American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Southern States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1900



SAVANNAH
NEVER LAST AND OFTEN FIRST
BY PLEASANT ALEXANDER STOVALL

THE city of Savannah is now a centre of railroad and steamship lines. It has the heaviest commerce of all the Atlantic ports south of Baltimore. It is the largest naval stores market in the world, and its cotton and lumber receipts are very considerable. But in spite of its commercial primacy Savannah preserves a distinct flavor of the olden time. On the shores of the Savannah River, where the British ships were burned in the Revolution, a railroad system is cutting slips and building piers, spending a million dollars in terminal facilities. The high bluff where the early colonists planted their crane in 1732 to move goods from the ships to the river bank is now walled in stone, and the strand is gridironed with steel rails. The powder magazine near "the Old Fort," afterwards seized by the patriots of the Revolution, is the site of flourishing foundries. The filature where early colonists were taught to spin silk has been dismantled, and long rows of brick tenements front upon the sandy streets. The tall pines under which Oglethorpe pitched his tents survived the shock of war, and succumbed only to the sweeping storms in 1800. Today this site is paved with brick and Belgian block, and is the centre of the Bay, where cotton and wholesale men do congregate. "The publick oven" on Congress Street stood opposite Tondee's tavern, where the first liberty pole was elevated by the patriots, and where a tablet has been placed in the wall of a thriving grocerystore to mark the birth of newer freedom. "Fort Halifax," the breastworks of the "Liberty Boys," is now covered by the wharves and warehouses of the Ocean Steamship Company, the busiest spot in all Georgia. Spring Hill redoubt, where Pulaski died, is lined by the brick walls of the Georgia Central Railway. The executive mansion of Sir James Wright, the last royal. Governor, stood where the United States has just finished its marble post office, perhaps the handsomest public building in the country, with the exception of the Congressional Library.

In spite of all these changes, Savannah has followed the original lines laid down by Oglethorpe. The lots are still sixty by ninety feet, flanked front and rear by open streets. The public squares which marked the city at convenient distances, used by the early settlers as camp grounds and corrals in cases of military alarm, are to day verdant and fresh with beds of flowers and spraying fountains, and dotted by historic monuments. "The tint of antiquity" still rests upon its walls. Now and then the white mulberry, where the silkworm fed in the eighteenth century, crops out and shows its familiar leaves along the streets, and the house of General Lachlan McIntosh, where the Legislature met in 1782, on South Broad Street, still stands, preserving many of its Colonial lines.

There was a time when Sunbury, the cradle of that splendid secession of 1776, was a port of entry, and the Altamaha was looked upon as a rival of the Savannah. Now the forts of Sunbury are overgrown, and the place is seldom heard of save once a year, when one of "the Critter companies" of the neighborhood repairs to the historic spot and holds its annual target contest and barbecue. Frederica was a flourishing settlement on South Newport River, but after the Spanish War of 1742 sank into decay. Ebenezer, on the Savannah, was the home of the thrifty Salzburgers, who gave a distinct stamp to the Georgia colony, but Ebenezer did not long survive the shock of the Revolution, when the British scandalized these primitive people by quartering their horses in the old brick church, which stands today. Only Savannah, of all these early settlements, remains, and when one walks through its beautiful streets and Colonial parks, even now he can easily recall the conditions of that February morning in 1732, when "the odor of the jessamine mingled with the balm of the pine," and the palmetto and magnolia threw their shade across the sandy bluff.

Hon. P. W. Meldrim, Mayor of Savannah, in a tribute to his city in a recent address, called attention to the fact that the very name of Savannah's streets, "State," "Congress,"President," are full of patriotic suggestions, telling the story of the Revolutionary struggle. Other avenues bear the historic names of Montgomery, Perry, and McDonough, while the wards have been labeled Washington, Warren, Franklin and Greene.

