Colonial Savannah - A Dream of Utopia
Many people know that Georgia was one of the original thirteen colonies - but not many remember that Savannah was the first city established - set down in 1733 on Yamacraw Bluff, overlooking the majestic Savannah River.
Founder James Oglethorpe had secured funding to establish the new colony for king George, and Savannah would be his Utopian capitol.
He believed in equality for all men - and worked hard to ensure that the settlers who’d accompanied him across the ocean abided by his four rules:
No Lawyers (This helped solidify his position as leader, and he wanted to head-off any immediate incentives for civil argument.)
No Liquor (Oddly enough, beer and wine were considered quite acceptable.)
No Slavery (Despite his shortcomings, Oglethorpe really did want to establish “the land of the free.”)
No Catholics (The British were at war with the catholic Spanish at that time.)
Oglethorpe was convinced he could build a city that stood on strong morals - one that could overcome the prejudices and injustices of Britain.
But life in the early colony was hard work, and anything but Utopian.
As we discuss in our book, Hidden History of Savannah,
“. . . daily life was focused primarily on agriculture, with an eye always toward progress and attracting new settlers to join the colony. Charleston sat just up the coast, and having been established sixty-six years earlier, it was markedly more attractive. It took patience and grit to ride out the dawning of a new settlement. Gnats, mosquitoes and river rats proved to be constant companions. The heat and humidity of the summer took a toll, and the wet spring season ensured that the streets passed for little more than overgrown mud pies.”
The settlers had a hard go at things, to be sure. On top of arriving at the height of winter weather in February (it gets quite cold in Savannah), they knew very little about the world they had arrived in.
With the help of The Yamacraw, led by elder Chief Tomochichi, the settlers eventually found their footing and were well on their way to growth.
But it was an eclectic culture, and not everyone saw the world quite the same as Oglethorpe, neither did all the settlers share the same values. (Surprise, surprise.)
As time went on and the population continued to grow, the politics of culture began to shift - and it wasn’t long before Oglethorpe faced significant push-back on his four rules and his ideas behind them.
Irish settlers arrived, and brought with them their catholic faith. Scottish Lowlanders brought with them their love of revelry. And as the need for able-bodied men grew, whispers spread that slavery might help advance the city as it had Charleston.
It was a complicated road ahead for Savannah, and it wasn’t twenty years later, and she looked completely different, both literally and in the minds of her people.
She was a shadow of her earliest days, when freedom and equality were the battle cries that saw her through those first difficult seasons.
Oglethorpe left for Savannah for good in 1743 never to return again.
He remains today a beloved figure in Savannah’s story.
A monument to his efforts stands proud in the center of beautiful Chippewa Square.