Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fort Prince George, Part Two

Many years ago, I decided to go find Fort Prince George, not knowing the site had been underwater since the 1960s. At a boat landing on the shores of Lake Keowee I did reach a historic marker for the fort, right next to a huge sign explaining what I should do if the sirens at the nuclear plant began to sound.

Keowee River, ca. 1936

Just recently, I discovered an engaging account of the archaeological work on Fort Prince George, written by Marshall Williams, who assisted with the excavation almost up to the last possible hour. Williams explained one of the significant historic events that occurred at the fort:

You see, on February 16, 1760, a little drama took place here that was to play an important part in the course of America’s history. On that date, Oconostota, the Great Warrior of the Cherokees, set about 25 or 30 Indians on the east side of the river, at the ford which was located just to the south of the fort entrance.

He then called to Lieutenant Coytmore, commander of the fort, that he wanted to talk with him. Coytmore with three others came to the river, and, after a little talk, Oconostota gave a signal to the waiting Indians, who blasted away at the Englishmen, mortally wounding Coytmore, who died about 10 days later.

The soldiers inside the fort then attacked 14 Indian hostages who were being held at the instigation of Governor Lyttleton. All 14 Indians—and one white man—were killed. Where did they bury these Indians? We didn’t know, and history left this information from its pages.

Anyhow, all these doings led directly to the Cherokee Wars of 1760-61, during which the South Carolina frontiers were ravished by the Cherokees. Many South Carolinians who later became famous fought in these battles, including Andrew Pickens, Robert Anderson, Francis Marion, Sumter, Moultrie, and others.

May 11, 1968 was the last day before the rising waters of Lake Keowee would cover the fort. Williams wrote of his farewell to the place:

Late, late in the afternoon we got ready to quit work for the last time here, I dawdled around, watching the water creeping toward the fort, where we had labored mightily for the past 10 months. Don went to his home up the river, and I was left alone in the valley.

No other human being was near, and the dark sky and gray mist and rain were fast descending upon the valley, and my last moments with the fort, its ghosts, and its history, was at hand. I stood in the center of the fort for a few moments, gave my best military salute, and then turned and drove off without a backward glance. The Great Adventure was over.

While he had worked on the excavation, Williams had often brought his two sons to help. One day, his son Philip discovered a rock from the structure of the old fort:

He held out the rock—and engraved on it was the date 1761, and below this, very faintly, was what appeared to be an initial (H.S.) and another date, 1770. Well, needless to say, all work ceased immediately, while we all gathered around to marvel at this absolute corroboration of the date of the site. Phil was justly proud of his find, and we were proud of his sharp eye in spotting it among the big pile of rock which had already accumulated on the roadside. The chances of it being spotted, we figured, were about one in a million, since there were so many rocks, so many sides, and the sun just right to side-light the carving on it.

In researching this further, I found that Philip shared his own perspective on the dig, in an article for Lost Magazine. With his brother and father, he returned to Lake Keowee thirty years later to reflect on those times. They stopped to examine a scale-model of the fort, built by Marshall Williams, and on display at the Keowee-Toxaway State Park:

There's no sentimentality in this place. We cast a careful eye on my father's fort's condition, and it's certainly far better than what the real fort endured during its twenty-odd years of service to the Crown and then as a trading post. But there are the few odd roach husks near the model, and that irritates our father, who put untold hours of work into the model….

Without my father's model, the fort would be more rumor than fact to most people. In a small way, we took what had been lost for two centuries and brought it back into history, restored its shapes and its sense to a newer world.

Philip Lee Williams

Philip Lee Williams’ essay "History's Mornings" also appears in his book, In the Morning: Reflections Toward First Light. As it turns out, Williams is a prolific essayist, novelist, poet, and composer. A forthcoming addition to his long list of books is The Flower Seeker, scheduled for publication in September 2010. From the publisher’s description:

William Bartram’s Travels, published in 1791, remains a seminal book for understanding the American South, its flora, fauna, and people. Now, acclaimed poet and novelist Philip Lee Williams, who has known Bartram’s work almost since childhood, has written what will surely be acclaimed as one of the finest long poems ever to come out of the South.

The Flower Seeker is an epic poem that follows the young William Bartram on his journey in the American South and during his old age in his father s gardens. It is truly a southern Odyssey, using techniques of fiction and poetry to get deeply inside one of the most remarkable men ever to strap on a pair of boots in America.

Written in twenty-four cantos, the book digs deep into the mind and heart of Bartram, who was also an acclaimed visual artist and naturalist.

The Flower Seeker begins with an unusual but regular stanzaic form but quickly changes as Bartram changes during his four-year ride on horseback around the South.

Following in the shadows of other epic poems such as Ezra Pound’s Cantos, Paterson of William Carlos Williams, or The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson, The Flower Seeker is a dazzling compendium of poetic devices and approaches. In it, Williams uses the Travels as the basis for an expanding and imaginary universe that describes Bartram s interior world as much as the one he rode through.

Long, complex, and yet immensely readable, The Flower Seeker packs an intellectual and emotional punch like few other long poems in the American tradition. It is surely destined to become an enduring classic of Southern and even American literature.

The Flower Seeker is being published along with a volume to be called Bartram's Living Legacy: the Travels and the Nature of the South, edited by Dorinda Dallmeyer. It will reprint Bartram's famous Travels, along with essays from 16 Southern nature writers. Both books will feature the artwork of Philip Juras, a landscape artist from Athens, Ga.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

oh this is wonderful. I live up Warwoman Creek and often look East and wonder about Bartram, as well as the two armies coming up for their ethnic cleansing in 1760 and 1761. thank you so much.