"Every spot is hallowed. Where the Vernon River flows by Beaulieu, the dashing D'Estaing landed to make his attack with the allied forces of Savannah. Hard by is Bethesda, House of Mercy,' where Jew, Protestant and Roman Catholic united in founding Georgia's noblest charity. There it was that Wesley sang his inspired songs and Whitefield with his eloquence thrilled the world. On the river is the grove where General Greene lived and died, and Whitney wrought from his fertile brain the wonderful invention which revolutionized commerce. Near at hand, almost sunk into oblivion, is the spring made historic by the daring of Jasper and Newton. There stands Savannah's pride, her Academy of Arts and Science. Over there is the home where Washington was entertained, and across the street are the guns which he captured at Yorktown. Here, at ours very feet, Casimir Pulaski fell, charging at the head of his legion, while Jasper, rescuing the colors, yielded up his gallant life."

The real romance of history is the settlement of the colony of Georgia. Two centuries ago the fertile lands extending from the Savannah to the Altamaha had attracted the attention of pioneers and public men. Sir Robert Montgomery had his eye upon this favored tract, as yet unsettled, and described it as "an amiable land lying along the same parallel with Palestine." But it was reserved for the first soldier and gentleman of his day to found the new colony and perfect a noble benefaction. Had England exercised the same care over the other colonies as over Georgia, it is possible that the War of the Revolution might have been postponed indefinitely. It is worthy of note that while Virginia and the New England colonies were settled by exiles who drifted to the barren shores of Jamestown and Plymouth to escape religious and civil persecution, the Georgia colonists sailed the seas in the good ship Ann under the fostering care of the mother country, piloted by statesmen and noblemen, and sought the smiling Savannahs with all the forms of royal patronage. These people, released from debtors' prisons and freed from pecuniary obligations, cleared by a single act of royal clemency from bankruptcy, departed for Georgia with ships supplied from the coffers of nobility, while the spiritual welfare of the people was nurtured by the clergymen of the Established Church. It was a lofty benefaction, and when these hitherto unfortunate men felt their fetters fall, and knew that no bailiff awaited them in Savannah, it was no wonder that, on the morning of the 2d of February, 1733, they gave thanks "for the safe conduct of the colony to its appointed destination."

The foundation of the colony was laid along the lines of fraternity. The Carolinians met them at the threshold, and gave them refreshment and substantial aid in laying out their city. The principal streets, Bull, Whitaker, Drayton, St. Julian, and Bryan, were named for prominent Carolina farmers who crossed the river with their servants and helped the Georgians start life in the new world. The fact that Carolina realized that she was building an outpost to protect her against the Indians and Spanish does not detract from the cheerfulness of this assistance. The early days of the enterprise were almost Arcadian. Sir Robert Montgomery, who desired to erect an ideal commonwealth upon this spot and call it "the Margravate of Azalia," could have conceived no more Utopian plan than that upon which the colony actually commenced to grow. Land was divided into lots for each freeholder under a strict agrarian law. The tracts were entailed, preventing the estrangement of his holdings by an improvident man. There was no chance for the rich to monopolize the country. The landshark was unknown. Government bounty was prompt and liberal in encouraging silk culture, and the seal of the colony contains the altruistic motto, descriptive of the unselfish product of the silkworm, Non sib, sed aliis. The very land which Hernando De Soto and his rapacious Spaniards had just ravished in their search for gold was now claimed by these Christian socialists, who started the first work of "benevolent assimilation" on this continent.

Eight years after the colony had been founded, a visitor to Savannah described the progress made in a very clear way. Savannah was then a mile and a quarter in circumference, situated upon a steep bluff forty five feet above the river. The houses were built of wood, Mr. Oglethorpe's being no finer than those of forty other freeholders. Residences were good distances apart. Today, Savannah is one of the most closely constructed cities in the United States. Few houses have gardens, and some of the streets present long rows of tenements in maddening monotony. The squares designed by Oglethorpe for marketplaces and assembly grounds are now good breathing spots, which serve in a measure to make up for the lack of private gardens. On one of these squares stands the monument to General Nathanael Greene, of Rhode Island, who, according to the historian, shared with Washington the gratitude of the patriots of the Revolution. There are also shafts to the memory of Sergeant William Jasper and Count Pulaski, who fell, martyrs in the siege of Savannah, in 1779. The cornerstones of these monuments were laid by no less a person than the Marquis de Lafayette. At the time of Mr. Francis Moore's report there was a guardhouse along the river where nineteen or twenty cannon were mounted, and continual watch was kept by the freeholders. No lawyers were allowed to plead for hire; no attorneys were licensed to make money; but, as in old times in England, every man pleaded his own case. Where an orphan was interested, or one could not speak for himself, there were persons "of the best substance in town" appointed by the trustees to defend the helpless, and that without fee or reward.

