The area now known as Pin Point has an illustrious history. In 1737, the Trustees of the Colony of Georgia deeded the land to one William Stephens, secretary of the new colony and Georgia’s future president following Oglethorpe’s return to England. Located along the Vernon River and bounded by the Orphan house lands otherwise known as Bethesda, the land became a working plantation, which Stephens named Beaulieu (fig. 1). [i] A gentleman farmer, Stephens spent much of his time twelve miles north in Savannah proper. The plantation originally housed five indentured servants and one overseer, who cleared the land for planting and built several fences. Stevens gradually acquired slaves following the colony’s legalization of the slave trade in 1750. He maintained the property until his death in August 1753, making him one of the only members of British Parliament buried in North America. [ii] The Stephens family continued their ownership of the property until 1772, when it was transferred to John Morel, who also owned property on Ossabaw Island. [iii]
In the midst of the Revolutionary War in 1779, Beaulieu Plantation was the landing spot for the French Count d’Estaing. He was met by Count Casimir Pulaski, who along with American forces launched a failed, bloody campaign to rid Savannah of British rule. [iv]
Beaulieu Plantation also played a part in the Civil War and housed a battery. Established by General Robert E. Lee, the battery served as a defense against the U.S. Army’s approach to the mainland from Green Island Sound. It was eventually overwhelmed by General Sherman’s land forces, marking an end to the Civil War and a triumphant end to slavery in Savannah. Two letters written in February 1864 by local soldiers reflect the conditions and day-to-day activities at the battery, including gripes about the weather and commanding officers. Today, these documents are housed in the Georgia Historical Society archives.
After obtaining their freedom, the slaves located at Beaulieu Plantation settled on Ossabaw, Green, Skidaway, and the other Sea Islands. The move was part of General Sherman’s Special Field Order no. 15, and the freedmen prospered in their new settlements until the order was reversed (figs. 2-3). [v] In 1896, after a series of devastating storms decimated several of these communities and most of Ossabaw Island, several freed slaves purchased tracts of the plantation from Judge Henry McAlpin. The judge had acquired the 600-acre property in a public auction on July 15, 1896 for $1,107 (fig. 4). [vi] The buyers included the families of William Bond and Benjamin Dillward. These families settled what is now called Pin Point, possibly a contraction of the name Chinquapin Point, recalling the abundance of chinquapin trees growing there (fig. 5).[vii]
In 1897, the community established the Sweetfield of Eden Baptist Church as a successor to Ossabaw Island’s Hinder Me Not congregation (figs. 6-7). The land for Sweetfield was purchased by the community, acted as the community school, and is still today a major meeting place for Pin Point residents. Next to the church is the area’s original cemetery, housing the remains of Pin Point’s founding African American owners (figs. 8-10).
In 1925, a plot of land was purchased by the Brotherhood of Friendship Society to house a community center, named Pin Point Hall. Many residents still consider the center to be the glue that holds the community together (fig. 11). The Brotherhood itself continues to be an influential group in Pin Point. Along with the Pin Point Betterment Association and other community members from the Pin Point Heritage Museum, it strives to preserve the area’s culture for future generations.
The Pin Point community is still owned by the ancestors of the original purchasers, making it the largest area of waterfront owned by African Americans in Georgia. Beginning in 1896, it was a self-sustaining community of hard working fishermen and women of Gullah Geechee ancestry, influenced by the Caribbean and representing a mixture of African and English religions, diet, and language. They made their living on the river in Tuck Boats or shallow Bateauxs, handmade and rowed out into the marsh surrounding Pin Point. Here they harvested oysters, shrimp, and blue-crab, made their own nets, and supported the prominent canning factory A.S. Varn & Sons, which operated at Pin Point from 1926 to 1985 (figs. 12-15). The factory employed most of the town and marks the highlight of the community’s prosperity. [viii]
Pin Point’s marker recognizes its most influential former resident, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—or “Boy,” as he is known in the community (figs. 16-17). In 1991, after Justice Thomas’ nomination, the Pin Point community hosted several rallies in support of his nomination. Justice Thomas remains one of Pin Point’s most devout supporters, and was an integral part of the Georgia Historical Society’s marker dedication ceremony.
The community of Pin Point is a testament to the dedication and hard work of America’s freed slave communities in Georgia, and represents a living history of this country’s trials and tribulations. The Pin Point Heritage Museum and the Pin Point Betterment Association strives to preserve its history for future generations of Pin Point residents. By capturing the people’s history in the exhibits and in the oral recollection of local residents, the Pin Point Heritage Museum ensures their place in Savannah history.