Slaves, Catholics, and Lawyers, “Oh, my!”
The years following Savannah’s founding saw the arrival of its uniquely diverse and influential population. The eminence of these vastly different groups manifests itself in everything from the hospitable culture to the rare architectures of Savannah. Predominant groups include Jewish groups from London, Lutheran “Salzburgers”, Scottish Highlanders, German Moravians, Dutch, Welsh, and Irish especially.
With the increasing population came the unfortunate digression from Savannah’s founding principles. James Oglethorpe grew increasingly detached from the city he helped to conceive and returned to England quietly. Oglethorpe’s departure fostered a sense of liberation among the population, which began its push for the legalization of slavery. By 1750, just two years after the Catholics had settled in, the ban on slavery was lifted and West Africans were brought to Georgia by the droves.
By 1755, Savannah was host to a party of lawyers, and well on its way to being ensnared by the Revolutionary movement.
The Revolutionary Era
Georgia, having flourished under British rule, was hesitant to join the Revolutionary efforts of the other American colonies to band trade with Britain. One group of Savannah patriots, the Liberty Boys, was vital to Savannah’s involvement, staging demonstrations against British trade before war broke out. With word of the battles at Lexington and Concord, however, Savannah citizens, along with the rest of Georgia, felt an inclination to join the radical movement.
Savannah was captured early during the American Revolution, succumbing to British rule throughout the duration of the war. It proved a strategic stronghold for the British army in Georgia, seeing hundreds from both the American and British lines fall.
Two heroes, to note, Sergeant William Jasper and Count Casimir Pulaski, surrendered their lives during an unsuccessful assault attempt at liberating Savannah in 1782. A proud, bronze statue of Jasper can be seen bolstering the flag of the Second Regiment of South Carolina Continentals in Madison Square, just yards from where he lies in an unmarked grave. Within Monterey Square can be found the stately, marble and granite monument fit for the Polish nobleman, Count Pulaski, who had ventured to America and died solely in defense of liberty.
A Capital Idea
After the Revolution had subsided and Georgia was joyously reclaimed, Savannah served as the first capital, rotating the role with Augusta. However, while Savannah was still a growing commercial haven and bustling seaport, Augusta’s inland location better served the growing Western frontier expansion, relinquishing the title in 1786.
Throughout the remainder of the century, Savannah continued to advance, both in wealth and size, fueled by the slaves who reaped its primary cash crops, cotton and rice. The late eighteenth century promised a dark future for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in the wake of the cotton industry. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin had achieved perfection, promising the highest returns to the plantations with the most laborers. As a result, tens of thousands of African slaves were purchased, demands for land acreage rose drastically, and the expulsion of the once neighborly Creek and Cherokee tribes commenced.
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