Silk culture was to be the principal industry of the young colony. Italians were brought over from Piedmont to feed the worms and wind the silk. Liberal bounty was given to encourage the Georgians. So intent were the authorities upon this interest that they neglected the cultivation of cotton, rice, indigo and more satisfactory crops. The old filature was designed as a sort of normal school for instruction in this art. This shed was built of rough boards, thirty six feet long and twenty feet wide, and had a loft, upon the flooring of which the green cocoons were spread. Finally, the trustees, desiring to push this industry, purchased the silk balls from the growers and wound them at their own expense. But all this outlay was for nothing. The Government spent £1500 in machines, salaries, bounties and filatures, and raised scarcely one thousand pounds of silk, and yet we are told that England expected the experiment to realize five hundred thousand pounds and to give employment to forty thousand people. To secure a high class of skilful, self reliant colonists, the trustees had barred out slavery and rum. But the colony projected upon such lofty planes for some reason did not prosper. The people clamored for slaves to cultivate the rice fields, and for the West Indian traffic in sugar and rum to build up their foreign trade. They fought the restricted land tenures; in fine, they wanted to become plain, every day colonists, like the Carolinians and Virginians. They had been reinforced by the sturdy Salzsburgers, the canny Scots, the pious Moravians, and the thrifty Hebrews, but still the humanitarian principles of the charter did not insure them a thriving existence.

If silk culture failed, it is not a little remarkable that in the ranks of this same people, one hundred years later, an invention was perfected which gave rise to a new empire and enthroned as king the best fibre of the field. The filature on St. Julian Street lost its distinctive character, and became an assembly hall for the town meeting and the militia muster; but upon the Savannah River, a few miles above the city, Eli Whitney, the shrewd Connecticut contriver, worked out the secret saws of the cotton gin, and made Georgia and the whole South opulent and powerful. The. Piedmontese still spin their silk under their own trees at home; but ten million bales of cotton annually whiten in the suns and frosts, and today more than one million bales each year are exported from Savannah alone. So two New England heroes, Nathanael Greene and Eli Whitney, aided in protecting the people of Georgia from a foreign foe and in building up their commercial supremacy.

No sketch of colonial Georgia is adequate which omits the name of Tomochichi. This aged Creek was over ninety years old when he welcomed Oglethorpe to his demesne. The loyalty of the venerable mico to his white friends never faltered. He hailed them with all the grace and amity of Montezuma, and guarded them against attacks from the tribes of the interior. In his youth a great warrior, Tomochichi in the evening of his life was noted for his wit, perception and generosity. When he died, the colonists buried him with military honors in the public square. Oglethorpe ordered a pyramid of stones to be erected over his grave as a testimony of gratitude. It was only during the last year that the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames of America caused a granite boulder, rough hewn from a Georgia quarry, to be placed in the square where his remains are supposed to lie, commemorating his noble character and heroic virtues.

Hon. Walter G. Carlton, in speaking of the history of this city, exclaimed:

"Beyond the clouds of furnace smoke and back of piers of cotton bales arise the visions of old Savannah. What glories cluster about her honored name ! From out her past appears the noble form of him who from the brilliant old world light and the gay splendor of the English Court sought these untried shores, an exile in fair mercy's sake, and lent to the struggle of his fellowmen the strength of that genius which sped his fame through all the fields of Europe; and with him through the shadows of that far off time comes a dusky figure, a Christian who has never heard of God, a gentleman into whose guiltless life had never come the influence of court or fashion; brave with a conscience of honest aim; kindly with the innate tendency of a noble nature; regal in that charity which loves to give; a hero to whose virtues no tablet speaks; a Georgian in whose memory no marble shaft lifts up its polished line; forgotten of those he served; asleep in his nameless grave; but blessed be the soil which has mingled with Tomochichi's dust, the first of the great Savannahians!"

