Friday, April 20, 2018

Ah, Savannah GA

This is how our three days in Savannah began with our check in at the Mansion on Forsyth Park.  After relaxing with a complimentary glass of wine, we investigated the neighborhood.  Forsyth park is a very active place and really the beginning of old Savannah where we spent the next two days.  We decided to have dinner at the dining room on the property.  I can't remember when I have eaten more:  a heaping dish of fried calamari for openers, two wedges of lettuce for a salad, and then delicious pork chop.  I ate so much I didn't have room for dessert if you can imagine that.

The next day we began our exploration of Savannah.  Our first stop was at the fountain in Forsyth Park, a venue for wedding photos as you can easily imagine.  Savannah, at least the oldest part, is a planned city, laid out in a series of squares by James Oglethorpe, founder of Savannah, in 1733.  There are 22 surviving squares as shown on this map.
You can click here to download a full PDF of this map.

Each square has its own theme and history or at least tells a bit about the history of Savannah and Georgia.  I learned much that I didn't know about the Peach State.   The Georgia Colony was authorized in 1731 and founded in 1733 when Oglethorpe led a group of colonists to the New World and quickly decided on the site for Savannah.  Oglethorpe was a very interesting figure.  He was born into British nobility, received an Oxford and then military education, served in the English army and then entered politics as a social reformer with a particularly focus on the urban poor who often ended up in debtors prisons.

"In 1728, three years before conceiving the Georgia colony, Oglethorpe chaired a Parliamentary committee on prison reform. The committee documented horrendous abuses in three debtors' prisons. As a result of the committee's actions, many debtors were released from prison with no means of support. Oglethorpe viewed this as part of the larger problem of urbanisation, which was depleting the countryside of productive people and depositing them in cities, particularly London, where they often became impoverished or resorted to criminal activity. To address this problem, Oglethorpe and a group of associates, many of whom served on the prison committee, petitioned in 1730 to form the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. The petition was finally approved in 1732, and the first ship, led by Oglethorpe, departed for the New World in November.

Oglethorpe and the Trustees formulated a contractual, multi-tiered plan for the settlement of Georgia (see the Oglethorpe Plan). The plan envisioned a system of "agrarian equality", designed to support and perpetuate an economy based on family farming, and prevent social disintegration associated with community unregulated urbanisation. Land ownership was limited to fifty acres, a grant that included a town lot, a garden plot near town, and a forty-five-acre farm. Self-supporting colonists were able to obtain larger grants, but such grants were structured in fifty-acre increments tied to the number of indentured servants supported by the grantee. Servants would receive a land grant of their own upon completing their term of service. No one was permitted to acquire additional land through purchase or inheritance." (Quotation from Wikipedia)

The trustees came up with a sure fire plan to create an upstanding community:  There would be

  1. No enslaved persons
  2. No liquor
  3. No attorneys, and
  4. No Catholics.
The Yamacraw Crow played a key role in the
founding and flourishing of Savannah and thus Georgia
The first have a clear rationality to them.  The third seems a bit less rational but nonetheless desirable.  The fourth had to do with the Spanish in Florida.  Spain and England were constantly at each other in the 18th century.  The English colonists in the Carolina were constantly afraid of Spanish aggression from the south.  Georgia and especially Savannah was a handy and expendable buffer which would slow down if not blunt a Spanish incursion north.  Because of the dominance of Catholicism in Spain, Catholics were seen as easy and likely traitors if religion trumped nationality.  Within the first 20 years, these exclusions were all eliminated as Georgia joined the ranks of the royal colonies.  George was, in fact, a grand social experiment to deal with the poverty of the working class in England.

Shrimp in cheesey grits
Fried green tomato BLT
Any way, as Marilyn shopped, I walked through the squares along Bull Street all the way down to the river.  You can see many of the photos I took of sights along the way in the Savannah in the Google Photos album.   After spending the morning walking around, Marilyn and I joined up for lunch at Vic's on the River.  This is one of Savannah's best.  The shrimp in cheesey grits was delicious as was Marilyn's Fried Green Tomato BLT.

