Island History

A history of discovery.

Jekyll Island has been a vacation destination for more than 3,500 years. The island’s earliest inhabitants were Native Americans who traveled to Jekyll Island to hunt, fish, and gather shellfish. When French explorers first arrived in the area in 1562, tens of thousands of Native Americans are thought to have inhabited present-day Coastal Georgia.

The first permanent settlers on the island, however, were British colonists, establishing fortifications along the coast and claiming the territory for England. General James Edward Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia in 1733. He gave Jekyll Island its present name in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, a financial backer of the young colony. Oglethorpe then assigned Major William Horton to build an outpost on Jekyll Island to protect Fort Frederica on nearby St. Simons Island.

With the help of his indentured servants, Major Horton built the island into a relatively prosperous plantation. After his death in 1749, the island went through a series of owners before finally being purchased by Christophe Poulain DuBignon in 1792.

The DuBignons enjoyed a successful business raising Sea Island Cotton on their plantation for nearly a century. Following the Civil War, Christophe’s great-grandson, John Eugene DuBignon, marketed Jekyll Island as the perfect site for a hunting club.

In 1886, the island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, a turn-of-the century vacation resort patronized by the nation’s leading families. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

The Club Era eventually came to an end as a result of World War II. In 1947, the island was sold to the State of Georgia for use as a State Park, offering opportunities for recreation and pleasure along the Georgia Coast to everyone. Today, the Jekyll Island Authority manages the island for the State of Georgia and the enjoyment of its citizens.

Jekyll Island Timeline

1500 B.C.: The earliest known archaeological sites on Jekyll Island suggest that this island has been a destination for more than 3,500 years.

Colonial Era

1562: French explorers first arrived in the area.

1733: General James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia and named Jekyll Island in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, his friend and financier from England.

1735: Major William Horton was granted Jekyll Island. He created a plantation from which he provided food to the soldiers and families of Ft. Frederica, on St. Simons Island.

1736: Diplomacy of Nations took place on Jekyll. The English, Spanish, and Creek Indians met on the island in an effort to settle their differences through diplomacy.

1742: The Spanish retreated across Jekyll Island following their loss at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. They destroyed Horton’s house, outbuildings, crops and livestock as a parting blow against the English.

1747: William Horton purchased a Great Copper Pot for the purpose of brewing beer on Jekyll Island, which became recognized as Georgia’s first brewery.

1778: Jekyll Island property owner John Martin was judged guilty of high treason “by traitorously adhering to the King of Great Britain,” resulting in the island’s confiscation.

Plantation Era

1792: Christophe DuBignon, a French émigré fleeing the French Revolution purchased property on Jekyll Island.

1814-15: British ships attacked Jekyll Island several times, with raids continuing even after the War of 1812 officially ended. Christophe DuBignon later testified “my house was plundered at four different times by said British.” When the British departed, 28 enslaved men and women departed with them.

1858: The Wanderer yacht landed on Jekyll Island, Georgia, with an illegal cargo of slaves from Africa. This was one of the last groups of enslaved Africans sold into captivity in America.

1862: Robert E. Lee ordered a withdrawal of Confederate troops from the island. Confederate troops occupied Jekyll Island and built gun batteries during the early years of the Civil War.

Club Era

1879-1885: Newton Finney, and his brother-in-law, John Eugene DuBignon, a descendant of Christophe DuBignon, collaborated to turn Jekyll Island into a private hunting club for some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals.

1886: The island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, which Munsey’s Magazine called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world. . . .” For those who represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth at the turn of the century, the Jekyll Island Club became an exclusive retreat. Families with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Baker built the elegant Clubhouse and “cottages” in Victorian architectural styles.

1910: Senator Nelson Aldrich led a party of financial leaders to Jekyll Island to create the forerunner of the Federal Reserve, today’s modern banking system.

1915: The first transcontinental telephone call was made in the United States. Presiding over the ceremonies by telephone were President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, DC, Alexander Graham Bell in New York, Thomas Watson in San Francisco, Henry Higginson in Boston, and AT&T President Theodore Newton Vail on Jekyll Island, GA.

1924: Jekyll Island became a testing ground for the future of golf, resulting in the use of a lighter golf ball and steel-shafted clubs.

1926: Walter J. Travis designed the island’s seaside course for the exclusive Jekyll Island Club, Great Dunes Golf Course. Travis declared he “was enthusiastic over the prospects at [Jekyll] for one of the most beautiful courses in the country.” Travis passed away in 1927, and never saw the course completed. Great Dunes opened in January of 1928.

State Era

1947: The state of Georgia purchased Jekyll Island from the Jekyll Island Club through condemnation proceedings for $675,000.

1948: Jekyll Island opened to the public as a State Park.

1950: Jekyll Island Authority was established by Governor Talmadge and tasked with developing the island into a resort.

1954: Drawbridge to the island was completed and opened, and Tallu Fish founded the Jekyll Island Museum, operating out of Indian Mound Cottage.

1955: Perimeter road around the island was paved. A Beach Pavilion was constructed at one of the only beaches open to African Americans in the south during segregation.

1956: Peppermint Land Amusement Park opened.

1958: The first beach hotel on the island, Jekyll Estates, opened.

1959: The first black-owned motel, The Dolphin Club, opened, and later became a group camp and youth center.

1961: The Aquarama was completed, and construction began on the first 18-hole golf course.

1965: Funding was provided to pave the grass strip at the airport and construct a small support building.

1969: The fishing pier was built on the north end of the island.

1978: Jekyll Island’s historic district achieved Landmark District status, becoming known as the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District.

1982: Construction of the first bike path began.

1983: The Dolphin Club, along with the auditorium and beach pavilion, were leased to the University of Georgia for 4-H summer camp, and later year-round youth environmental programs.

1984-1986: The original Clubhouse of the Jekyll Island Club was renovated and later opened as a hotel.

Revitalization & Today

2007: The Georgia Sea Turtle Center opened in the renovated power plant of the Jekyll Island Club.

2010: The Hampton Inn opens, the first new hotel built on Jekyll Island in over 30 years.

2010: Great Dunes Park opens as a reimagined beachfront park with picnic pavilions, an activities deck, play areas, bocce ball and volleyball courts.

2010: Once an indoor tennis court for guests of the Jekyll Island Club, a joint venture between the Jekyll Island Authority and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel restores the Morgan Center to a conference center.

2012: The new Jekyll Island Convention Center opened.

2015: A pinnacle year for revitalization, the new shopping center, Beach Village, and hotels Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island and The Westin Jekyll Island open. The Jekyll Island Foundation also completes their Horton Pond and Skeet House projects.