On the original spot where the colonists established a house of worship stands today the beautiful and classic proportions of Christ Church. Here Wesley preached and Whitefield exhorted, the most gifted and erratic characters in the early settlement of Georgia. Wesley came to the Georgia shores with a fervor amounting almost to religious mysticism. He thought his mission was to Christianize the Indians. No priest from Spain ever carried the Cross among the Aztecs and Incas of Mexico and Peru with more zeal than the sanguine Wesley. His career in Georgia was checkered and unfruitful. A man of great ability and undoubted piety, he suspended his missionary work among the Indians because he could not learn the language and never understood their temperament. His ministry among the whites was marked by a severity which made him unpopular. He seems to have been a martinet in the pulpit, as Colonel Jones calls him, "a censor Forum in the community." He became embroiled with his parishioners and left Savannah between the suns. And yet Bishop Chandler of Georgia probably spoke the words of truth from the pulpit of Wesley Monumental Church in Savannah, in November, 1899, when he said that "no grander man ever walked these historic streets than John Wesley."

George Whitefield was a preacher of such talent that Chesterfield said he had never listened to so eloquent a man. Benjamin Franklin regarded him as a model of logic and power. This good Oxford graduate was actuated, like Oglethorpe, by the broadest benevolence when he established an orphan home at Bethesda; but his zeal outran his slender resources. He incurred heavy debts, mismanaged his laudable enterprise until his spirit gave way under the discouraging situation. He died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, while he was soliciting aid for his cherished project. Whitefield desired to broaden the lines of his Bethesda work, and to found a college for the Province of Georgia. Had the colony given its revenues to such a plan as the people of Massachusetts gave to the support of Harvard, Georgia might have founded a great educational institution fifty years before Jefferson started his work at Monticello, and a. full century before Governor Milledge established Franklin College in this State.

After twenty years, Georgia ceased to be a province under the trustees, and became a colony under the King. As originally projected, the enterprise was expensive. The great Oglethorpe returned to England and spent his old age in peace. The trustees surrendered their charter, but the old country had been good to the people. Ties with the motherland were hard to break. This accounted for the fact that Georgia, the youngest of the thirteen, was the last to sever her relations with England and join in the Revolutionary movement. Her most prominent men, James Habersham and Noble Jones, through their influence with the Royalists and the popular Governor, Sir James Wright, held the people down at least to a show of allegiance to the British Crown. "It excites small wonder," writes Col. Charles C. Jones, "that many of the wealthiest and most influential citizens of Georgia should have tenaciously clung to the fortunes of the Crown, and sincerely deprecated all ideas of separation. Of all the American colonies, this province had subsisted most generously upon royal bounty, and had been the recipient of favors far beyond those extended to sister States." But if the old families were still faithful to England, there was one spot where Republicanism was aflame. The parish of St. John had been settled by New England people who had moved first to South Carolina and then to Dorchester and Sunbury in Georgia. They were Puritans with no sympathy for the Established Church or for the divine right of kings. They loved liberty, and hated royalty. They were brave, resolute and anxious to form a league against English oppression. Led by Dr. Lyman Hall, a sturdy rice planter and prominent physician of Sunbury, they responded with alacrity to the call from Boston. He went to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, May 13, 1775, and was admitted to a seat as a delegate, not from the colony, but from the parish of St. John. Until Georgia was fully represented Dr. Hall declined to vote upon questions which were to be decided by the colonies. He, however, participated in the debates, and predicted that the example shown by his parish would soon be followed. A native of Connecticut, Dr. Hall was a member of the Midway Congregation, where many patriots worshipped liberty as a part of their religion. The rebel spirit of St. John, in advance of the other parishes, received special recognition when the Legislature afterwards conferred the name "Liberty County" upon this section, where dwelt the descendants of New England people and the Puritan independent sect.

