Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 10, 2015

BLACKSHEAR’S FERRY, LEGENDS AND MYSTERIES




As the construction of a new bridge over the Oconee River begins at a place known as Blackshear’s Ferry, let us take a look back at some of the legends and mysteries of one of Laurens County’s most ancient of landmarks.

The first of a series of ferries owned by War of 1812 General David Blackshear and his sons came into operation in 1808.  Two centuries later, eroded by rushing waters,  remnants of this mystical place still remain.  Most of the people who ever rode across the rushing waters on the rickety ferry boat are gone now.    For those who did, their recollections of their youth have now faded.  Like the ancient proverb says, Blackshear’s Ferry never gives its secrets.”  So, let us take a look at some the ancient mysteries which surround Blackshear’s Ferry, some four crow fly miles north of Dublin on the Oconee River.




Rock Shoals

One of the most enduring mysteries goes back more than four centuries.  English colonists under John White settled on Roanoke Island along the coast of North Carolina in 1587.  When White returned three years later, he found the colony completely deserted, except a small sign on which was carved the word “Croatoan.”  One of the myriads of theories as to what happened to the lost colonists was that they traveled south into what would become Georgia some century and a half later.   Legend tellers would swear to you that these wanderers made their way across the Oconee River at the shoals, some quarter of a mile down the river.  While the legend sounds good, like many legends do, you decide for yourself, though logically this legend is probably not true.

Even more cryptic is the legend of the “Indian Spring Rock.”    Julia Thweatt Blackshear saw the rock.  She described it as four feet high and seven feet long.  One of the sides of the rock, which lies about a mile north of the ferry, has been carved as smooth as if were cut by a marble cutter.  Mrs. Blackshear reported that across the face there are written, or carved, mysterious hieroglyphic letters.    Likened to Egyptian characters, these letters have been said to form a long line across the entire surface of the rock.  This legend is true.  What remains a mystery is where the rock is.  Did Mrs. Blackshear mean true north, which would put the rock somewhere in the vicinity of Springfield, the home of General David Blackshear.  Or did she mean, north along the river near where Blackshear’s original ferry once was located?  If so, on which bank did she mean?    For all you mystery solvers, this is one you solve.  The trouble is, with the ever changing course of the river, the legendary “Indian Spring Rock,” may now be submerged waiting for millennia before someone deciphers its ancient message.

Interestingly just down the river from the ferry on the eastern bank of the river is another mysterious rock.  Lying on the steep slopes of Carr’s Bluff is a limestone rock similar in size, but not in shape.  Lying on its side, the rock resembles half of a perfectly split  elongated heart.    While there are no markings on this rock, which is similar in size, it is puzzling how this massive rock came to rest some fifty feet up the side of a near cliff.     This rock does exist. The question remains, “How did it get there?  Was it rolled down the cliff as an anchor  by Jarred  Trammel and James Beatty, who established their own ferry there at the point where the ancient Lower Uchee Trail crossed the Oconee River on it way from the Creek Indian lands in southern Alabama northeasterly to the area around present day Augusta on the Savannah River?  




OLD CANAL 

If you walk down the western bank of the Oconee you will find a ditch which runs parallel with the river and at times sinks to a depth of more than twenty feet from the top of the river bank.  The trench, which spans out as wide as a hundred feet, runs in a southwesterly direction from the ferry down to the point where the Lower Uchee Trail intersects with the river bank at a tall bluff at Carr’s Shoals.



OLD CANAL 

This is a mystery solved.  In the early decades of the 20th Century, when river traffic was beginning to wind down, but when electric power needs were begin to swell, some thinkers proposed the idea of a canal from the area around the ferry down to Dublin.  The canal would be filled with water.   The proponents believed that since water flowed downhill that the resulting drop in elevation along the route could be utilized to generate electricity at the southern end of the canal.    They also believed that in times of raging high waters and rocky low waters,  flat boats, loaded with cotton and other valuable commodities could be carried by horse and mule teams along a tow path.  To increase and diminish the flow of water along the canal, the builders built gates, one of which can still be seen about half way down the path.  The project failed for the lack of money and utility.

Dr. Arthur Kelly, esteemed archaeologist of the Smithsonian Institution, called them “the most exciting and wonderful Indian mounds that he had seen on his exploration of the Oconee River.”  Situated near the river crossing was the ancient Indian village of Ocute.  It was here in 1934, where Dr. Kelly and his party found an old Indian burying ground with at least eighty to one hundred graves.  Strewn and scattered across the ground were arrowheads and pottery deemed by Kelley as “entirely different from any others found in Indian mounds across the state.

But just where were these mounds?  Were they at the crossing site, which to his dying day Kelly, and his colleagues,  believed was where the Spanish explorer crossed the Oconee in his journey in 1540.  Were they further upstream or downstream nearer the Country Club?    Even though Dr. Kelly warned Dubliners about commercial exploitation of the site and challenged them to raise a mere two hundred dollars to help establish a fund to explore and document the site in addition to Federal help with the labor and volunteer help by the ladies of the John Laurens Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Alas, Dr. Kelly went off to Macon to survey what became the Ocmulgee National Monument.  The legendary village of Ocute, or whatever it may have been called, is still there, just waiting for the time when the next archaeologist comes along to reveal the truth about what was really there.

Julia Blackshear in her  article in The History of Laurens County, 1807-1941 names the village as Kitchee, which according to her description would have located just to the north of the Dublin Country Club.  She tells the story of the time when the final council of the residents of Kitchee was held.  Three aged Indians appeared before the great white chief, General David Blackshear, and asked his permission to allow them to remain on the lands of the ancestors and to guard their graves until their deaths.  The General graciously granted their requests and allowed the ancient and honorable  scions to live there in peace.  When the last of the trio died, the residents of the community buried him along the side the other two.    Just where this ancient burial ground lies  remains a mystery, perhaps for the remainder of time.




The area around Blackshear’s Ferry remains an ancient and mysterious place.  Please remember that the area is privately owned and to ask permission before visitation.  Despite the thoughtless efforts of the apathetic, the river, thanks to conscientious sportsmen and river keepers, remains virtually pristine. And keeping it that way along with respecting the remains of a long ago people should always be our goal.   

5 comments:

Carol said...

I've done a bit of research on the Blackshear family, so I find this especially interesting.Thanks for posting.

Wendy Spivey said...

Enjoyable reading your historical articles, as always. Wendy Tarpley Spivey

Jessica Driggers said...

I am an archaeologist who recently moved to Dublin. I have a degree from Georgia Southern University. This is an intriguing article and I'd love to survey the land surrounding Blackshear's Ferry.

Scott Thompson said...

Jessica, contact me at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Robyn Adair said...

Gen Blackshear is my 3-Greats Grandfather. Robyn Adair