Driving along Riverview Drive on the north side of Jekyll Island, it’s easy to cruise past the tabby ruins on the side of the road. But, these ruins are among the most important in the state and have deep historical value.
Major William Horton, a highly trusted officer to James Oglethorpe built his house— made of wood — on the site in 1740. The major’s first house was destroyed by the Spanish while retreating after their defeat at the Battle of Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island in 1742.
Horton rebuilt the house using tabby, a building material made from sand, lime, water and crushed oyster shells. Both houses featured chimneys on both ends.
Joining Horton at the plantation was his wife, Rebecca, and their two sons, William and Thomas. Here, Horton grew crops that supplied food to soldiers posted at Fort Frederica on nearby St. Simons Island. He also brewed beer, making the site Georgia’s first brewery, though there is some speculation whether he actually brewed beer.
Horton died in early 1749, and the property changed hands a number of times, passing through a number of people until in the 1790s, Christophe Poulain du Bignon moved to Jekyll Island to escape the French Revolution. du Bignon grew cotton, but along with it, he introduced slavery to the island. He died in 1825, and his final resting place across modern day Riverview Drive.
The descendents of du Bignon continued to live on Jekyll Island, and in November 1858, they participated in one of the island’s most notorious events. Importing slaves into the country was outlawed in 1808, but an illegal slave ship, The Wanderer, landed on Jekyll Island, marking the last known shipment of slaves to the United States. John and Henry du Bignon were later indicted for their role in aiding The Wanderer, though neither of the men was convicted.
The family of du Bignon owned Jekyll Island until 1886 when they sold it to a group of capitalists who founded the famous Jekyll Island Club, which stands as a symbol of the island today.