Dr. Hall's prediction that the example of St. John's would soon be followed, was rapidly fulfilled. Events moved beyond the control of the old Royalists. The elder Jones and the knightly Habersham about this time passed away, and their impetuous young sons had already made vigorous progress in the gathering struggle for independence. The first liberty pole was elevated in Savannah, June 5, 1775. The loyal men were even then celebrating the King's birthday; but "the Liberty Boys" spiked the cannon which were ready to be fired on this royal anniversary, and rolled the dismantled guns to the bottom of the bluff. About this time the powder magazine in the eastern part of the city was seized and some of the ammunition shipped to Boston, where it was used at the battle of Bunker Hill. In June, 1776, Major Joseph Habershana, acting under the authority of the Council of Safety, proceeded to the residence of the chief magistrate, General Wright. He passed the sentinel at the door, and advancing to the Governor placed his hand upon his shoulder and said, "Sir James, you are my prisoner." Georgia now plunged boldly into the Revolution. Her sufferings and struggles, her prolonged captivity and final issuance from British occupation in July, 1782, are familiar chapters of Revolutionary history.

It is entirely creditable to James Edward Oglethorpe that he should have refused to take control of the British armies against the American people. The great soldier, who had fought under Prince Eugene of Savoy and John of Argyle, declined to draw his sword to strike down the young colonies he had done so much to build up. If England was his mother, Georgia he considered his offspring. He had founded it and protected it, and from the ramparts of Frederica had beaten back the invading Spaniards at "Bloody Marsh." He had sought no reward. The highest philanthropy brought him to these shores to share the lot of the emigrant. The friend of Hannah More, the companion of Pope, the patron of Sothern, Dr. Johnson wished to write his life, and Edmund Burke regarded him as the most extraordinary person of whom he had ever read. There is no specific monument to Oglethorpe in Georgia. Why should there be? A tablet in Cranham Church in England proclaims his excellence; but here, in the language of Chas. C. Jones, "The Savannah repeats to the Altamaha the stories of his virtues and his valor."

Savannah during the Revolution recalls a story of blood and suffering. If her people delayed in severing the bonds which united them to the mother country, they struck promptly and boldly when the issue came, and were zealous throughout their long period of captivity in opposing the forces of his Majesty's government. After the colonists had seized the powder from the royal magazine, and had erected the liberty pole on King George's birthday, they went actively to work in fortifying the city against the British troops. In February, 1776, when the English warships and transports sailed up the river, they were met by the patriots with a galling volley, and their fleet was afterwards scattered by a fire ship set adrift from the American shore, communicating the flames to the British boats and sending their men and sailors through the marshes in flight. On the 29th of December, 1778, General Howe, the commander of the Americans, was defeated by Colonel Campbell. The English and Hessian soldiers marched through a small path in the swamp, and fell suddenly upon the flank and rear of the Americans, consisting of but nine hundred men, while Colonel Campbell's forces, which had been landed at Tybee Island, numbered three thousand five hundred. The remainder of General Howe's army escaped into South Carolina, and the British took possession of Savannah, which they held for three years and a half. In October, 1779, a bloody battle was fought at Savannah, but the British again triumphed over the allied forces of the French and Americans. Count D'Estaing arrived off Tybee with thirty five ships and five thousand men. General Lachlan McIntosh and Count Casimir Pulaski marched down from Augusta and formed a junction with D'Estaing. The engagement took place at Spring Hill redoubt, now the site of the Georgia Railway. Count D'Estaing was shot, the noble Pulaski was killed, and the gallant Jasper, who endeavored to plant the American flag upon the redoubt, fell mortally wounded. Shortly afterwards, the French fleet sailed away, and the American forces were left to harass the enemy from time to time. This was done in splendid style by General Anthony Wayne, the Rough Rider of the Revolution, who dashed into the British with his flying columns and inflicted damage day by day. Finally, on the 11th of July, 1782, the English surrendered to General Wayne, who entered the city and rescued it from its long captivity. A memorial tablet, placed in position at the old site of Tondee's tavern, marks the spot where the early patriots, braving violence abroad, and even derision at home, erected their liberty pole, while the frowning battlements of a model bastion commemorate the name of Pulaski.

