Private Fastness: Tales Of Wild


When his mind was on it, Phineas Miller was an excellent planter, and Dungeness cotton bloomed on the land, tended by more than a hundred slaves. Olive oil and perhaps some indigo added to the income of the family, which included five of Catherine’s children by General Greene and, in time, their families as well. But Miller died in 1803, and Catherine was once again left to manage the plantation and the increasingly complex financial affairs of the Greene-Miller estate. As she grew older, Catherine seems to have suffered from a progressively worsening nervous disorder, and the bitter rumors about her past were altered to suit the needs of the present. It was said that she was mean, immoral, that she drank too much, that she would think nothing of shooting a slave, and worse. When she died in September, 1814, she was not greatly mourned locally. She was buried in a little cemetery near a creek that winds through Dungeness. You may find her grave there today, shaded by the oaks and moss. Her tombstone reads:

In memory of Catharine Miller (widow of the late Major General Nathanael Greene, Commander in Chief of the American Revolutionary army in the Southern department in 1783) who died Sept. r 2 nd 1814 aged 59 years. She possessed great latents and exalted virtues .

After Kitty’s death, Dungeness passed to her daughter Louisa, a rather formidable woman not greatly beloved by her own family. The plantation now included a considerable grove of orange trees as well as cotton fields, and Louisa was a firm and efficient manager. She was in charge at Dungeness when the British, under Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, seized the island in January, 1815, a few weeks after the War of 1812 was officially brought to a close at Ghent, Belgium. Cockburn interrupted a house party, but aside from banishing the family and guests to the upstairs, he and his men seem to have gotten on well enough with the Americans.

In one of their raids against the mainland, the British captured the little port of St. Marys and gave birth to one of the most revered tales in south Georgia. It seems that the British held the Collector of the Port, Archibald Clark, under guard and demanded to be given any government funds he possessed. Mr. Clark patiently explained that he had none, but the British officers, somewhat suspicious, entered his home and searched about for the money. Alas, they encountered a defiant Mrs. Clark in the living room.

One of the officers, pointing to a pattern in the living room rug, asked Mrs. Clark: “Isn’t that the British Crown?”

To which Mrs. Clark, with an eye toward history, replied: “Yes, and you will see that it is underfoot.”

Eventually informed of the peace, and no doubt tired of the fruitless and costly sallies against the rather barren mainland (not to mention the sallies of Mrs. Clark), the British withdrew in February, 1815.

Three years later a hoary figure from out of the American Revolution made a deseent on Cumberland. This was none other than Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, the implacable old soldier and friend of both Washington and General Greene. He arrived in ill health, set ashore with nothing but a dilapidated hair trunk and a cask of Madeira. Phineas Miller Nightingale, a nephew of Louisa’s, was playing near the Dungeness wharf when he saw the old gentleman being rowed ashore from a schooner out in the channel. Lee told the boy to go inform Louisa that “an old friend and companion of General Greene has come to die in the arms of his daughter.” The old man was true to his word. He died at Dungeness, apparently in some agony, on March 25, 1818. He was buried with full military honors provided by an American fleet stationed near the St. Marys. For many years his body rested in the same little cemetery with that of Catherine Greene, but in 1913 his remains were removed to Lcxington, Virginia, the site of Washington and Lee University, and interred beside those of his son, Robert E. Lee. If local whites in Camden County remember anything about the history of Cumberland, it is that Robert K. Lee came three times to visit the grave of his father, the last time in 1870, when he himself was a tired, sick old man.