While visiting Savannah we
found out that General James Edward Oglethorpe and the 120
travelers of the good ship "Anne" landed on a bluff
high along the Savannah River in February 1733; Oglethorpe named
the thirteenth and final American colony, Georgia, after
England's King George II. Savannah became its first city.
Oglethorpe and 19 associates received a charter from the King of
England making them "Trustees for Establishing the Colony of
Georgia in America." The plan was to aid the working poor in
England, and to strengthen the colonies by increasing trade. The
colony of Georgia was also chartered to be a buffer zone for
South Carolina protecting it from the advance of the Spanish in
Florida. Under the original charter, individuals were free to
worship as they pleased and rum, lawyers and slavery were
forbidden - for a time.
Upon settling, Oglethorpe was aided by the native Yamacraw Indian
chief Tomo-chi-chi. Oglethorpe and Tomo-chi-chi pledged their
friendship and good-will, and the Yamacraw chief granted the new
arrivals permission to settle Savannah on the bluff. The town
flourished without warfare and hardship that stifled the
beginnings of so many of America's early colonies.
Savannah is credited as being America's first planned city.
Oglethorpe laid the city out in a series of grids that allowed for wide
open streets intertwined with shady public squares and parks that
served as town meeting places and centers of business. Savannah
had 24 original squares with 21 still in existence.
During the American Revolution the British took Savannah in 1778,
and held it until July, 1782. A land-sea force of French and
Americans tried to retake the city in 1779, first by siege and
then by direct assault, but failed.
The colony would see a generation of peace where Savannah
flourished on the world scene as a cosmopolitan city. Soon,
farmers discovered that Savannah's soil was rich, and the climate
was favorable for the
cultivation of cotton and rice. Plantations and slavery became
highly profitable systems for whites in the neighboring Low country of South Carolina; therefore, Georgia, the last free
colony, legalized slavery. The trans-Atlantic slave trade would
bring millions of Africans to the America's with many passing
through the port of Savannah forming the Gullah culture of the
Atlantic coastal communities in Georgia and South Carolina.
Due to the economic renaissance brought on by the exportation of
cotton, residents built lavish homes and churches throughout the
city that reflected the wealth of the times. With the growth of
trade, especially after the invention of the cotton gin on a
plantation outside of Savannah, the city became a rival of
Charleston as a commercial port. Many of the world's cotton
prices were set on the steps of the Savannah Cotton Exchange; the
building is still in existence today.
In 1819, Savannah made worldwide news as the home port of the
steamship S.S. Savannah. The Savannah was the first steam-powered
vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean. She left Savannah on May 22,
1819, and arrived in Liverpool, England twenty-nine days later.
Through a century of glory and growth, even Savannah was not
spared from certain misfortunes. Two devastating fires in 1796
and 1820 each left half of Savannah in ashes, but residents
re-built. The year 1820 saw an outbreak of the yellow fever
epidemic that eradicated a tenth of Savannah's population.
Savannah survived fires, epidemics and hurricanes, always bouncing back to
glorious life afterwards.
Rich and prosperous, pre Civil War Savannah was praised by many
as the most picturesque and serene city in America with grand oak
trees dripping with Spanish moss and genteel people who exhibit
exceptional charm. The Georgia Historical Society was founded in
that era and Forsyth Park got its grand ornate, cast-iron
fountain in 1858.
With the onslaught of the Civil War, the city suffered from sea
trade blockades so strict that Savannah's economy was soon
crumpled. Fort Pulaski, built to be impregnable on Cockspur
Island at the mouth of the Savannah River, was captured by
Federalist Soldiers in 1862. The city did not fall until Union
General William Tecumseh Sherman entered the city walls. In 1864,
Sherman began his march to the sea, burning the city of Atlanta
and everything else in
their path on the way to the coast. Savannah was evacuated and
avoided destruction. Upon entering Savannah, Sherman was so taken
back by its beauty that on December 22, 1864, a legendary
telegram was sent from Savannah and delivered to then President
Abraham Lincoln, by which Sherman presented the city of Savannah
to Lincoln as a Christmas present. With the arrival of Sherman's
troops, the war was over for Savannah and a period of
reconstruction would begin.
Food was scarce and the economy was in ruins making
reconstruction a trying time for Savannah residents. After the
war many freed slaves remained in Savannah. Though living in
deplorable conditions, and suffering through the hardships of the
post-slavery era, Africans in Savannah founded their own
churches, schools and communities. Savannah, Georgia's oldest
black community went on to become one of the most historically
significant African-American cities in the nation.
After the war and reconstruction, the economy improved and cotton
was king again. Savannah entered the new century re-establishing
herself as the "Bell of Georgia." New industries were
thriving, including the export of shipping supplies like rosin
and lumber. Unfortunately, after World War I, the cotton industry
died victim to the boll weevil that had destroyed half of
Georgia's cotton by the
1920s. The country was cast into the Great Depression.
The post-war years brought about a new movement in Savannah in
the realms of aesthetics, culture and economy. A group of
concerned women organized in the 1950's to preserve historic
structures threatened by the wrecking ball of urban renewal. The
brave endeavor gave rise to the Historic Savannah Foundation who
since its inception has saved multitudes of buildings whose
beauty and appeal was the foundation of Savannah's charm.
Savannah's Historic District was designated a National Historic
Landmark in 1966 and remains one of the largest historic
landmarks in the country.
Many of Savannah's old buildings have survived and been restored
including the Pirates' House (1754), an old seaman's inn
mentioned in Stevenson's Treasure Island; the Herb House (1734),
the oldest existing building in Georgia, and the Pink House
(1789), site of Georgia's first bank. The mansion birthplace of
Juliette Gordon Low, (built 1819-21) is owned and operated by the
Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. as a memorial to their founder. The
Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences opened in Savannah as one of
the South's first public museums. The many restored churches
include the Lutheran Church of Ascension (dating from 1741); the
Independent Presbyterian Church (1890) and the Cathedral of St.
John the Baptist (1876), one of the largest Roman Catholic
churches in the South, the First African Baptist Church whose
congregation dates back the 1788 and Temple Mickeve Israel, the
third oldest Synagogue in America.
As the Millennium turned, Savannah experienced resurgence in
tourism. The 1990's saw more than 50 million people visit our
fair city. Visitors revel in our elegant architecture, ornate
ironworks, fountains and lush green squares.
Savannah's natural beauty is rivaled only by the city's
hospitable reputation, creating one of the country's most popular
vacation spots. Guests who come to this city are truly captivated
by the city's charm, the richness of their heritage and all the
activities the city offers every day of the year. We took one of
the trolley tours and were able to see much of this beautiful
One of the interesting stories that we heard was that of Florence Martus, a Savannahian who's understanding and application of the words "Southern Hospitality" brought her fame as Savannah's Waving Girl. Born August 7, 1868, Martus lived with her brother in a lighthouse near the entrance of the Savannah harbor. The Waving Girl fell in love with a sailor who promised to return for her, but never did. Florence spent years waving to passing ships hoping her love would return. During her years at the lighthouse, she greeted nearly 50,000 vessels. The statue of this lady stands to this day at the waters edge, offering a friendly greeting to all who come to this beautiful city.