Noble Jones, Peter Tondee, brothers
John and Charles Wesley , George Whitefield. These were the
famous names of early Georgia. The vast majority of colonists and
early visitors, however, are long forgotten, inscribed on tombstones
and buried in a cemetery. Let's go back to the early days, to a
city on a bluff known as Yamacraw and a new town of slightly more
than 100 people called Savannah.
Selected by Oglethorpe, Colonel William Bull and
Peter Gordon, leader of the Tythings, a small band of militia, the
site was cleared for the settlers as Oglethorpe and Bull returned
to Port Royal. Governor Johnson had recommended a site further south,
along the Altamaha, but that was too close to the Spanish for the
fledgling colony. The Tythings also constructed a set of stairs
running up Yamacraw Bluff.
On February 1, 1733,
(February 12, 1733,
New Style) during the mid-afternoon 116 men, women and children
made their way up the flight of steps and into a partially cleared
and fortified compound. The rise afforded an excellent view of the
surrounding area including the Yamacraw (Creek) village a short
distance away. Initially, the settlers set up five tents for protection
from the mid-winter weather (Oglethorpe had his own, smaller tent).
John Musgrove and his Creek wife Mary owned a trading
post (est. 173?) near a settlement of Yamacraws and lived on Yamacraw
Bluff. It was John, son of a governor of the Carolinas, who helped
Oglethorpe negotiate the first treaty with the local chief, Tomochichi.
The Creek chief had been forthright with Oglethorpe, telling him
that he did not have the power to make the treaty the Englishman
Work began on a stockade for protection almost immediately.
Once work was completed on this "palisade," a crane was built at
the top of the bluff near Oglethorpe's tent. The crane would be
used to hoist incoming freight to the fledgling colony. Members
of the colony were concerned about the occasional alligators that
would pass through the streets of the new city.
The group continued to work "in common," building
fortifications, then homes. In the group of settlers were Noble
Jones, who would serve in the colonial legislature and be a resounding
voice of the radical movement that led to the American Revolution
and Thomas Milledge, whose grandson would become a popular Georgia
politician at the start of the 19th century.
Colonel Bull returned to the colony four days after
the settlers arrived and began to layout the city of Savannah with
Oglethorpe. Much of this original layout remains intact. The original
plan called for four squares, which would expand to six, and eventually
expand to twenty-four squares, surrounded by a network of interconnecting
streets. Of these 24 planned squares, twenty-one remain intact.
Two are roughly half the size they once were and one is gone completely.
The initial square was Johnson, named for Governor
Robert Johnson of South Carolina, who had been a strong supporter
of the new colony (although for different reasons than the Trustees).
Around the square were 4 wards (for military, not political, purposes).
The wards were named Percival (for Lord Percival), Heathcote (MP),
Derby (Earl of Derby) and Decker (Sir Mathew Decker). Rounding out
the first four squares:Wright, Telfair, Ellis (no longer exists).
Reynolds and Oglethorpe were added later.
A frigate, The James, arrived at Port Royal in early
May with more people to join the colonists in the new city of Savannah.
They were desperately needed. The death rate during the first two
years was alarmingly high because the new land offered challenges
for the colonists. Pure water was hard to find and the nearby swamps
were a breeding ground for disease-baring insects. The only help
the colonists received were from the nearby Yamacraw village and
the established colony of South Carolina.
Having secured the perimeter of the new town, Oglethorpe's
next mission was to extend his presence to the west and south. First
in a string of forts built to defend Savannah from the Spanish,
French and American Indian problems was Fort Argyle, built on a
site currently within Fort Stewart. Named for Lord Argyle, who helped
Oglethorpe in many ways, it featured a moat, a large berm, and a
stockade. This fort would remain active until 1746. Then, in quick
succession, the Georgians built Fort Augusta, Fort Frederica and
Fort St. Simon. The outer perimeters appeared to be secure.
Internally, Oglethorpe had officially secured the
land, making a treaty with the appropriate Creek chiefs. On May
18, Oglethorpe met with a group of Creek chiefs to "secure their
quietude and friendship." About 50 men showed up, negotiated for
three days, then signed a treaty. The treaty called for trade with
the Creek at established prices, slaves to be returned to masters
in South Carolina, and to allow no other whites to settle on their
More settlers continued to arrive, including Moravians,
Salzburgers, and Jews, three heavily persecuted religious groups.
Besides Savannah, colonists were assigned areas to settle: High
Gate, 5 miles south of Savannah, was settle by 12 French families.
Hampstead, a mile east of High Gate was settled by 12 German families.
Thunderbolt was the sight of a fort and a few families. Skidaway
was another early fort, along with 10 familes. It was here that
Captain Noble Jones and his marines were stationed, near Wormsloe.
Josephtown, opposite Argyle Island, was a settlement of Scots. Abercorn,
about 15 miles up the Savannah River was another early development.
Oglethorpe welcomed all except Roman Catholics,
whom he, and most of England, viewed as being persecutors. Heading
back to England in 1734 on a man-of-war
(The Aldborough), Oglethorpe took with him with John Musgrove,
Tomochichi, Tooanahowi (a relative that Tomochichi called his son),
and other Creeks from the nearby town.
Unfortunately, within this first year the struggling
colony was failing. The death rate was high; some people fled the
colony. Crops could not be produce in the quantities planned (or
at all); people were unwilling to work the fields. Faced with mounting
organizational and funding problems, its surprising the colony continued
Each historian who writes about this period in Georgia
has their own group or person to blame: the Trustees, Oglethorpe,
the settlers, Governor Johnson. All contributed to problems, but
it was a complete disregard for reality that caused the failure
and near collapse of early Savannah and the colony of Georgia. Many
of the men and women who made the journey were unfit for life in
America. Oglethorpe was an excellent military mind but a poor administrator.
The Trustees expected the colony to raise products that could not
be grown elsewhere in America and Gov. Johnson wanted protection