Island History

Jekyll Island History

Our historic Jekyll Island resort and club is located off the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. Situated between St. Simons Island and Cumberland Island, Jekyll is a short drive from the town of Brunswick and boasts of a salt marsh characteristic of the southeastern seaboard and a beach with the Atlantic Ocean lapping its shores. At 5,700 acres and a 33% limit on business development, Jekyll is the smallest of Georgia’s barrier islands, yet resplendent with moss draped live oaks, marshes and remote beaches with natural sand dunes and indigenous wildlife.

Jekyll Island was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1947, and it became the Jekyll Island State Park. It was operated under the state park system until 1950, when it was transferred to the auspices of the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA), more able to operate as a business. The JIA board of directors is appointed by the governor of Georgia.

Native American Settlement

The mystique surrounding this Jekyll Island luxury resort is not limited to its reputation for being an opulent playground for the nation’s elite during the turn of the century. The history of Jekyll Island itself is ripe with a diversity all its own. As early as 2,500 B.C., Jekyll Island has been attracting visitors, beginning with small groups of hunter-gatherers seeking the island’s abundant natural resources. They were followed in 1540 A.D. by the Guale Indians, a tribe known for inhabiting a number of Georgia’s barrier islands. The Spanish called Jekyll “Isla De Ballenas” meaning “Whale Island” because even today the St. Andrew’s Sound south of Jekyll Island is a whale breeding ground. European presence can be traced back to the late sixteenth century with strong archival evidence that the Spanish at least explored and had contact with the native peoples of the island, but it was the English, however, who were the first to establish any sort of European settlement.

Colonial Period

In 1733, James Oglethorpe and the passengers aboard the Anne established the English colony of Georgia on Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River (between Georgia and South Carolina). In 1734, General Oglethorpe renamed the island in tribute to his friend, Sir Joseph Jekyl, an English politician. The colony grew rapidly, and an immediate conflict developed with their Spanish neighbors in Florida. Oglethorpe quickly dispatched thirty recruits led by William Horton to construct the town and defenses at Frederica on St. Simons Island. After proving himself on St. Simons, Horton was granted 500 acres of land by the Trustees of the colony, and in April 1736 he ventured over to Jekyll Island to stake his claim. Horton died in 1748 and the remains of his house, built of a mixture of lime, sand and oyster shells (tabby), are among the oldest structures in Georgia. Over the next forty years, Jekyll had a number of different owners, ranging from personal entities to a group of Frenchmen called the Sapelo Company.

19th Century

Slaves were imported to pick cotton, which was the primary agricultural product on the island during this time. The U.S. government banned the importation of slaves in 1807, but smuggling still continued. On November 29, 1858, the Wanderer unloaded 409 slaves on Jekyll Island, one of the last cargoes of slaves imported into the United States. Those involved in the activities of the Wanderer were indicted by the federal government.

Next Page: The Club History

The legacy of the original Jekyll Island Club spans well over a century of history and gracious hospitality. Book your reservations at our historic resort directly through this site for preferred rates.