- Historic Sites
Private Fastness: Tales Of Wild
CUMBERLAND ISLAND AND HOW MODERN TIMES AT LAST HAVE REACHED IT
April 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 3
Greene was heavily in debt as the result of personally guaranteeing payment for his troop supplies in the closing days of the war, and he was struggling to reclaim old rice fields at Mulberry Grove and recoup his fortune when he died suddenly of a stroke in 1786. His widow, the beautiful and elegant Catherine, carried through her husband’s plans for Dungcness, and in 1803 moved her family (including a second husband) into the massive house that rose far above the trees at the south end of Cumberland. Dungeness was made of tabby (a concretelike mixture of limestone and oyster shells), and it was truly enormous, containing thirty rooms and standing four stories high forty feet from the cellar sloncs with walls six feet thick at the base. There were four chimneys and sixteen fireplaces, and twenty rooms above the first floor. It was a tremendous and expensive undertaking for the time and the place, and the house was never finished. Someone invented the story that an old Greene family superstition forbade finishing the house, but the truth is that neither Catherine nor her second husband, Phineas Miller, ever had the monev. The house was situated on a huge shell midden, and it was visible for miles. It became, almost immediately, one of the most famous plantation residences of the islands, an elegantly appointed house surrounded by an enclosed twelve-acre garden of tropical and semitropical plants, including crepe myrtle, sage palms, orange, clove, and fig trees, rubber plants, date palms, camphor and coffee trees, Portuguese laurel, guava, lime, citron, pomegranate, and many, many others. East of the house was a grove of eight hundred olive trees, and south, beyond the garden, a littie spit of land extended into the marsh where live oaks, festooned with Spanish moss, formed a natural canopy to shade out the hot Georgia sun. It was to this cool, relaxing spot, which the Greene children called the Park, that the family would retire at the end of the day.
All in all, Dungeness was an enchanting place, and Catherine Greene-Miller was a lavish hostess. Few weeks went by without at least two or three houseguests present. Kitty, as many of her friends called her, was a beautiful and sophisticated woman, a friend of many of the most illustrious patriots of the American Revolution. She was one of the handful of women who had borne the bitter winter at Valley Forge, gaining there the admiration and friendship not only of Washington but of Lafayette, Anthony Wayne, von Steuben, and Kosciusko as well. But no person as lovely and popular as Kitty Greene could long remain without enemies, and soon after General Greene died, she was linked romantically with Anthony—“Mad Anthony”—Wayne. The republican farmers of Georgia, who disliked Mrs. Greene for her aristocratic, federalist leanings, quickly spread the rumor that she and Wayne had been having an affair long before Greene died. Later the rumor was broadened to a version that had Kitty and Wayne murdering the General with a butcher knife.
But Catherine Greene was no murderess. She was a highly intelligent woman, strong-willed and accustomed to getting her way, yet accustomed also to hardships and disappointment. She had the knack of turning friendships—even casual ones—into extremely intimate relationships, and, of course, this was always interpreted in the basest physical terms by the local citizenry. Furthermore, Kitty was from Rhode Island, and most of her friends were Yankees, including Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin at Mulberry Grove in 1793. It was Catherine Greene who originally encouraged Whitney to work on the gin, and popular lore even credits her with a hand in the invention. When Whitney was perplexed over how to sweep the gin teeth clean, it is said that Mrs. Greene remarked, “Why Eli, you need a brush,” and flicked the lint from the teeth with her hairbrush.
It was Catherine’s second husband, Phineas Miller, who formed the illfated partnership with Whitney to manufacture and sell the gin. The innumerable lawsuits and trials of Miller & Whitney to protect their patent are too well-known to detail, but it was the frustration of dealing with the shrewd, unscrupulous backwoods Georgia farmers that led Whitney ultimately to observe: “I have a set of the most Depraved villains to combat and I might as well go to Hell in search of Happiness as apply to a Georgia Court for Justice.”