Savannah History – Take a Walk Through US History

Savannah, Georgia is not only one of the most beautiful southern US cities, it is also, without a doubt, one of the most historic places to visit.

savannah, georgia

Savannah History – A Quick Lesson

  • The city of Savannah, Georgia, is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County
  • The Yamacraws, a Native American tribe, were the first known people to settle in and around Savannah. In the 18th century, under their leader Tomochichi, they met the newly arriving European settlers.
  • In November 1732 the ship Anne sailed from Britain carrying 114 colonists, including General James Oglethorpe. On February 12, 1733 they landed at Yamacraw Bluff and, in an example of some of the earliest “Southern hospitality”, were greeted by Tomochici, the Yamacraws.
  • The city of Savannah was founded on that date, along with the Province of Georgia.
  • Because of the friendship between Oglethorpe and Tomochici, Savannah was able to flourish unhindered by the warfare that marked the beginnings of many early American colonies.
  • Features of the plan, now known as the Oglethorpe Plan, especially as it relates to town planning, have been preserved in Savannah.
  • In 1740 George Whitefield founded the Bethesda Orphanage, which is now the oldest extant orphanage in the U.S.
  • Solomon’s Lodge was founded in 1733/4 by James Oglethorpe, and it is considered to be the oldest continuously operating English constituted Masonic Lodge in the western hemisphere.
  • Georgia became a Royal Colony in 1754 and Savannah was made the colonial capital of Georgia.
  • The combination of English agricultural technology, and African labor, proved to be of great benefit for the city.
  • In 1763 the Creeks agreed to the first of several large land cessions. This first agreement gave Georgia the land between the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers, south of Augusta, along with coastal land between the Altamaha and St. Marys rivers.
  • Also in 1763 the Treaty of Paris opened the interior of North America to British economic interests. This was an important milestone in the development of Savannah, as it marks the beginning of economic ties to the interior
  • An additional two million acres (8000 km²) of land between the Ogeechee and Altamaha rivers and the headwaters of the Oconee and Savannah rivers was ceded to Georgia by the Creeks and Cherokees in 1773.
  • Between 1764 and 1773 Savannah exported hides from 500,000 deer (2 million pounds), which established the city as a significant commercial port on the South Atlantic coast.
  • In 1778 during the American Revolutionary War, Savannah came under British and Loyalist control.
  • At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, American and French troops fought unsuccessfully to retake the city.
  • On January 27, 1785, members of the State Assembly gathered in Savannah to found the nation’s first state-chartered, public university—the University of Georgia
  • During the Civil war General William Tecumseh Sherman and his army of 62,000 men captured Savannah on December 22, 1864. Sherman then telegraphed his commander-in-chief, President Abraham Lincoln, offering him the city as a Christmas present.

savannah riverfront

Savannah Fun Facts

  • Georgia is also called “The Southern Belle of the Georgia Coast”.
  • Oglethorpe named Georgia after England’s King George II.
  • Savannah is called ‘America’s First Planned City’ because Oglethorpe carefully organized the town into grids, with wide streets and 24 public squares. 22 of these squares were carefully preserved throughout the years and still exist today.
  • Savannah’s rich soil and great port location made it a hub for the cotton industry and slave trade until the Civil War
  • Post-war years saw resurgence in the cotton industry, and Savannah once again rose as an economic hub.
  • Parts of the movie Forest Gump were filmed here.
  • Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low was born here.
  • The American Institute of Parapsychology chose Savannah as “America’s Most Haunted City.”
  • Savannah is considered the most haunted city in the U.S.
  • That title was given to it because of all of the ghost stories and haunting that have been related to its long history of natural disasters, slavery, plagues, battles and disease.

Video Fun

Historic Squares – Including Names of Famous People and What They Did

savannah tours

Calhoun Square – Abercorn and Wayne Streets

  • Designed in 1851 and named in honor of John C. Calhoun.
  • Calhoun was a South Carolina statesman and Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.
  • Calhoun Square is the only square where all of the original historic buildings remain: Massie School and Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church

Chatham Square – Barnard and Wayne Streets

  • Designed in 1847 and named in honor of William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham.
  • Pitt was an early supporter of the colony but he never visited Savannah.
  • In the square you will find: Gordon Row, 15 four-storied townhouses each 20 feet wide with identical architecture.

Chippewa Square – Bull and McDonough Streets

  • Designed in 1815 and named to commemorate the Battle of Chippewa in the War of 1812.
  • In the center stands a bronze statue of the colony’s founder, General James Edward Oglethorpe.
  • There is also: First Baptist Church, the Savannah Theatre and the Eastman-Stoddard House. Also known as Forrest Gump Square.

Columbia Square – Habersham and Presidents Streets

  • Designed in 1799.
  • In the center sits a fountain from the Wormsloe Plantation, an early Savannah settlement.
  • There is also: The Davenport House and the Kehoe House

Crawford Square

  • Designed in 1841 and named in honor of William Harrison Crawford, Minister of France during the reign of Napoleon.
  • Crawford was said to be the only foreign politician with any influence over Napoleon.

Elbert Square – Houston and McDonough Streets

  • Designed out in 1801 and was named in honor of Samuel Elbert, a Revolutionary War hero and Georgia Governor.
  • It was lost to urban sprawl.

Ellis Square – Bryan and Barnard Streets

  • It was once lost but got restored thanks to a public/private partnership by the City of Savannah and area developers.
  • It has underground parking, retail centers and hotels.
  • Ellis Square originally designed in 1733 and was named in honor of Henry Ellis, the second Royal Governor.
  • It used to be the “Old City Market”.