At the siege of Savannah the city held only about four hundred houses and less than one thousand people. George Washington, who visited the city in 1790, writes in his diary that the place was "high and sandy," that the town was surrounded with "rich and luxuriant rice fields," that the harbor was "filled with square rigged vessels," and that the chief trade was tobacco, indigo, hemp, lumber and cotton. General Washington was received with every evidence of honor, and the Chatham Artillery was by him presented with handsome guns. This memorable organization, second only to the Ancient and Honorables, of Hartford, fired a salute to George Washington, as they afterwards did to Presidents Monroe, Arthur, Cleveland and McKinley upon their visits to this city. The Chathams served in the Civil War and in the late Spanish-American struggle.

The first steamship ever built in the United States was projected and owned in this city. It was named the Savannah, and in April, 1819, sailed for Liverpool, completing the voyage across the sea in twenty two days. Off Cape Clear the Savannah was signalled as a vessel on fire, and a cutter was sent to Cork for her relief. Thus Savannah perfected not only the cotton gin, but steam navigation, which revolutionized the industry and commerce of the world. Savannah continued to prosper down to the period of the Civil War, having completed the Georgia Central Railway, the longest and most important line in the South and built up large foreign and domestic commerce at her port.

When the troubles leading up to the Civil War opened, Savannah did not wait for the State of Georgia to secede, but, true to the traditions of Revolutionary ancestry, seized Fort Pulaski on the 3d of January, 1861. The State convention, which framed a new constitution for Georgia, assembled in Savannah on the 7th of March, and the flag of the Confederacy was thrown to the breeze from the United States Custom House with a salute of seven guns, one for each State of the young nation. The moving spirit of secession in Savannah, the "Mad Anthony Wayne" of the State, was Francis S. Bartow, a young man who, failing to receive permission from the State authorities to go to Virginia, summoned his company and went without orders, sending back in defiance the message to Governor Brown: "I go to illustrate Georgia." He was killed with several of his command at the first battle of Manassas, so that Savannah received the baptism of blood at the very beginning of the Civil War. In November, 1862, General Robert E. Lee made his headquarters in Savannah and inspected its defences.He pronounced Fort Pulaski impregnable, and said its walls, which were seven and a half feet thick, would withstand the heaviest cannon. The rifled guns of large calibre, however, had not then been tested, and their penetrating power was unknown. As a matter of fact, the fort was breached by Union batteries from Tybee Island in one day. On the 11th of April, 1862, General Gillmore, who had constructed the fort for the Government at a cost of $500,000, reduced it at a range of from two thousand to three thousand five hundred yards. One remarkable fact about the defence of Fort Pulaski was that the Confederates allowed the Northern fleet to sail back of the fort through Wall's Cut, and interrupt communication with the city. It was through this identical channel that the British reinforced their troops in 1779, the French fleet failing to guard the narrow pass. In July, 1863, the Confederate ironclad ship Atlanta, fitted out in Savannah, sailed for Warsaw Sound to meet the monitors Weehawken and Natant. The Atlanta ran aground, and was shot to pieces by her antagonists. On December 26, 1864, General Sherman's army captured the city, eighty six years, almost to the day, after the British captured it from General Howe. Savannah then contained about twenty thousand people. Today it has over sixty thousand, is the largest and busiest seaport on the South Atlantic, ships more than a million bales of cotton a year, and handles more than a million packages of naval stores. At Tybee Roads, where Oglethorpe first anchored his good ship Ann; where the English fleet halted before attacking the town; where D'Estaing moored his French frigates and waited for the Americans to join him; where the colonists capured the powder ship from the English, the first naval engagement of the Revolution; where the sturdy Southern ironclad met the invulnerable monitors of the Union, ships of every flag now ride and rest. Not alone the little "square rigged vessels" which Washington saw, but big ocean steamships, of which the Savannat was the pioneer, now plow their way to foreign and domestic ports. The shipping of Savannah exceeds that of all the South Atlantic and Gulf ports from Baltimore to Mobile.

Historic towns of the Southern States

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