1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Savannah

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SAVANNAH, a city, a port of entry, and the county-seat of Chatham county, Georgia, U.S.A., on the right (south) bank of the Savannah river, about 18 m. from the Atlantic Ocean. Pop. (1890) 43,189; (1900) 54,244, of whom 28,090 were negroes and 3434 were foreign-born; (1910, census) 65,064. It is served by the Atlantic Coast Line, the Central of Georgia, the Southern, and other railways; by river steamers to Augusta; by coastwise steamers to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston; and by transatlantic steamers to European ports.

The city is situated on a plateau some 40 ft. above the Savannah river and covers about 6.3 sq. m. Savannah owes its regular form, with streets intersecting each other at right angles, to James Edward Oglethorpe, its founder, but the monotony is slightly relieved by 42 small parks and squares, whose total area is 166.79 acres. The larger parks are the Daffin, the Colonial, on Oglethorpe Avenue (formerly South Broad Street), and Forsyth, on Gaston Street, with fine tropical and semi-tropical flora. The smaller parks or squares are mostly in five series parallel to the Savannah river. On account of the large number of its shade trees Savannah has been called the “Forest City.” Bonaventure Cemetery, about 4 m. east of the city, has avenues of fine live-oaks, draped with Spanish moss. In the principal commercial street, Bay Street, are the new City Hall (1906), on the site of the old City Hall built in 1779, the Custom House, completed in 1850, the Cotton Exchange, and a granite seat marking the spot where Oglethorpe first pitched his tent; and in Bull Street, a fashionable promenade, named in honour of William Bull (1683-1755), a military officer who aided Oglethorpe in his survey of the city, are Chatham Academy, a marble post-office building, the county court house, and the Savannah theatre (established in 1818, remodelled in 1895, rebuilt in 1906), one of the oldest playhouses in the United States. In Johnson Square, a little south of the City Hall and Custom House, stands a plain dignified monument, in the design of a Roman sword, erected in 1829 in memory of General Nathanael Greene, to whom a tract of land near Savannah was given by Congress in recognition of his service in the War of American Independence, and who was buried in a vault in the old cemetery in South Broad Street (now Oglethorpe Avenue); his remains were transferred to the monument in 1900. In Monterey Square there is a monument and statue by the German sculptor Robert Eberhard Launitz (1806-1870), in honour of Count Casimir Pulaski, who was mortally wounded during the siege of Savannah in 1779. The corner-stones of these monuments were laid by General La Fayette in 1825. In Madison Square, north of Monterey Square, there is a monument to Sergeant William Jasper (1750-1779), a hero of the War of Independence, who replaced the fallen colours on Fort Moultrie in the face of a galling fire during the battle of Charleston Harbour (June 28th, 1776), rescued a band of American prisoners from British guards at Jasper Spring, 2 m. from Savannah, and was fatally wounded during the siege of the city in 1779. In Chippewa Square there is a bust of Major-General Lafayette McLaws (1821-1897). The Ladies' Memorial Association erected a Confederate Soldiers Monument in the “Parade Ground,” which forms an extension to Forsyth Park, in the south central part of the city; and in honour of Tomochichi, an Indian chief who was the staunch friend of the early settlers, a large granite boulder has been placed in Wright Square, where he was buried. At the corner of Anderson and Bull Streets there is a memorial to Major-General Alexander Robert Lawton (1818-1896), state senator in 1854-1861, who seized Fort Pulaski in 1861 upon the governor's orders, served through the Civil War in the Confederate Army, and was U.S. minister to Austria-Hungary in 1887-1889.

Since the founding of Georgia as a bulwark against the Spaniards and French, Savannah has had an ardent martial spirit, and there are five military organizations—the Chatham Artillery, formed in 1786, one of the oldest military companies in the United States; the Savannah Volunteer Guards, organized in 1802 as an infantry corps, now a coast artillery corps of four companies; the Georgia Hussars, formed after the War of 1812 by the consolidation of two other companies; the First Volunteer Regiment of Georgia, composed of five companies, organized respectively in 1808, 1843, 1846, 1860 and 1861, and a division of naval militia organized in 1895. The most prominent clubs are the Oglethorpe, the Guards, the Hussars and the Harmonie. Among the pleasure resorts in the vicinity are Tybee Island, at the mouth of the Savannah river, a popular bathing resort, and Thunderbolt, Isle of Hope, White Bluff and Montgomery, distant 5 m., 6 m., 8 m. and 9 m. respectively.

Among the religious corporations in Savannah, the oldest is Christ Church, whose first building was erected in 1740-1750 and whose present edifice was built in 1838. Its third rector was John Wesley, who is said to have established a Sunday School (still in existence) in Savannah almost half a century before Robert Raikes established such a school in England. The first African Baptist Church, organized in 1788, is the oldest religious society of negroes in the United States. The Convent of St Vincent de Paul was founded in 1842; the Cathedral of St John the Baptist was dedicated in 1876, was destroyed by fire in 1898, but was subsequently rebuilt; and a Jewish synagogue was erected in 1878. Savannah is the see of a Roman Catholic and of a Protestant Episcopal bishop. There are several hospitals and charitable institutions in or near Savannah, including the Bethesda Orphan Asylum, about 8 m. from the city, founded by George Whitefield in 1740 and now owned by the Union Society, and the Savannah Female Asylum (1750). In 1885 the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (near Telfair Square or Telfair Place), endowed by Miss Mary Telfair, was opened; in its collections are Wilhelm von Kaulbach's “Peter Arbues of Epila” and Joseph von Brandt's “Ein Gefecht.” The Georgia Historical Society, organized in 1839 and in 1847 united with the Savannah Library Society, has a handsome building (Hodgson Hall) at the intersection of Whitaker and Gaston Streets, and a library of about 35,000 volumes; it published six volumes of Collections between 1840 and 1904. The Georgia Industrial College (1890), for negroes, is near the city. The Chatham Academy was chartered and endowed with some of the confiscated property of Loyalists in 1788.

