Tybee and Savannah Historic Wonders: Tybee Lighthouse and Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery Have A Connection

Tybee Lighthouse at Tybee Island GA. Photo (c) 2011 Guy Smith

Restored Tybee Lighthouse Station. Photo (c) 2011 Guy Smith.

Savannah and “Greater Tybee” — also called the Queen of South Atlantic Resorts by Motor Age* (ca. 1915) —  are home to historic wonders and stories that connect the seashore to plantation gentry.  Tybee Lighthouse and Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery have such a kinship, though obscure until one looks at the life of British Colonel John Mulryne.

[This picturesque place, Bonaventure] “is one of the loveliest spots in the world, possessing peculiar charms which have no rival in natural beauty and magnificence.”  – Beale H. Richardson, ca. 1875


A prominent land owner from Charleston, South Carolina, John Mulryne built Bonaventure Plantation (ca. 1760-1762) and constructed the third Tybee Light (ca. 1769-1773) aka Tybee Lighthouse.  Tybee Island’s famous landmark is  located near Lighthouse Inn bed and breakfast in Tybee Island’s Fort Screven historic district.

Bonaventure is among Georgia’s oldest plantations that include Wormsloe (now a Georgia State Park and Historic Site) and Greenwich.**  Josiah Tattnall (who married Mary, Mulryne’s only daughter) brings to mind the famous historical names associated with Savannah’s heroic age of colonial families — the Joneses, Telfairs, Habersham, and Houstouns.

Bonaventure Cemetery Savannah GA (c) Britt Reints | Used under Creative Commons License

Bonaventure Live Oaks

Owner of 804 acres in St. Helena Parish, South Carolina, John Mulryne Esquire became even more prominent in the Georgia colony.

  • In 1747, British Colonel John Mulryne of Charleston, South Carolina, petitioned for lands in the Georgia colony for the purpose of shipbuilding. Among others in his petition was John Hutchinson.  Mulryne was granted lands on Red Bird Creek in south Bryan County, Georgia.
  • In 1761 John Mulryne was elected to serve in the General Assembly representing St. John’s Parish.
  • In 1762 Mulryne and his wife, Claudia Catell Mulryne, established their plantation home at Bonaventure (French, meaning “good fortune”).   The 600-acre rural estate (much of it later to become Bonaventure Cemetery) is located on the Saint Augustine Creek and Wilmington River about 3 ½ miles from today’s Landmark Savannah Historic District.  The Mulryne’s original home at Bonaventure was built entirely of imported British bricks, and landscaped with expansive gardens to the river, plus the now-famous Live Oak trees. Live Oaks had been selected by Mulryne for there hardiness to withstand hurricane winds.
  • John Mulryne Esquire of the Parish of Christ Church was on the Committee of Correspondence to communicate with Benjamin Franklin, named agent to “represent, Solicit, and transact the affairs of this [Georgia] province in Great Britain”.
  • Mulryne was among the colony’s most prominent men (including Noble Jones) named a Commissioner or Surveyor of [Publick] Roads.
  • Mulryne’s plantation became a refuge of the Tories [British Loyalists] in the American Revolution.  In January 1776, Mulryne and his son-in-law Josiah Tattnall were arrested along with then-Governor Sir James Wright.  All were ordered not to assist British ships of war off the Tybee coast.  Mulryne and Tattnall were paroled on their own honor.
  • On the night of February 11, 1776, with the assistance of Mulryne (a member of the Royal Council), Sir James Wright escaped from the back of his house.  At the time, Wright was on house arrest by the Sons of Liberty.  He traveled by boat to Bonaventure, Mulryne’s plantation home, then through Tybee Creek where he absconded to board the British ship Scarborough man of war (around 3 a.m. on February 12), waiting in Tybee Roads.  Thereafter, the warship departed for the Bahamas.
  • After the close of the American Revolution in 1782, Mulryne was one of 280 British Loyalists “banished from this state [Georgia] forever” and required to depart within 60 days.

Mulryne’s American patriot grandson, Josiah Tattnall, Jr., purchased the plantation in 1788.  Over objections by his father and grandfather, Tattnall, Jr. had joined the army of General Nathanael Greene, following George Washington’s second in command until the close of the American Revolutionary War.

In the late 1700s, the great house at Bonaventure Plantation was destroyed by fire.  Legend has it that Tattnall, Jr., while hosting a dinner party, was surprised by fire in his plantation home. Unable to save the mansion, his servants moved the dining table onto the lawn, at his instruction.  The meal continued by the light of Bonaventure ablaze.  Frommer’s Portable Guide writes, “At the end the host and the guests threw their crystal glasses against the trunk of an old oak tree. It is said on still nights you can hear laughter and the sounds of crashing crystal.”

Pointing to Literary Landmarks, New York Times Travel posts, “In The Book [Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil] , Mary Harty calls these ruins the ‘scene of the Eternal Party.  What better place in Savannah, to rest in peace for all time — where the party goes on and on.'”

Mulryne’s posterity fought for the southern states’ Confederacy.  November 27, 1861: “Commodore Tatnall [sic] attacks the Federal Fleet in Cockspur Roads [near Tybee Island].” NY Herald

In 1862 Confederate troops from nearby Fort Pulaski set afire the 1773 Tybee Lighthouse.   Of the 100 feet of this third lighthouse only 60 feet remained, which served as a rebuilding point for a fourth lighthouse — the restored Tybee Island lighthouse. It is now open to visitors and the lighthouse grounds are available for parties.

On August 8, 1989, The Tybee Lightouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2001 Bonaventure Cemetery was placed on the National Registry.

**More About Greenwich Plantation —
In 1897, Spencer P. Shotter, Chairman of the Board of American Naval Stores, purchased the Greenwich Plantation.  Shotter’s mansion was accented by an elegant white marble fountain and manicured gardens of exotic plant specimens and ancient statuary. Prominent Beaux Art architects, Carrère and Hastings, were hired to build the Greenwich Estate. Their work includes the Russell Senate Office Building, New York Public Library, and Metropolitan Opera House (razed) interiors.  Great balls and yachting parties were held there, and movie scenes were filmed (including Stolen Moments) with such stars as Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Francis X. Bushman.  Stolen Moments was principally shot at the Greenwich Plantation mansion in Savannah, GA, considered the most magnificent, privately-owned estate in the entire South — reported to have rivaled Biltmore House in Asheville, NC in both size and architecture.  Some of the statuary seen in the movie now resides as part of the Telfair Museum collection.  The fountain, a stable, the foundation of a Roman-style bath house, and an artificial pond remain as reminders of the grandeur which once was Greenwich.

Tybee Beach photo from Motor Age, November 4, 1915

Bathers and onlookers at the "Queen of South Atlantic Resorts" -- Tybee Island, GA near Savannah. Motor Age, 1915.

Tidbit: In 1915, gasoline was in short supply. Yet Savannah boasted some of the lowest rates in the U.S. — 20-cents per gallon.  There were fine gravel [crushed stone] roads leading into Savannah.  Shell roads poor and good dirt stretches exist between Savannah and Jacksonville [177 miles]. Source: Motor Age, 1915.

For more information:

Lighthouse Inn, a Tybee Island beach house inn
Historic Tybee Bed and Breakfast, Celebrating 100 Years!
tybeebb.com | lighthouseinn@bellsouth.net
16 Meddin Drive | Tybee Island | Georgia | USA 31328
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