Early History of Tybee Island


The origin of the name "Tybee", according to most historians, derives from the Native American Euchee Indian word for "salt", which was but one of the many natural resources found on Tybee.

Many flags have flown over Tybee. The first of which was Spain's. In 1520, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon laid claim to Tybee Island as part of Spain's "La Florida" which extended from the Bahamas to Nova Scotia.

In 1605, the French were drawn to Tybee in search of Sassafras roots, which at the time were considered by Europeans to be a miracle cure. The Spanish would fight the French in a naval battle just off the shore of Tybee Island to regain control over the area.

Spain would be forced to give up their claim to Tybee and other extremities due to superior French and British settlements. In 1733, General James Oglethorpe and a handful of settlers came to the area. The first settlements were established on Tybee Island by Oglethorpe to check out water passages from the east. Tybee Island was considered extremely important to the development and future of Savannah and the colony because of its location at the mouth of the Savannah River. Tybee settlers built a fort at one of the settlements to insure control over access to the river, and Oglethorpe ordered a lighthouse constructed to mark the entrance to the river in 1736. Tybee was one of the satellite settlements established by Oglethorpe. These settlements were a "defense screen" around Savannah. They stretched from positions up and down the Savannah River and the Ogeechee River.

Tybee Island would play a significant role throughout Georgia and U.S. history, including the Revolutionary war when Tybee served as the staging area for French Admiral D'Estaing's ill-fated 1779 "Siege of Savannah."

During the War of 1812, the British used the Tybee Island Lighthouse as a signal tower to warn Savannah of a possible attack. Though no such attack took place, a "Martello Tower" was constructed on Tybee to provide protection in guarding the Savannah River.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Tybee would again play an important military role in U.S. history. First Confederates occupied the Island. In December 1861, the Rebel forces would withdraw to Fort Pulaski under orders from Robert E. Lee. Union forces under the Command of Quincy Adams Gilmore took control of Tybee and began constructing cannon batteries on the westside of Tybee facing Fort Pulaski about one mile away. On April 11, 1862, those cannon batteries would fire a new weapon called "rifled cannon" at Fort Pulaski and change forever the way the world protected its coastal areas.