Savannah harbour has permanent seacoast defences, and is the most important Atlantic seaport south of Baltimore. The port is nearer the Panama Canal than either New Orleans or Galveston; and after the completion of harbour improvements by the United States government, begun in 1902, the depth of the river from its mouth to the city was 28 ft. There are great wharves and piers on the water front; more than 4 m. of wharves are occupied by railway terminals. In 1909 Savannah's exports were valued at $66,932,973; its imports at $2,664,079. Of the exports naval stores rank first, Savannah being first among the world markets of naval stores; cotton comes second, but the relative position of the city as a cotton centre has declined because of the greater increase in that of Galveston and New Orleans. Other important exports are fertilizers, rice and lumber. Savannah is the business and shipping centre of the surrounding fruit and truck growing country; The principal manufactures are fertilizers and cars, and, of less importance, lumber and planing-mill products, and foundry and machine-shop products. The city's rice-mills and cotton compresses are commonly visited by tourists. The total value of the city's factory products in 1905 was $6,340,004 (69.1% more than in 1900).

The city government is vested in a council, consisting of a mayor and twelve aldermen, elected for two years in January of odd numbered years; the council's committees act as heads of several of the administrative departments; the mayor is head of the police; and the council appoints other city officers. The board of aldermen may pass a measure by a two-thirds vote over the mayor's veto. The city board of education was incorporated in 1866 and took over the powers of the board of education of Chatham county; it is self-perpetuating and practically non-partisan. A free school had been established as early as 1816. In 1909 the assessed value of real estate was $35,147,580 and of personal property $12,828,673, and the bonded debt was $2,701,050 ($218,050 due in 1913 and $2,483,000 due in 1959); the rate of taxation was $1.39 per $100.

The first European settlement in Georgia was made at Savannah in February 1733 by James Edward Oglethorpe. Among the early inhabitants were Charles and John Wesley, who arrived in 1735, but returned to England in 1736 and 1737 respectively, and George Whitefield, who lived in Savannah in 1738 and 1740. Savannah was the seat of government of Georgia until the capture of the city by the British in 1778. Here, on the 1st of January, 1755, met the first legislature of Georgia. In the years preceding the War of Independence the political issues excited much partisanship. Riots almost completely prevented the execution of the Stamp Act, and the stamps were reloaded on the ship that brought them to Savannah. In 1769 the merchants agreed not to import any articles mentioned in the Townshend Acts of 1767;

On the 18th of January 1775 the first Provincial Congress was convened here; on the night of the 11th of May the powder magazine was robbed of all its ammunition, part of which was sent to Boston and, according to tradition, was used at Bunker Hill; and on the 22nd of June the people of the city elected a Council of Safety. On the 4th of July the same Provincial Congress again met, and soon the royal administration collapsed. Probably the first naval capture of the War of Independence was made off Tybee Island on the 10th of July, when a schooner, the first vessel chartered by the Continental Congress, seized a British ship and its cargo of 14,000 ℔ of powder. Yet the Loyalists were strong in Savannah, and many families were divided among themselves.

In October 1776-February 1777 the convention which framed the first constitution of Georgia was held in Savannah, and the first state legislature assembled here in May 1778; but the British captured the city on the 29th of December in that year, and the seat of the state government was then transferred to Augusta. In 1779 Savannah was unsuccessfully besieged by a French fleet under Comte d'Estaing and land forces under General Benjamin Lincoln, but in May 1782 it was evacuated after a short siege by General Anthony Wayne. It once more became the capital, but in 1783 the seat of the state government was again transferred to Augusta. Savannah soon became the commercial-rival of Charleston, South Carolina. It was chartered as a city in 1789. As early as 1817 the Savannah Steamboat Company, which ran a steamer to Charleston, was organized, and in 1819 the “Savannah,” the first vessel fitted with steam engines to cross the Atlantic,[1] owned by Savannah capitalists but built in the North, sailed from Savannah to Liverpool in 25 days. In 1861 the state convention which adopted the ordinance of secession met in Savannah. A blockade of the port was instituted by the Federal government in 1861, and on the 12th of December 1862 Fort Pulaski (on Cockspur Island, at the mouth of the Savannah river), which commanded the channel, and had been seized by the state at the outbreak of the war, was forced to surrender. Savannah was the objective of General W. T. Shern1an's “march to the sea,” and on the 21st of December 1864 surrendered to him after futile opposition by General William J. Hardee (1818-1873) with a force very inferior in numbers. The city limits were extended in 1879, 1883 and 1901.

  1. The “Savannah” did not make the entire voyage under steam; she was fitted with sails and used them in rough weather, unshipping her paddle-boxes.