Brief History of Savannah

When General James Edward Oglethorpe and the 114 travelers 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 and Savannah became its first city.

James Oglethorpe

King George II granted a charter for the colony to a group of trustees whose mission was to aid the working poor of England, strengthen the colonies by increasing trade and serving as a buffer zone for South Carolina - protecting it from the advance of the Spanish in Florida. It was Oglethorpe’s dream that individuals were free to worship as they pleased as long as you were not Catholic; and rum, lawyers and slavery were forbidden – for a time.

Upon settling, Oglethorpe was aided by the native Yamacraw Indian Chief Tomochichi. Oglethorpe and Tomochichi pledged their friendship and goodwill, and the Yamacraw chief granted the new arrivals permission to settle Savannah on the bluff. The town flourished without conflicts with the Native Americans that stifled the beginnings of so many of America’s other early colonies.

Savannah is credited as being America’s first planned city. Oglethorpe designed the city 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 and thanks to preservation efforts, 22 remain today.

Savannah saw many years of peace in the colony, but soon the city would be troubled by war. Georgia, along with most of the other colonies, protested excessive taxation from England and the young nation was thrust into the Revolutionary War.

With the growth of trade and 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, which is still in existence today.

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 ed exceptional charm. Residents built lavish homes and churches throughout the city that reflected the affluence of the times.

With the onslaught of the Civil War, the city suffered. In 1864, Sherman began his march to the sea burning the city of Atlanta and everything else in Union Army’s 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 to Lincoln as a Christmas present.

The post-war years brought about a new movement in Savannah in the realms of aesthetics, culture and economics. A group of concerned women organized in the 1950s 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 were 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.

Savannah experienced resurgence in tourism in the 1980s and 90s as millions of visitors flocked to this Coastal Georgia gem. Today, visitors revel in our elegant architecture, ornate ironworks, fountains and lush green squares, unique shopping and superb Lowcounty cuisine. Savannah’s natural beauty is rivaled only by the city’s hospitable reputation, creating one of the country’s most popular vacation spots.

Savannah’s Famous First
1736 - First English Hymnal
John Wesley, the third rector of Christ Church, published the first English hymnal in America. Sunday School classes organized at Christ Church by John Wesley are thought to represent the first Sunday School in history.

1742 - First Lighthouse on South Atlantic Coast
The first aid to navigation in the South was erected near the present Tybee Island lighthouse. The first tower was never lighted and served as a day mark. A second tower, built in 1742 and lighted in 1748, was the third lighthouse in America.

1788 - First Black Baptist Congregation
The first Black Baptist congregation was organized at Brampton Plantation outside Savannah. Their descendants established Savannah’s First African Baptist Church and First Bryan Baptist Church.

1793 - Cotton Gin
Eli Whitney, a Yale graduate, invented the cotton gin while serving as a tutor on General Nathaniel Greene’s Mulberry Grove Plantation outside Savannah. This invention revolutionized the South, making it possible to process cotton on a large scale.

1819 - The S.S. Savannah
This sailing vessel with auxiliary steam power crossed from Savannah to Liverpool England. Two weeks prior to the historic voyage, President James Monroe, the second president to visit Savannah, made an excursion on the vessel to Tybee Island.

1856 - Massie School
Georgia’s oldest school in continuous operation was built in 1856. It was named for Peter Massie who left $5,000 for the education of poor children. Regular classes were discontinued in 1974, but it continues as a resource center.

1886 - Telfair Museum of Art
Built in 1819 as a mansion for Alexander Telfair, the academy was left to the Georgia Historical Society in 1875.Period rooms with many Telfair family pieces are maintained. The museum’s collection contains works by American and European artists, as well as special exhibits and is the oldest art museum in the South.

1912 - Girl Scouts
On March 12,1912, at her residence on Lafayette Square, Juliette Gordon Low formed the first Girl Scout troop in America. Mrs. Low’s Birthplace, at the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and Bull Street, is maintained by the Girl Scouts of the USA and is a museum and national program center.

• 1733       Capitol of Georgia, America’s 13th Colony
• 1733       First Jewish Congregation in the South
• 1734       First city planned on a system of squares in North America
• 1734       First agricultural experimental garden in North America
• 1735       First silk exportation from America
• 1736       First lighthouse on the South Atlantic Coast
• 1740       First horse race in Georgia
• 1755       First cattle exportation in Georgia
• 1763       First newspaper in the Colony, The Georgia Gazette
• 1788       First Negro Baptist Congregation in America
• 1788       First public school in Georgia, Massie School
• 1793       First cotton gin - Eli Whitney
• 1794       First golf course in America, Savannah Golf Club
• 1819       First steamship to cross an ocean, The S.S. Savannah
• 1832       First hospital for Negroes in America, Georgia Infirmary
• 1862       First use of rifled cannon in modern warfare at Fort Pulaski
• 1911       First motorized fire department in America
• 1963       First garden for the blind in Southeast

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