The Founding of Savannah, Georgia

By Joseph Harris Chappell, 1905


Ship from England called Anne

At high noon on November 16, 1732, the good ship Anne spread her white sails and, like some great canvas-winged bird of the sea, flew from the shores of England westward over the Atlantic Ocean, carrying with her, British general, Parliament member, and, philanthropist, James Oglethorpe, and his 120 emigrants. She did not sail straight for Georgia, but for Charleston South Carolina, where Oglethorpe wished to get the advice and help of the Governor of that province in settling his colony. The ship reached Charleston on January 13, 1733 and cast anchor just outside the harbor bar. Oglethorpe, leaving his people on board, was rowed to shore in an open boat, and was received with great honor by Governor Robert Johnson and the Legislature of South Carolina, which was then in session.

The Governor had been notified several weeks before that Oglethorpe was coming and he was prepared to extend to him a hearty welcome. The people of  South Carolina were very glad that an English colony was to be planted in Georgia, for well they knew that it would be a protection for them against the fierce Spaniards of Florida.

Governor Robert Johnson offered to do anything in his power to help Oglethorpe. He appointed Colonel William Bull, one of the most prominent men in South Carolina, to act as Oglethorpe’s guide and assistant in settling his colony in Georgia and offered to take care of the emigrants until a suitable location could be found for them.

he good ship Anne was taken down to Port Royal Bay where it was safely moored in the harbor. At the head of the bay was the little town of Beaufort, where there was a fort garrisoned by 100  South Carolina soldiers. A new barracks building had just been erected for the soldiers, but, they had not yet moved into it. Governor Johnson turned this building over to the use of the emigrants, and here, they were comfortably housed until Oglethorpe could locate a permanent home for them.

Having seen his people thus comfortably provided for, Oglethorpe started out in search of a favorable spot on Georgia soil on which to plant his little colony. From studying the maps, he had already decided to locate the settlement somewhere on the banks of the Savannah River, that broad and beautiful stream which, coming down from the northwest, flows for 150 miles as a boundary line between <style=”margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0″> South Carolina and Georgia the left in a graceful scythe-like curve and pours its wealth of waters into the great Atlantic Ocean.

On January 16th, Oglethorpe, accompanied by Colonel Bull, left Port Royal in a little vessel lent to him by Governor Johnson and manned by four sailors. He sailed down the South Carolina coast and entered the Savannah River where Tybee Island juts out as a headland into the ocean. As he ascended the river, he passed many low-lying barren islands and flat salt marshes covered with rank sea-grass. It was an ugly country, and perhaps Oglethorpe’s brave heart sank within him as he surveyed the dreary prospect. But, about 18 miles up the river, the lowlands on the south bank suddenly rose into a bold, forest-covered bluff 45 feet high. Here, the little vessel was stopped, and Oglethorpe and Colonel Bull climbed up the bluff. On top they beheld an extensive level plain covered, as far as the eye could see, with a great woods of majestic pines interspersed with broad, spreading live-oaks. For several moments Oglethorpe stood enraptured and then exclaimed, “Surely a merciful God has designed this glorious spot as a restful home for my poor, persecuted people!”

James Edward Oglethorpe, Founder of Georgia

James Oglethorpe

Colonel Bull, who had visited this region before, told Oglethorpe that at the other end of the bluff, about three miles from where they stood, there was a small, isolated Indian tribe called the Yamacraw, and that they were the only Indians within 40 miles. Oglethorpe knew that it was important that he should gain the good-will of these natives before making his settlement; so, accompanied by Colonel Bull, he went in search of the Indians. He found their little town of 30 wigwams scattered about under the trees, in a beautiful spot on the edge of the bluff, in full view of the river. The chief, or mico, of the tribe was a wonderful old man named Tomo-chi-chi* He was 90 years old, but, was still strong and robust in body and mind. He was over six feet tall and stood straight as the great pine tree under which his wigwam was pitched. His immediate family consisted of his wife Seenawki and his nephew Toonahowi, a 13 year-old boy who he had adopted as his son. He had no living children of his own.

On reaching the village Oglethorpe called for Tomo-chi-chi, and the old chief stepped forth like a king. He was not surprised to see the white men. He had often seen white people before, for he had once gone to Charleston, where he spent several days while making a treaty with the Governor and the Legislature; moreover, English and Spanish traders had frequently visited his village. Indeed, at this very time there stood out in the woods, a few hundred yards from his wigwam, a log hut occupied as an English “trading post” by a white man, named John Musgrove. Musgrove’s wife, Mary Musgrove, was a half-breed Indian woman who had been reared and educated among the whites in South Carolina and could speak both the Indian and the English language fluently. On the occasion of Tomo-chi-chi’s visit to Charleston, she had acted as his interpreter; and he sent for her now. In a little while she came, and the interview began.

Oglethorpe told Tomo-chi-chi that he wished to settle with his colony in the woods nearby, but, that they would not interfere in any way with the Yamacraws; that they would do no harm but only good to the Indians, would give them blankets, hatchets, guns, and other things, and would help them in many ways. He hoped they might always be good friends and live as peaceful neighbors. Oglethorpe’s noble countenance, kind manner, and fine promises completely won old Tomo-chi-chi’s heart, and he said: “There is plenty of room here for both red men and white men. Bring your people on to our woods. As soon as they get settled, we will call to welcome them.” Tomo-chi-chi was a wise statesman. He knew that the whites might be of great benefit to the  Indians, and that to make enemies of them would bring certain ruin to the  Indians. Such was the first meeting between these two remarkable men who afterwards became such fast friends, and who worked together harmoniously for the founding of Georgia

The landing of James Oglethorpe in Georgia

The landing of James Oglethorpe in Georgia

Oglethorpe and Colonel Bull spent several days in surveying the surrounding country. Accompanied by two or three Yamacraw Indian guides, they would tramp all day long through the deep, dark, beautiful woods, returning at night to sleep in their little boat at the foot of the bluff. The more Oglethorpe saw of the country, the better he liked it. The high bluff extended more than a mile along the river bank and stretched back from the stream five miles in a level plain. Standing on the edge of the bluff, he could see the broad sweep of the Savannah River for miles above and below, as it flowed onward toward the sea. The water under the bluff was so deep that big ships could come right up to the bank.

On February 5th, Oglethorpe, having finished his survey, got aboard his little vessel and sailed back to Port Royal. He found that during his ten days’ absence his colonists had been most kindly treated by the soldiers and the people of Beaufort. Many of the folk from the surrounding country, too, had called to see them and had brought them presents of fat pigs, fowls, eggs, butter, and home-made bread. They were in good health and fine spirits; and no wonder, for they had been treated like heroes and had lived on the “fat of the land.” On the night after his return, Oglethorpe got them together and described to them the beautiful spot in Georgia that he had selected for their home and told them about the Yamacraw Indians. He instructed them to be ready, bag and baggage, to start for Savannah (as he had already named the place) early on the next Monday morning.

On the Sunday morning before leaving South Carolina, the colonists held a special thanksgiving service. After the service, Oglethorpe gave, at his own expense, a grand dining, to which, in the name of the colonists, he invited the soldiers and all the good South Carolina people that had been so kind to them. More than 300 people partook of the feast, at which was served, four fat hogs, two fine English beeves, eight turkeys, one hundred chickens and ducks, a hogshead of rum punch, a hogshead of beer, and a barrel of wine. Notwithstanding the large quantity of liquor consumed, not a man got drunk and perfect order was preserved. This was the first Georgia barbecue; for, though spread in South Carolina, it was given by the first Georgian and was served in that abundant and generous way that has since made barbecues the most famous of feasts.

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