Franklin Square – Bryan and Barnard Streets

  • Designed in 1791 and named in honor of Benjamin Franklin.
  • For many years the square was the site of the city’s water tower and was referred to as “water tower square.”
  • Here you will find: First African Baptist Church and the west end of City Market.

Greene Square – Houston and Presidents Streets

  • Designed in 1799 to honor General Nathanael Greene, a Revolutionary War hero who fought against the British in Savannah.

Johnson Square – Bull and St. Julian Streets

  • Designed in 1733 and named for Robert Johnson, the Royal Governor of South Carolina when Georgia was founded.
  • It was the first of Savannah’s 24 squares and served as its commercial hub.

Lafayette Square – Abercorn and Macon Streets

  • Designed in 1873 to honor the Marquis de Lafayette, who aided the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
  • In the center sits a fountain dedicated by the Colonial Dames of America.
  • Here you will find: The Hamilton-Turner House, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Low-Colonial Dames House and the childhood home of author Flannery O’ Conner.

Liberty Square – Doesn’t exist anymore

  • Designed in 1799 between Montgomery and Presidents Streets and named to honor Savannah patriots, the “Liberty Boys.”
  • The Liberty Boys were instrumental in setting the stage for Georgia’s involvement in the American Revolution.

Madison Square Bull and Macon Streets

  • Designed in 1837 and named to honor James Madison, the fourth president of the United States.
  • In the center stands a monument of Sergeant William Jasper who fell during the Siege of Savannah in 1779.
  • A granite marker denotes the southern line of the British defense during the 1779 battle.

Monterey Square – Bull and Wayne Streets

  • Designed in 1847 and was named to commemorate the 1846 Battle of Monterey during the Mexican American War.
  • Here you will find: Temple Mickve Israel and the Mercer House

Oglethorpe Square – Abercorn and Presidents Streets

  • Designed in 1742 in honor of James Edward Oglethorpe, the founder of Savannah, Georgia’s First City.
  • In the center sits a marker to the Moravians who arrived in Savannah in 1735 from today’s day Czech Republic.

Orleans Square – Barnard McDonough Streets

  • Designed in 1815 in honor of the heroes of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
  • The fountain in the square was dedicated in 1989 by Savannah’s German Society to recognize the contributions of Savannah’s early German immigrants.

Pulaski Square – Barnard and Macon Streets

  • Designed in 1837 and named in honor of Count Casimir Pulaski of Poland, the highest ranking foreign officer to die in the American Revolution.
  • Located on the square you’ll see: The house of Confederate hero Francis S. Bartow

Reynolds Square – Abercorn and St. Julian Streets

  • Designed in 1733 and named for Georgia’s first Royal Governor, John Reynolds.
  • In the center stands a monument to Reynolds.

Telfair Square – Barnard and President Streets

  • Designed in 1733 as St. James Square, and it was renamed in 1883 to honor Edward Telfair a three-time governor of Georgia and patron to the arts.
  • Here you will find: Trinity United Methodist Church, the Telfair Museum of Art and Jepson Center for the Arts

Troup Square – Habersham and McDonough Streets

  • Designed in 1851 and named in honor of George Michael Troup, a Senator and Governor of Georgia.
  • In the center stands the Armillary Sphere, aa astronomical device designed to show the relationship among the celestial circles.

Warren Square – Habersham and St. Julian Streets

  • Designed in 1791 and named in honor of General Joseph Warren who was killed during the Revolutionary War.

Washington Square – Houston and St. Julian Streets

  • Designed in 1790 and named to honor George Washington.
  • Some of the oldest houses in Savannah reside on this square.

Whitfield Square – Habersham and Wayne Streets

  • Designed in 1851 and was the last of the Savannah squares.
  • Named to honor Reverend George Whitfield, founder of the Bethesda Orphanage, the oldest orphanage in the United States.

Wright Square – Bull and President Streets

  • Designed in 1733 and named for Sir James Wright, Georgia’s third and last colonial governor.
  • The monument in the square honors William Washington Gordon, an early mayor of Savannah who established the Central of Georgia Railroad.
  • The large boulder marks the grave of Tomochichi, the Yamacraw Indian Chief who welcomed General Oglethorpe and the first colonists.

Savannah Parks

Emmet Park – Bay Street Between Abercorn and East Broad

  • It was once an Indian burial ground,
  • It was named for an Irish patriot and orator Robert Emmet.
  • Sections of Factor’s Walk border the park and contains monuments to German Salzburgers, the Celtic Cross, Savannah’s fallen soldiers from the Vietnam War, the Chatham Artillery Memorial and the Old Harbor Light.

Forsyth Park – Bull and Gaston Streets

savannah forsyth park

  • This is a 30-acre park with a one-mile perimeter popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
  • The northern section of the park was donated to the city by William Hodgson, a private citizen, who felt the city needed a large public park.
  • In 1851 the park was expanded and named for John Forsyth, a Georgia Governor.
  • A cast iron fountain that was erected on the northern side in 1858, designed to resemble the grand fountain in Paris at the Place de la Concorde.
  • An exact replica of the Forsyth Park Fountain resides in Cuzco, Peru.
  • The park is also adorned by monuments to the Confederate Soldier, the Marine Corps Monument, the Spanish-American Monument and the Fragrant Garden for the Blind.

Morrell Park – River Street and East Board Ramp

  • This is a riverside park home to one of Savannah’s most beloved statues, The Waving Girl. It commemorates Florence Martus, the lighthouse keepers’ sister who waved to ships in Savannah’s port for more than 44 years.
  • There is also also Savannah’s Olympic Flame.
  • Savannah was the site of the 1996 Olympic yachting events. It burned throughout the duration of the centennial games in Atlanta.
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About Marina Kuperman Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of TravelExperta.com, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 10+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

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