Around 700 A.D., Native Americans, known as Guale Indians, populated the coast of Georgia. Along with its abundant fish and game, Little St. Simons Island’s bountiful oyster beds drew the Guale to the Island seasonally. Large piles of discarded oyster shells, called middens, can be found near the northern end of Little St. Simons Island and are among the Island’s most historic sites.
As he sails up the Georgia coast in 1562, French explorer Jean Ribeaut encounters two islands, one smaller than the other, and (according to some historians) names them after St. Simeon, a small town east of Paris. The two islands, Great St. Simon’s Island and Little St. Simon’s Island (with apostrophes that have long since vanished) first appear with these names on maps in the 18th century.
In 1760, Samuel Augspourger, a Swiss colonist living in South Carolina, became Little St. Simons Island’s first private owner of record. In 1768, he sold the Island to his grandson, Gabriel Manigault.
Along with sizable parts of coastal Georgia, Major Pierce Butler acquired Little St. Simons Island in 1774. The Island became part of Butler’s vast, coastal rice and cotton cultivation operations centered just across the Hampton River at Hampton Plantation on St. Simons Island. A stretch of 500 acres of marshlands at Little St. Simons Island’s northwestern tip was drained, placed under cultivation with sea island cotton and called Five Pound Plantation.
Major Butler’s grandson, Pierce Butler II, assumed ownership of Little St. Simons Island in 1836. Butler’s
wife, Fanny Kemble, was an English actress and the author of several published journals including the famous Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation that vividly recounted the often harsh realities of life on the antebellum coast.