Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Glenn Eskew

Second Advisor

Dr. Timothy Crimmins

Third Advisor

Richard Laub

Abstract

AN ECCENTRIC PLACE OF VERY HIGH QUALITY:

OSSABAW ISLAND, GEORGIA AS A CONTEXT FOR THE INTERPRETATION OF

HISTORICAL, CULTURAL, AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE ON THE

ATLANTIC COAST

by

LINDA ORR KING

Under the Direction of Glenn T. Eskew, PhD

ABSTRACT

This sweeping narrative demonstrates how Ossabaw Island’s landowners, some with a

dedicated will and others unwittingly, managed to galvanize social, cultural, scientific, and

political forces to preserve its natural environment despite a culture motivated by profit.

Although geographically isolated, Ossabaw Island’s owners and inhabitants were active

participants within the Atlantic World. Ossabaw’s owners and inhabitants adapted environmental

strategies and social ideologies in accommodation not only with Ossabaw’s fragile barrier island

ecosystems, but also with Southeastern coastal Georgia’s social and political movements. In

particular, this work examines how the advantages of wealth and privilege provided the catalyst

that ultimately benefited rather than exploited social and economic conditions on the island,

leading Ossabaw Island to become the first barrier island Heritage Preserve on the southern

Atlantic Coast.

In addition to an analysis of unpublished manuscripts, maps, correspondence, and oral

histories, this endeavor expands on the current knowledge about barrier island planters, slaves,

freedmen, tenant farmers, lumbermen, boatmen, industrialists, and privileged families. It builds

on previous works by including the guests, artists, scientists, writers, and environmentalists who

visited the island. Furthermore, it investigates their interaction within political, economic,

cultural, religious, and ideological spheres. Ossabaw Island’s indigenous societies, landed

gentry, and wealthy owners shaped its cultural and economic identity from the 1560s to the

modern day. It analyzes additional materials, including colonial and plantation records, official

and personal correspondence, travel narratives, newspaper and magazine articles, and oral

histories. This study seeks to expand the discourse on the exchange of sea island economies and

societies well beyond the Savannah coastal region of the Atlantic World. The Ossabaw

community evolved through conflict and compromise, and eventually encompassed not only

sons and daughters of privilege and descendants of former slaves, but also artists, writers,

scientists, and scholars from around the world.

The central theme of this narrative history is the study of the motivating forces, both

natural and synthetic, that shaped Ossabaw Island’s current distinctive cultural, environmental,

and educational mission, with the major emphasis placed on the events of the 20th and 21st

centuries.

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