While the nomadic Paleo-Indians arrived in Georgia about twelve thousand years ago, the first permanent Indian settlements were established on SSI about 4500 years ago. Coastal Indians lived off the abundant seafood, gathered acorns from the live oak trees, and crafted tools, weapons, and ornaments from shells. Three ancient shell rings have been discovered on Saint Simons - large community architectural projects dating back 4000 years. By the time the first Europeans arrived from Spain, Coastal Indians including the Mocama and perhaps the Guale were living on SSI. Georgia's Spanish mission period lasted a tumultuous two hundred years.
After establishing the Georgia colony in nearby Savannah, General James Edward Oglethorpe built the fortified town of Frederica on Saint Simons Island. It was 1736, and Anglican ministers John and Charles Wesley came from England and helped Oglethorpe establish SSI as a refuge for Protestants escaping from religious persecution from European Catholics. Fort Frederica can still be found on the North end of the island and is now a National Park, and you can visit the site of the Battle of Bloody Marsh where Oglethorpe's men defeated the Spanish in 1742 just off Demere road, not far from Moonrise Cottage.
John and Charles Wesley founded the Christ Church congregation in 1736. John Wesley went on to found the Methodist Church. The Christ Episcopal Church, Fredercia, is one the island's best-known historic sites.
In 1750 Georgia legalized slavery, opening the way for plantations to be established on the island to grow cotton, corn, and sugar cane. Thousands of slaves from many African regions and tribes lived together on these plantations, and they created a unique culture called Gullah or Geechee. The Gullah Geechee language is the only known english-based creole in the United States. The Gullah Geechee culture continues to be an important part of life on SSI today. The First African Baptist Church, built in 1869, was organized by island slaves before the Civil War and is the oldest surviving church building on St. Simons. In 1890 the members on the South end of the island separated from their mother church and formed Emmanuel Baptist Church, which stands near Moonrise Cottage at the corner of Demere Rd and Beach Drive.