Coastal Georgia Fortifications: Fort Morris in Sunbury

Fortification: Fort Morris
Location: Sunbury, Liberty County
Conflicts: American Revolution, War of 1812
Visited: 11 December 2022

A blog project for 2023 is to visit historic fortifications in Coastal Georgia and document them with blog posts. This weekend, to get the project started, I visited Fort Morris in Sunbury. Throughout 2023, I’ll be visiting more forts along the Georgia Coast, from Savannah to Brunswick. Each post will offer a brief history of the fortification along with photos of what is left of them.

A fortification has stood in Sunbury, GA along the Medway River since the mid-18th Century; during the French and Indian War it was a log fort, during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 it was an earthwork fort; Fort Morris during the American Revolution and Fort Defiance during the War of 1812. The town of Sunbury was chartered in 1758 was chartered halfway between Savannah and Darien. As Sunbury grew, it first needed protection during the French and Indian War, so a log fort was built along the Medway to protect it from attack. Although there is nothing left of Sunbury today, after the French and Indian War it had become the second busiest port in Georgia behind Savannah. Due to its status as an important port town, the Continental Congress ordered a fort built in 1776 to protect Sunbury from the British; this time it would be built of earth and it would be named Fort Morris in 1778 after Captain Thomas Morris, the commander of the artillery unit that manned the fort: the 2nd Company, Georgia Artillery. Positioned on a bend in the Medway between St Catherines Sound and the town of Sunbury, Fort Morris was well placed to defend the town. The forces at Fort Morris were able to turn away the first British attempt to capture the fort and occupy Sunbury in November 1778, but a larger force returned in January 1779 after the capture of Savannah in December 1778. The British forced the surrender of Fort Morris through artillery bombardment, capturing Fort Morris (and re-naming it Fort George) and occupying Sunbury until September 1779 when their forces were ordered to return to Savannah. The American Revolution left Sunbury in ruins.

The Visitors Center and Museum at Fort Morris
Looking toward the remains of Fort Defiance from the Visitors Center and Museum
Looking toward the Visitors Center and Museum from the remains of Fort Defiance
Fort Morris and Fort Defiance were sited to protect the town of Sunbury at this bend in the Medway River; St Catherines Sound can be seen farther out

Sunbury would recover between the American Revolution and the War of 1812, but it never regained its pre-revolution prominence. During the War of 1812, Fort Defiance was constructed out of what remained of Fort Morris, once again to protect Sunbury. Initially, Sunbury was protected by six armed barges that were stationed on the Medway River from July 1812, but they were only there for six months during which the poorly led and undisciplined crews caused trouble in Sunbury. In Autumn 1814, Fort Defiance was constructed and briefly manned, but the war would end before it saw any action. The earthworks at the Historic Site today are the remains of Fort Defiance. The slideshow below shows the remains of Fort Defiance, if you look closely at the sixth photo, you can see some staked out areas; these are areas where archaeological work was done in the early 2000s.

After the war of 1812, Sunbury continued to decline. During the Civil War, there would be Confederate troops stationed in the Sunbury area, but it is not believed that they occupied what was left of Fort Defiance. In December 1864, following the capture of Fort McAllister (in what is now Richmond Hill, GA), Union forces occupied Sunbury. After the Civil War, due to the economic downturn following the war, disease, and hurricanes, Sunbury disappeared. All that remains of the once prosperous port town are the earthworks of Fort Morris/Fort Defiance and the Sunbury Cemetery.

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