Previous: The Georgia Bealls
A few hundred yards down a gentle slope atop which Francis Beall was building a "real" house for his family there was a very small stream.
It was a mere trickle down a wooded hillside at the lower edge of the Piedmont, a few miles east of the Ogeechee River, due west of what is now Augusta, Georgia. Its source was a small spring spurting up through a bed of sandy quartz. For more years than anyone knew, at the unvarying rate of about forty-five gallons per hour, it had been faithfully discharging a noticeably carbonated, sweet-tasting, iron-bearing solution of nine different mineral compounds. At the bottom of the hill the water flowed into a small, nameless creek, thence to what is now called "Long Creek", thence to the Ogeechee River, thence below Savannah to the sea.
The Creeks and Cherokees treated the Ogeechee river basin as common hunting grounds, equally open not only to one another but also to the members of lesser tribes living along the Atlantic coast. This was unusual, because elsewhere the Creeks and Cherokees were quite rivalrous and would fight one another on sight. But not for land. For honor or revenge, perhaps, or for hunting "rights", but not for ownership of the land itself. Nomads don't believe in the ownership of land, by themselves or by anyone else.
Within the vicinity of the spring itself, by the wordless assent of all who knew of its existence, there was not even any hunting. The Indians credited the waters of the spring with the power "to restore and preserve the vital attributes of youth", and knew them as the healing waters. The surrounding grove of towering loblolly pines and gracefully spreading water-oaks afforded sanctuary to all creatures great and small, especially to any who came there wounded or ill. Even the carnivores were said to honor the arrangement (as they do around water holes in "the wild" in times of environmental stress).
A few descendants of the Incas had managed to survive on the peninsula of Florida. For many years they had been speculating among themselves about rumors they kept hearing of a bubbling spring--a veritable fountain--with the remarkable power to restore the youth of those who drank from it. Unfamiliar with the North American continent, they knew only that it was supposed to be within or perhaps somewhere to the north of an island or perhaps of an area called "Bimini". The mere fact that they didn't know where it was didn't deter them in the least from offering in 1513 to lead Ponce-de-Leon right to it.
A line drawn North-by-northwest from the Island of Bimini strikes the mainland about at the mouth of the Ogeechee River.
In 1549 Hernando de Soto, ostensibly interested in finding "the great river to the west", formed an expedition and hired Creek Indians to be his guides. For reasons not made clear in official accounts of the expedition, De Soto ordered a change of plans a few days after the expedition had begun. They turned east and north, but remained west of the Savannah River. The Creeks, who knew the Coastal Plains and the higher lands of the Piedmont Plateau, and also spoke the language of the region, which was their native tongue, got the expedition hopelessly lost for several days in the snake- and mosquito-infested Pine Barrens just south of the cooler and more comfortable plateau.
Hernando de Soto finally called off his "side trip". This worked a miracle; his guides quickly managed to discover where they were and to lead everyone out of the wilderness without difficulty. The expedition went on west to discover the Mississippi, which is what De Soto had set out to do in the first place.
Almost 200 years later, in 1733, the Creeks ceremoniously ceded to General Oglethorpe enough land for him to start the Georgia Colony as a private, profit-seeking enterprise. The Indians, of course, had no concept of the ownership of land, and the old chieftain who willingly presided over the occasion had this to say in conclusion: "It is for me; it is for thee; it is for everyone."
The colony failed as a commercial enterprise and in 1752 became a Crown colony. The onslaught of civilization continued unabated. As has been happening for thousands of years everywhere on earth, the native nomads continued to be duped or, if need be, forced to yield more and more of the land they thought nobody owned, millions of acres at a time, into the clutches of invading settlers who could think only in terms of exclusive ownership and property lines. It was Cain versus Abel, over and over again--the longest-running play in human history.
On November 10, 1763 the Creeks ceded 2,400,000 more acres to the Crown Colony of Georgia. Between 1763 and 1773 the Indians lost an additional 771,940 acres to the Crown. Then came the Treaty of Augusta, June 1, 1773, wherein the settlers were said to have "bought" land from the Indians (at 6p per acre!).
In the first three months after the treaty was signed, more than 65,000 acres were sold to incoming settlers, mainly from the Carolinas. But the sales declined from then on and came to a complete stop in 1776, when the Land Commission of the British Crown ceased to have effect.
In 1777 the newly formed legislature of "The State of Georgia, by the Grace of God Free, Sovereign, and Independent" opened a Land Office. Private possession of ceded lands, now owned by the State, began to take place by sale or lottery. Among those acres were several hundred surrounding that fountain-like little spring, ceded to the Crown in 1773 and all-but-forgotten in the subsequent excitement.
"Beall's spring", they started calling it when Francis began building a house just up the hill. Soon they were calling it "Beall Springs".
I have sought in vain for many years and have not been able to find any proof that "Beall's spring" is not what Ponce-de-Leon sought in vain for many years. How big is a fountain, anyway?--s.b.
Next: Beall Springs People