Savannah – Historic Landmarks

It is pleasantly situated upon a sand-bluff, some forty feet above low-water mark, sloping toward swamps and savannahs at a lower altitude in the interior. It is upon the south side of the river, about eighteen miles from the ocean. The city is laid out in rectangles, and has ten public squares. The streets are generally broad and well-shaded, some of them with four rows of Pride-of-India trees, which, in summer, add greatly to the beauty of the city and comfort of the inhabitants. Before noting the localities of interest in Savannah and suburbs, let us open the interesting pages of its history, and note their teachings respecting Georgia in general, and of the capital in particular, whose foundations were laid by ‘General Oglethorpe.

We will here refer only to the single circumstance connected with the earlier efforts at settlement, which some believe to be well authenticated, namely, that Sir Walter Raleigh, when on his way to the Orinoco, in South America, entered the Savannah River, and upon the bluff where the city now stands, stood and talked with the Indian king. There are reasonable doubts of the truth of this statement.

As late as 1730, the territory lying between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers was entirely uninhabited by white people. On the south the Spaniards held possession, and on the west the French had Louisiana, while the region under consideration, partially filled with powerful Indian tribes, was claimed by Great Britain. To prevent France and Spain from occupying it (for the latter already began to claim territory even north of the Savannah), and as a protection to the Carolina planters against the encroachments of their hostile neighbours, various schemes of emigration thither were proposed, but without being effected. Finally, in 1729, General James Oglethorpe, a valorous soldier and humane Christian, then a member of Parliament, made a proposition in that body for the founding of a colony to be composed of poor persons who were confined for debt and minor offences in the prisons of England. He instituted an inquiry into their condition, which resulted in the conviction that their situation would be more tolerable in the position of a military colony, acting as a barrier between the Carolinians and their troublesome neighbours, than in the moral contamination and physical miseries of prison life. The class of persons whom he designed to transplant to America were not wicked criminals, but chiefly insolvent debtors.

Oglethorpe also proposed to make the new colony an asylum for the persecuted Protestants of Germany and other Continental states, and in this religious idea he included the pious thought of spiritual benefit to the Indian tribes. The Earl of Shaftsbury (the fourth bearing that title) and other influential men warmly espoused the scheme, and a general enthusiasm upon the subject soon pervaded the nation. A royal charter was obtained in 1732 for twenty-one years; large sums were subscribed by individuals; and in the course of two years, Parliament voted one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in support of the scheme.

Oglethorpe volunteered to act as governor of the new colony, and to accompany the settlers to their destination. Accordingly, in November, 1732, he embarked with one hundred and twenty emigrants, and in fifty-seven days arrived off the bar of Charleston. He was warmly welcomed by the Carolinians, and on the thirteenth of January he sailed for Port Royal. While the colonists were landing, Oglethorpe, with a few followers, proceeded southward, ascended the Savannah River to the high bluff, and there selected a spot for a city, the capital of the future state. With the Yamacraw Indians, half a mile from this bluff, dwelt Tomo Chici, the grand sachem of the Indian confederacy of that region. Oglethorpe and the chief both de-sired friendly relations; and when the former invited the latter to his tent, Tomo Chici came, bearing in his hand a small buffalo skin, appropriately ornamented, and addressed Oglethorpe in eloquent and conciliatory terms. Friendly relations were established, and on the twelfth of February the little band of settlers came from Port Royal and landed at the site of the future city of Savannah.

For almost a year the governor lived under a tent stretched upon pine boughs, while the streets of the town were laid out, and the people built their houses of timber, each twenty-four by sixteen feet in size. In May following, a treaty with the Indian chiefs of the country was held, and on the first day of June it was signed, by which the English obtained sovereignty over the lands of the Creek nation as far south as the St. John’s, in Florida. Such was the beginning of one of the original thirteen states of our confederacy.

Within eight years after the founding of Savannah, twenty-five hundred emigrants had been sent out to Georgia, at an expense of four hundred thousand dollars. Among these were one hundred and fifty Highlanders, well disciplined in military tactics, who were of essential service to Oglethorpe. Very strict moral regulations were adopted; lots of land, twenty-five acres each, were granted to men for military services, and every care was exercised to make the settlers comfortable. Yet discontent soon prevailed, for they saw the Carolinians growing rich by traffic in negroes; they also saw them prosper commercially by trade with the West Indies. They complained of the Wesleyans as too rigid, and these pious Methodists left the colony and re-turned home. Still, prosperity did not smile upon the settlers, and a failure of the scheme was anticipated.

