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Colonial Georgia Wildlife

In 1744, Francis Moore published his account of the settling of the town of Frederica on St. Simons Island in the young colony of Georgia. He had arrived there in 1735 and kept a journal of his trip, including many observations on the physical and geographical nature of the new land. The following passage describes the wildlife he witnessed (some obviously for the first time); it was penned sometime in the spring of 1736.

“…The Island abounds with Deer and Rabits; there are no Buffaloes on it, though there are large Herds of them upon the Main. There are also a good many Rackoons, a Creature something like a Badger, but somewhat less, with a bushy Tail like a Squirrel, tabbied with Rings of brown and black. They are very destructive to the Poultry. I heard that there were Wolves and Bears, but saw none. There are great Numbers of Squirrels of different Sizes, the little Kind the same as in England, a lesser than that, not much bigger than a Mouse, and a large grey Sort, very near as big as a Rabit, which those who are accustomed to the Country say, eats as well. There are wild Cats which they call Tigers [apparently a bobcat]; I saw one of them which the Indians killed, the skin was brown, and all of one Colour, about the Size of a middling Spaniel, little Ears, great Whiskers, short Legs, and strong Claws. Of the Wild-Fowl Kind, there are wild Turkeys, though but few of them upon the Island, but Plenty upon the Main. This Bird is larger than the tame Turkey, and the Cock is the beautifullest of the feathered Kind; his Head has the red and blue of the Turkey, only much more lively and beautiful, his Neck is like a Cock Pheasant’s, his Feathers also are of the same Colour with those of that Bird, glittering in the sun as if they were gilded; his Tail is as large, though it hath not so fine Eyes in it as the Peacock’s hath. At first, before they were disturbed by our People, they would strut in the Woods as a Peacock does. I have heard some say, that upon weighing, they have found them to exceed 30 pound; I never weighed any, but have had them very fat and large; as they are delicious Meat, and are compared to a tame Turkey, as a Pheasant is to a Fowl. I saw no Partridges upon the Island, though they are plenty upon the Main. Turtle-Doves the Woods swarm with, which are excellent Food. There are also great Numbers of small Birds, of which a black Bird with a red Head, the red Bird, or Virginia Nightingale, the mocking Bird, which sings sweetly, and the Rice-Bird, much resembling the French Ortelan, were the chief; the rest are too numerous to describe. Of Water Fowl, in Winter there are great Abundance; besides the common English Wild Goose, Duck, Mallard and Teal, there is a kind of Wild Goose like the Brand Geese, and Ducks of many kinds, hardly known in Europe. There is a Hooping Crane, a Fowl with grey Feathers five or six Foot high, Numbers of the Heron Kind of different Species and Colours, some small ones of the most beautiful White, which are called Poor Jobs, from their being generally very lean. Of Birds of Prey, there are the Land and the Sea Eagle, with different Kinds of Hawks: There are also Numbers of Pelicans and Cormorants. Of Reptiles, the Crocodile, which seems to be the chief, abounds in all the Rivers of Georgia; they call them Alligators. I have seen some of these I believe 12 Foot long. A Number of Vulgar Errors are reported of them; one is, that their scales are Musquet-proof; whereas I have frequently seen them killed with small Shot; nay, I have heard from people of good credit, that when they have found one at a distance from the Water they have kill’d him with Sticks, not thinking him worth a Shot. And Mr. Horton more than once has struck one through with a Hanger. The Watermen often knock them on the head with their Oars as they sleep upon the Banks; for they are very sluggish and timorous, though they can make one or two Springs in the water with Nimbleness enough, and snap with Strength whatever comes within their Jaws. They are terrible to look at, stretching open an horrible large Mouth, big enough to swallow a Man, with Rows of dreadful large sharp Teeth, and Feet like Dragons, armed with great Claws, and a long Tail, which they throw about with great Strength, and which seems their best Weapon, for their Claws are feebly set on, and the Stiffness of their Necks hinders them from turning nimbly to bite. When Mr. Oglethorpe was first at Savannah, to take off the Terror which the People had for Crocodiles, having wounded and catch’d one about twelve Foot long, he had him brought up to the Town, and set the Boys to bait him with Sticks, the Creature gaping and blowing hard, but had no Heart to move, only turned about his Tail and snapt at the Sticks, till such time as the Children pelted and beat him to Death. At our first coming they would stare at the Boats and stand till they came up close to them, so that Mr. Horton killed 5 in one Day; but being frequently shot at they grew more shy. They destroy a great deal of Fish, and will seize a Hog or a Dog if they see them in the water; but their general Way of preying is lying still, with their Mouths open and their Noses just above Water, and so they watch till the Stream brings down Prey to them: they swallow any thing that comes into their Mouths; and upon opening them Knots of light Wood have been found in their Guts. They rarely appear in Winter, being then in Holes. They lay Eggs, which are less than those of a Goose: They scrape together a Number of Leaves, and other Trash, of which Nature has taught them to chuse such as will foment and heat; of these they make a Dunghill, or Hot-Bed, in the midst of which they leave their Eggs, covering them over with a sufficient Thickness. The Heat of the Dunghill, help’d by the Warmth of the Climate, hatches them, and the young Crocodiles creep out like small Lizards. Next to the Crocodile is the Rattle-Snake, a Creature really dangerous, tho’ far from being terrible to look at. The Bite is generally thought mortal, and certainly is so, if Remedies are not in time applied. The Indians pretend to have perform’d wonderful Cures, and boast an infallible Secret, but it is generally believ’d that the hot Season of the Year, and the Rage of the Rattle-Snake increase the Force of the Poison, and that the Bite is more or less dangerous according to the Part; and those who are bit with the least dangerous Circumstances are cured by the outward Applications of the Indians. Mr. Reeves, who was Surgeon to the Independent Company at Port Royal has, by a regular Course of Medicine, cured most of those who were carried to him and bit by Rattle-Snakes. I can say less of this, because (thank God) there has not been one Person bit by a Rattle-Snake in the Colony of Georgia. I have seen several of these Snakes which were kill’d at Frederica, the largest above two Yards long, the Belly white, and the Back of a brown Colour; they seem to be of the Viper Kind, and are of a strong Smell, somewhat like Musk. The Rattles are Rings at the End of their Tails of a horny Substance; these shaking together make a Noise, which with their strong musky Smell gives cautious People Notice where they are. They are not so nimble as some Snakes are, therefore do not remove out of the way, which is generally the Occasion of Bites when they happen; for they naturally in their own Defence snap at what treads near them. To prevent this, those who walk the Woods much, wear what they call Indian Boots, which are made of coarse woollen Cloths, much too large for the Legs, tied upon their Thighs and hang loose to the Shoes. Besides the Rattle-Snake, there are some others whose Bite is dangerous; there are also many others, as the Black, the Red, and the Chicken Snake, whose bites are not venomous…”

Our First Visit in America: Early Reports from the Colony of Georgia, 1732-1740 (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1974), pp. 120-123.