A Brief History of the Jekyll Island Club
Even if you’re not a history buff, you have to indulge a bit to fully appreciate Jekyll Island. Don’t worry, we’re not going to spend too long on this but, trust us, it’s better with the backstory.
Jekyll Island’s First Resident
Jekyll Island has always ebbed and flowed between the last bastion of civilization and the edge of the wilderness. Its power and influence rises and falls like the tidelands that surround it. In the 1730s, the English appointed William Horton to set up a plantation on Jekyll. He was the first permanent resident on the island.
His farm provided cattle and grains to feed Fort Frederica on nearby San Simon’s Island. By 1748, the British garrison had left Fort Frederica, and William Horton’s plantation soon followed.
In 1792, Christophe du Bignon and his family acquired the island and built a prosperous cotton plantain on the backs of African labor. In fact, the Bignon family was instrumental in the slave ship Wanderer landing on Jykell Island with their illegal cargo of slaves. In 1858, fifty years after the slave trade was outlawed, the Wander smuggled 409 captured Africans onto Jekyll Island. This was the last major slave shipment in American history, and a memorial in the Saint Andrew’s Picnic Area marks their landing on the southern shores of the island.
Bignon plantations were abandoned during the Civil War and, when the family returned after the war, they discovered they had no real interest in farming the land themselves. Instead, the innovative John Eugene Du Bignon bought out his relatives and sold the island to the Jekyll Island Club as an exclusive retreat for northern businessmen.
The Club Era
From 1888 to 1942 the Jekyll Island Club attracted the creme de la creme on American elite including Henry Hyde, Marshall Field, John Pierpont Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William K. Vanderbilt. Every winter for nearly half a century, Jekyll Island became the winter getaway where the wealthy gathered and conducted business under the warm Georgia sun. The first transcontinental phone call linked Jekyll Island, Washington D.C., New York City, and San Francisco. The Federal Reserve came to life in a secret Jekyll Island meeting, but who knows how many other deals were brokered on Jekyll that never saw the light of day.
Jekyll Island Authority
Just like the Civil War, WWII left Jekyll Island deserted. When the residents returned, they couldn’t re-open the club. Instead, the State of Georgia acquired the island in 1947 and opened it to the public. Now, people everywhere can experience life in the Gilded Age. In fact, through the Jekyll Island Club’s historic hotel, you can stay in the cottages of the rich and famous.