Oglethorpe, who went to England in 1734, returned in 1736, with three hundred emigrants. A storm was gathering upon the southern frontier of his domain. The Spaniards at St. Augustine regarded the rising state with jealousy, and as a war between England and Spain was anticipated, vigilance was necessary. Oglethorpe resolved to maintain the claim of Great Britain south to the banks of the St. John’s and the Highlanders, settled at Darien, volunteered to aid him. With a few followers, he hastened in a scout-boat to St. Simon’s Island, where he laid the foundations of Frederica, and upon the bluff near by he constructed a fort of tabby, the ruins of which may still be seen there. He also caused forts to be erected at Augusta, Darien, on Cumberland Island, and near the mouth of the St. Mary’s and St. John’s. Perceiving these hostile preparations, the Spanish authorities at St.. Augustine sent commissioners to confer with Oglethorpe. They demanded the evacuation of the whole of Georgia, and even of the region north of the Savannah to St. Helena Sound. This demand was accompanied by a menace of war in the event of non-compliance. Thus matters stood for several months.

In the winter of 1736-7 Oglethorpe again went to England, where he received the commission of brigadier-general, with a command extending over South Carolina as well as Georgia. There he remained a year and a half, when he returned to his colony with a regiment of six hundred men to act against the Spaniards. England declared war against Spain in the latter part of 1739, and Oglethorpe immediately planned an expedition against St. Augustine. The St. Mary’s was then considered (as it remains) the boundary between Georgia and Florida. Over that line Oglethorpe marched in May, 1740, with four hundred of his regiment, some Carolinians, and a large body of friendly Indians. He captured a Spanish fort within twenty-five miles of St. Augustine. A small fortress, within two miles of that place, was surrendered on his approach, but a summons to give up the town was answered by defiant words. The invaders maintained a siege for some time, when the arrival of reinforcements for the garrison, and the prevalence of sickness in the camp, obliged them to withdraw and return to Savannah.

The inhabitants of Georgia first began to feel the hand of British taxation when, in 1767, Governor Wright communicated his instructions from the King to require implicit obedience to the Mutiny Act. They were compelled to acquiesce, but it was with reluctance. They had not realized the practical iniquity of the Stamp Act; and when, in 1768, the Assembly at Savannah appointed Dr. Franklin an agent to attend to the interests of the colony in Great Britain, they had no formal special complaint to make, nor difficulties with government for him to adjust. They generally instructed him to use efforts to have the acts of Parliament repealed, which were offensive to the colonies. To a circular letter from the speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, proposing a union of the Colonies, an answer of approval was returned. In 1770, the Legislature spoke out boldly against the oppressive acts of the mother country, by publishing a Declaration of Rights, similar in sentiment to that of the ” Stamp Act Congress ” at New York. Governor Wright was displeased, and viewing the progress of revolutionary principles within his province with concern, he went to England to confer with ministers. He remained there about a year and a half. During his absence, James Habersham, president of the council, exercised executive functions.

The Republicans of Georgia had become numerous in 1773, and committees of correspondence were early formed, and acted efficiently. A meeting of the friends of liberty was called in Savannah in the autumn of that year, but Sir James Wright, supported by a train of civil officers, pre-vented the proposed public expression of opinion. The wealthy feared loss of property by revolutionary movements, while the timid trembled at the thought of resistance to royal government. Selfishness and fear kept the people comparatively quiet for a while. In the meantime, a powerful Tory party was organizing in South Carolina and in Georgia, and emissaries were sent to the governors of these provinces among the Indians on the frontiers, to prepare them to lift the hatchet and go out upon the war-path against the white people, if rebellion should ensue. Such was the condition of ‘Georgia when called upon to appoint representatives in the Continental Congress, to be held at Philadelphia in 1774. Half encircled by fierce savages, and pressed down by the heel of strongly supported power in their midst, the Republicans needed stout hearts and unbending resolution. These they possessed ; and in the midst of difficulties they were bold, and adopted measures of co-operation with the other colonies in resistance to tyranny.

There are but few remains of Revolutionary localities about Savannah. The city has spread out over all the British works; and where their batteries, redoubts, ram-parts, and ditches were constructed, public squares are laid out and adorned with trees, or houses and stores cover the earth. Not so with the works constructed by the French engineers during the seige in the autumn of 1779. Al-though the regular forms are effaced, yet the mounds and ditches may be traced many rods near the margin of the swamp southeast of the city. These I visited early on the morning of my arrival in Savannah. I procured a saddle horse and rode out to ” Jasper’s Spring,” a place famous as the scene of a bold exploit, which has been the theme of history and song.’ It is near the Augusta road, two and a half miles westward of the city. The day was very warm. The gardens were garnished with flowers; the orange-trees were blooming; blossoms covered the peach trees, and insects were sporting in the sunbeams.

Jasper’s Spring is just within the edge of a forest of oaks and gums, and is remarkable only on account of its historical associations. It is in the midst of a marshy spot partially covered with underwood, on the northern side of the road, and its area is marked by the circumference of a sunken barrel. Being the only fountain of pure water in the vicinity, it is resorted to daily by travellers upon the road.