St. Marys is the southern-most town on the coastline of Georgia, situated on the St. Marys River and near the Cumberland Island National Seashore. It is a charming town with lots of history, and is a short drive from the Okefenokee Swamp. St. Marys is the oldest city in Georgia and the second oldest continuously-inhabited city in the United States, having been established by the British in 1787. St. Augustine, Florida, about 75 miles south of St. Marys, holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the country.
Below is a link to St. Marys Magazine, where Cracker Gothic was featured in the latest issue. You can navigate to the article by sliding the bar at the bottom of the screen to “Page 32-33.” I hope you will enjoy browsing through the entire magazine and learning more about historic St. Marys!
The Okefenokee Swamp covers almost a half-million acres in south Georgia, spilling over the state line into north Florida. It is a vast and imposing wilderness, and has been a protected National Wildlife Refuge since 1937. Before that, it was also home to Swampers, Crackers, people who were social outliers. My ancestors. The Chesser Island Homestead is a preserved 19th-century Cracker structure hidden deep within the Swamp, open to the public, where visitors can experience what life for Swamp pioneers might have been like. When the Okefenokee became federally protected property, the residents within the Swamp were forced to leave, relocating to nearby towns, deserting the life and livelihood they had known for generations. Some of the Chessers traveled into northern Florida, where I was born, creating my ancestral line back to the Swamp. I did not visit the Okefenokee Swamp nor Chesser Island until I was well into my adult years, but I have come to love and appreciate its beauty, its serenity, and the sense of primeval wisdom that I feel whenever I am there. Connecting back to an actual ancestral home in a primitive place became an important touchstone as I wrote my memoir. These were not people of means or any type of societal stature. But they were resilient and resourceful, much like pioneers who settled in other frontiers of our country: the Appalachian mountains, the far West. I am proud for their blood to run through my veins. I am proud that a Swamp runs through my memoir.
I’m barreling toward Interstate 95, the north-south artery that will hurtle me into Florida. A friend tells me, “No one loves a road trip better than you,” and he’s right. I have been traveling this journey since I was a baby, a thousand-mile round trip embedded in my DNA. My mother’s ancestors settled in the Okefenokee Swamp of South Georgia before the Civil War. Later they migrated further south into Florida. My father teased my mother that her family crawled out from under a log in the Okefenokee Swamp, and there is more than a little truth to that.