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Glynn County: History and Lore: Ed Green Book:

St. Simons History

Cannon's Point

Cannon's Point was the home of the John Couper family. It bordered on the Hampton River at the northeast part of St. Simons Island. Across the marshes and river in the distance was a view of Little St. Simons Island. This plantation was the setting for the magnetic personality of its owner. John Couper was a man of distinction - cultured, charming, witty, a great host. Since he lived until the age of 91, being buried in Christ Church cemetery in 1850, he lived through almost the entire plantation era. The spacious house was built in 1804 to face the river, the English style basement of tabby, with the second and half story above of wood, painted white with green shutters. A Sago palm hedge surrounded the house on all but the river side. Being an innovator, with an interest in agricultural experimentation, he was soon surrounded with exotic plants from all over the world, as well as olive groves, orange and lemon trees, date palms bearing fruit, and of course fields of cotton, which would bring many thousand dollars for the crop.

John Couper was born in Scotland, near Glasgow, the son of a Presbyterian minister. When he was only sixteen years of age, he persuaded his father to allow him to join other young men who were coming to the colonies. Thus in 1775, he arrived in Georgia as an apprentice to the Savannah branch of an English business firm. Later he went into business in Sunbury where he became a prosperous merchant. In partnership with James Hamilton several tracts of land were purchased on St. Simons Island. Being already a successful business man, he wanted to turn his talents to horticulture, and sensing the possibilities of the soil of the coastal islands to produce a great variety of plants, he and his wife decided to move to St. Simons Island. So in 1792 they selected a homesite at Cannon's Point and began building a remarkable plantation. His friend James Hamilton settled at Gascoigne Bluff at about the same time. Hamilton's business interests took him to the far corners of the world, thus he was able to send seeds and plants of all kinds to John Couper for experimentation on the St. Simons plantation. In the gardens here every fruit and flower, every shrub and tree that could be induced to thrive in its surroundings, could be found. President Thomas Jefferson was interested in experimenting with the cultivation of olives in the United States, so he induced John Couper to order some olive trees from Marseilles. The grove of 200 trees did well and yielded a fine quality of oil from its fruit.

John Couper had many other interests in addition to agriculture. He served in the state legislature; was a member of the convention to draw up the state constitution; and was active in Christ Church and various community organizations.

The timbers for the building of the Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides, were cut on St. Simons Island, loaded at Gascoigne Bluff, and carried by boat to Boston, where the vessel was built and launched in 1797. The first tree felled for the Constitution was an immense live oak at Cannon's Point, whose size and shape made it desirable for use as the stern-post. It was said that the stump of this tree was banded with an iron band bearing the inscription "U.S. Frigate Constitution, 1794". This stump was carried to the International Cotton Exposition held in Atlanta in 1895 (or was it 1881, as some report?); and was not returned to St. Simons Island.

Mr. Couper gave the land to the government for the first lighthouse, to be built on the south end of the island, deeding four acres in 1804. The lighthouse was completed in 1811 by James Gould. It was octagonal, 75 feet tall, and constructed of tabby. The foundation was made of blocks of very old, hard tabby, cut from the ruins of old Ft. Frederica. It tapered from a 25 foot base to 10 feet at the top. An iron lamp equipped with oil lamps was suspended by chains. The upper division of 12-1/2 feet was constructed of the "best northern brick", as local brick were soft, and contained too much sand.

Cannon's Point plantation was a place where a constant stream of guests were welcome. Men from all over the world came to visit and to see for themselves the fruits of the horticultural experimentations. Visitors were enchanted by John Couper himself. His ready wit, his conversations, his knowledge of the world at large, plus his polite and friendly manner made him seem a true representative of the southern gentleman. Even Fanny Kemble, who was so critical of the South and most of the people she found there in 1839, saw charm and principles in John Couper, which she failed to see in anyone else in the area.

So it was that Cannon's Point Plantation, with cotton as its great crop and presided over by a southern gentleman, seems to have taken on an excellent way of life. Broad verandahs, beautiful gardens, dignity of manner and dress, gracious entertaining gives it almost a storybook image.

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