Bonaventure Cemetery
Eventually we decided to take one of the trolley tours of the city with a driver who had a great sense of  humor and a great deal of information about Savannah which we assumed was mostly true.  Savannah has been called a necropolis because so much of the later development of the historic district took place on cemeteries that were originally placed in open areas off the many squares.  As housing expanded this land was needed.  Apparently the niceties of actual removal were not always followed and thus Savannah gained a reputation as a "haunted city"  Oh, by the way, there are ghost tours at all hours of the day and night.  Thankfully Marilyn was not particularly interested on this trip.  In 1868 the city decided to acquire land well outside the city.  This eventually became Bonaventure Cemetery.  It was featured the 1997 movie, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."  This is based on a book of the same name about a murder and trial in Savannah.  Click here to see more photos of Bonaventure Cemetery.

Interior of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Arguably the most impressive structure in Savannah is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, make that Roman Catholic cathedral.  Remember that exclusion of Catholics that would make Savannah a heaven on earth, a perfect society?  Well that notion couldn't survive the city's need for a working class and one of Ireland's potato famines?  In the 1830's the Central of Georgia Railway was in need of being built.  This coincided shortly after with a couple of potato famines.  Voila!  Savannah and Georgia fell in love with the Irish.  Since they were not slaves, they could be worked mercifully without danger of damaging their asset value.  The Irish tended to live in areas where blacks lived, both being outcasts from polite society.  Ironically today Savannah has the second biggest St. Patrick's Day parade only exceeded by the one in New York City.  This year more than 1,000,000 visitors paid a lot of money to come to Savannah for the week for a party they can't quite remember.

The dining room in Owen-Thomas House
We took a tour of the Owens-Thomas House.  This house and the slave quarters were completed in 1819.  The tour guide was most forthcoming in her description of the house and slave quarters and the people who lived there.  We learned a lot but two things stand out.  First, she said there were two groups of people living in close proximity on this property.  One group (enslaved people) knew the other group (their owners) intimately being present for every aspect of their lives.  That second group knew almost nothing about the actual life of the first.  The first were property, assets really, and the second were the owners.  This was a winter house with about a dozen enslaved persons.  But the family owned several plantations in the country with hundreds of enslaved persons.  In fact, the greatest and most valuable asset of the family were the slaves they owned.

Work area in basement
Second, the young female slave who was nanny to the family's children was bequeathed by the father to his son whom this woman had nurtured and raised.  Rather than consider freeing her at his death, the son bequeathed her to his son with a stipulation that she only be sold to other family members, thus sentencing her to a life time of enslavement.  She eventually was freed when General Sherman captured Savannah and freed all enslaved persons.  But perhaps most chilling of all was the practice of her owner when the family would remove themselves to other homes or to tour Europe.  He made an arrangement with the Sheriff to rent out a jail cell and deposit his property there for safe keeping while he was gone from the city.

Click here to see more photos of the Owens-Thomas House.

Avenue of live oak stretching over a mile to the historic site
On our way out of Savannah for Charlotte and our journey home, we visited Wormsloe State Historic Site.  This is "the colonial estate of Noble Jones (1702–1775). Jones was a humble carpenter who arrived in Georgia in 1733 with James Oglethorpe and the first group of settlers from England. Wormsloe's tabby ruin is the oldest standing structure in Savannah.  Surviving hunger, plague and warfare in the rugged environment of Georgia, Jones went on to serve the colony as a doctor, constable, Indian agent, Royal Councilor and surveyor, laying out the towns of Augusta and New Ebenezer. He also commanded a company of marines charged with defending the Georgia coast from the Spanish. Jones died at the beginning of the American Revolution, but his descendants sustained Wormsloe until the state of Georgia acquired most of the plantation in 1973."   (Quotation from website introduction.)  Click here to see more photos of Wormsloe Plantation.

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