old colonial cemetery in Darien which can be explored. Mention of the earliest immigrants can be found in the Colonial Records of Georgia by Candler. As the business of emigration was handled by the Trustees and specifically the Earl of Egmont, they kept records which culminated in a number of volumes, all indexed. This where to search for the first colonists to Georgia. Colonial Records of Georgia

Members of Georgia Pioneers website can find land grants, passenger lists, etc. here and biographical sketches of the first settlers to Georgia (traced by Jeannette Holland Austin) here

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Latest records added to Georgia Pioneers (available to members under “Military”: Military Affairs (Georgia Militia Records, etc.) 1775-1793; 1793-1800; 1801-1813. Includes names of soldiers and officers in Georgia units during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Creek Wars, correspondence concerning individual soldiers, units, the war, prisoners, deaths and in some cases names the widow and her children. Just lots of personal data to peruse!