Life on Cumberland Island, the largest, southernmost barrier island on the Georgia coast, has always had a magical energy of its own and attracted an extraordinary mix of peoples: aboriginal natives, missionaries, Revolutionary war figures, freed African American slaves and members of the wealthy Carnegie family have all found Cumberland to be a singular place of solace and transformation.
Today, the Island is known for its beautiful, unspoiled beaches, and as an area rich in history, architecture and amazing natural habitats. For those who have spent time on Cumberland, it’s no surprise that the evocative settings have inspired a profound appreciation of nature as well as the creation of art, evidenced as early as 2000 B.C.
Inhabited by the Timucuan Indians for thousands of years, Spanish missionaries and soldiers first came to the Island in the 1500s. (These explorers brought horses with them, the ancestors of the wild horses who roam Cumberland’s dunes, marshes and abandoned estate lawns today.)
The French and British both had a presence on the idyllic, remote Island by the 1730s. After the American Revolution, notable families including general Nathaniel Greene sought out the Cumberland’s abundant natural resources and wild beauty. Greene built a grand mansion on the Island, Dungeness, the first example of “civilized” grandeur set against an exquisite backdrop of natural splendor.
During the 1800s, Cumberland housed small farms and fifteen plantations of sea island cotton and other crops, all cultivated by slave labor. (Today, a row of hearth and chimney structures is all that’s left to remind us of the area’s many slave quarters.)