Founded in 1734, the Salzburger settlement of Old Ebenezer is now listed as one of the dead towns of Georgia. Near the site, a historical marker is located at Highway 21 and Effingham County Road 183, “Log Landing Road.” The site itself situated among private land is open to the public on the two Georgia Salzburger Society annual meeting dates, which are Labor Day and the date commemorating their arrival on or nearest March 12 as announced annually as their Landing Day meeting date. Special tours can be arranged through the Georgia Salzburger Society.
Banished from Austria for their religious beliefs, a band of religious souls known as Salzburgers, bound by a salt oath taken in their native Alpine homeland, found themselves a part of a great experiment to settle Georgia in the new world. With help from groups in Augsburg, Germany, and England, the persecuted found their way to Gen. James Oglethorpe in Savannah by voyage on the “Purysburg” from Dover, England, arriving on March 12, 1734, in Savannah.
He helped them choose land about 25 miles north which was inland and could be reached by boat on the Ebenezer Creek (unless the water level was low). The land was situated in a fork of what is now called the Ebenezer and the Little Ebenezer creeks. This was a place of hope where they could live in peace and worship as they chose. The site they selected for settlement was at some time marked with a large stone marking the site. They took their name “Ebenezer” which meant “Stone of Help” taken from the Old Testament book of Samuel from the Bible.
They had to clear a road from Abercorn several miles away to transport supplies because the creek was not always high enough to reach the settlement. Although six miles on foot from the river, the trip by the winding Ebenezer Creek was 25 miles to the new town site. Oglethorpe got consent from the Uchee Indians to allow the settlers to live peaceably in the area they desired.
With much help from their benefactors, overseas and in Savannah, including tools, seeds and supplies and support of the pastor, Rev. John Martin Boltzius, the Salzburgers energetically and piously established a town. They built crude dwellings and established the first school in Georgia consisting of nine students with Christopher Ortman as schoolmaster. They spoke and studied German (more spoke German than English in Georgia in the 1730s). They worshiped faithfully each evening and several times on Sunday. The Salzburgers organized the first Sunday School in the school house they built which also served as a place of worship. In 1735, they established a sawmill on the creek with the mill powered by water. The Salzburgers were plagued with many perils, including soil that was not fertile, inaccessibility when the creek was low and diseases including malaria and fevers from the dampness and humidity in the swamp. From the initial population of 46, fortified by a second transport in December of 1734 and later arrivals, the settlers numbers dwindled because of many deaths. The settlement proved so unsatisfactory, despite their industriousness and hard work, that in 1736, they sought and were given permission to relocate. They moved their town to the mouth of the Ebenezer Creek and the Savannah River. The new town came to be known as “New Ebenezer” and the site of “Old Ebenezer” fell to a few English settlers sent there to mind their cattle and sawmill. The Salzburgers continued to operate the mill after they moved for a short time. By 1739, the mill was lost to a flood. In a few years, all was abandoned at the site.
Although the history of the Salzburgers goes on to success at New Ebenezer, where they faced the same obstacles but had better accessibility, we will focus on the old site. A few relics including some sawmill remnants are under a shed on the site. Some old coins, a pipe, musket balls, a hoe and an ax were removed from the site. An indention in the creek bank showed where the saw mill had operated. It is a much wooded site covered in underbrush when untended.
In 1970, the Georgia Salzburgers and the family who owned the site decided to begin proceedings to mark the site for posterity as the site had no marker to identify it. A certificate was secured from Mr. Laurie Hinely, by Mr. M.C. Jaudon, attesting to the existence of a stone that had marked the site prior to 1920. Mr. Laurie and others had witnessed seeing the stone and exploring the site early in their lives. A stone did sit on the original site despite what has been published to the contrary by George Fenwick Jones in “The Salzburger Saga.” With a map and some information from the elders in the community, the site was located, explored and permanently marked and identified by three stone markers. One stone marks the site of Old Ebenezer with dates on one side and has a swan on the other side established by the Jaudons. The second marker placed there by the Jaudons marks the supposed site of the cemetery 1734-1736. In 1999, the Georgia Salzburger Society erected and dedicated a cemetery site marker listing the names of those lost. Remarkably, the pastor kept excellent records to verify those who perished. Mr. M.C. Jaudon faithfully tends to weeding, clearing undergrowth and maintaining the site on ancestral land of his John Neidlinger lineage. The remote site will be accessible through the Georgia Salzburger Society’s direction during their Labor Day Festival on Monday. The festival is held at Jerusalem Lutheran Church on Ebenezer Road at New Ebenezer beginning at 10 a.m. celebrating the history of the towns of Old and New Ebenezer. Although the town is now silent, the descendants of these hard-working, pious people still proudly celebrate their ancestors with a public worship service in Jerusalem Church at 11 a.m. during the festival. Visitors are welcome to tour The Georgia Salzburger Society Museum, Old Parsonage, Fail House and historical displays, gift shop and demonstrations during the annual Labor Day Festival. Come have lemonade from the traditional barrel, see old crafts demonstrated on site and visit the German Market Platz. Although the town of Old Ebenezer is now gone, the perhaps most under told story of America’s history, the story of Old Ebenezer, is being kept alive through the efforts of the Jaudon family and the Georgia Salzburger Society.
This article was written by Susan Exley. If you have questions, photographs or comments to contribute, please contact her at 912-754-6681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.