History of Savannah, GA: Part One – Built on Integrity

James Oglethorpe - History of Savannah“No slaves, no Roman Catholics, no strong drink, and no lawyers,” is the fabled credo upon which James Edward Oglethorpe purportedly founded the legendary city of Savannah, Georgia. While no physical documentation of this farcical declaration exists, the essence of the statement rings true to the convictions of Oglethorpe himself.

But before expounding upon the rich history of Savannah, Georgia, “The Hostess City of the South”, it is important for us to understand the ethics which have been so deeply embedded into this historic city. It was the conscientious approach to founding a proper city on moral philosophy which has led to the success of Savannah.

Who was James Oglethorpe?

James Oglethorpe was a well-known, unusual sort of humanitarian in London throughout the early 1700’s. It was the death of his good friend, having been imprisoned for indebtedness, which coerced Oglethorpe down the unlikely path that first conceived the idea of Georgia. Upon his friend’s death, Oglethorpe set to investigating London prisons and found the most appalling of inhumane conditions. He was infuriated to find most prisoners had been placed there due to economic misfortune.

So then, with charity in mind, Oglethorpe, along with John Lord Viscount Percival and others, believed England’s “worthy poor” could be transformed from rotting prisoners into productive citizens of a new colony, where they could thrive, free of class divisions, slavery, and large landholdings. Thus, Georgia was born, and Oglethorpe, in addition to twenty other trustees, was named to govern the new land.

Venturing to the New World

The original intention was to pull indebted prisoners and their families from London jails to colonize the new settlement. Unfortunately, no prisoners were included in the first selection of settlers. Finally, in 1732, despite heavy restrictions against himself, which would have deprived Oglethorpe of a comfortable life in Georgia, he, alongside 114 men, women, and children, set sail on the Atlantic in search of a new beginning.

In early 1733, the Anne arrived at port in South Carolina. From there, James Oglethorpe and a handful of Carolina Rangers scouted out the new region to the North, designated as Georgia, eying particularly the Yamacraw Bluff, which overlooked the Savannah River. As was the challenge with most early settlements of the New World, the bluff was part of the nearby native nation of the Yamacraw.

Yamacraw Bluff - History of Savannah GAUnlike earlier proprietors and settlers, however, Oglethorpe approached Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraw, with the help of Mary Musgrove who acted as translator, with offerings of diplomacy and friendship. Tomochichi was well aware that his country, home solely to indigenous nations, was rapidly changing with the arrival of the English. He invited Oglethorpe and the colonists to establish the Yamacraw bluff intending the new colony to increase trade and offer a diplomatic advantage with the English.

On February 12, 1733, the pine forest atop Yamacraw bluff was cleared, and so began work on Oglethorpe’s distinctive pattern of streets, ten-house “tythings”, and public squares which make up Savannah. The vestige of the original settlement is still prominent in the historic downtown of Savannah today. To catch more history on Savannah, try the Oglethorpe trolley tour or chat with the staff at the Dresser Palmer House. More on Savannah’s history coming next week! Stay tuned for the full story.

 

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