The “Anne” sailed from England in November 1732. On board were 114 colonists including General James Oglethorpe, intending to found the Colony of Georgia. The group headed south after a brief stay in Charleston, South Carolina. Landing at Yamacraw bluff, they were greeted by Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraws, along with two Indian traders, John and Mary Musgrove.
The Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah were founded on that date, February 12, 1733. The friendship that developed between Oglethorpe and Tomochichi kept the fledgling colony out of the Indian conflicts which marked the founding of most of the colonies.
Oglethorpe was a bit of a Utopian, founding his capital around four wards, each containing eight blocks situated around its own central square. It was a place of religious freedom, 40 Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal arrived in July, the largest such group to-date to enter any of the colonies. It was a place of religious freedom for all but Catholics, that is. It was feared that Catholics would be sympathetic with Spanish authorities in control of Florida at that time, so they were prohibited.
There were four such prohibitions, the others being that there would be no spirituous liquors (that wouldn’t last long), no lawyers (do I need to explain?), and no slaves.
The experiment came to an end in 1754, when Georgia became a Royal Colony.
The low marshes of Savannah’s coastline are ideally suited as wild rice fields. Rice had originally come from its native Southeast Asia to West Africa, where the same strains were grown by European colonists. The rice industry failed in Africa, but the combination of English agricultural technology and African labor made the crop a mainstay of the early colonial economy.
In 1773, a slave named George Leile became the first black man to become a licensed Baptist preacher in Georgia. Leile’s master, himself a Baptist deacon, freed him before the Revolution, and Leile preached to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River, from Georgia north into South Carolina.
Hundreds of blacks fled to occupied Savannah after the Revolution broke out, seeking safety behind British lines. Scores of them were transported to Nova Scotia or other colonies, and some to London. Leile and his family sailed with the British for freedom in Jamaica.
Andrew Bryan was the only one of the first three black Baptist preachers to stay, making his home in Savannah along with his wife, Hannah.
On January 20, 1788, Bryan brought official recognition to the First African Baptist Church and its 67 members, five years before the first “white” Baptist Church in Savannah. In 1802, Bryan founded the “Second Colored Baptist Church”, renamed the “Second African Baptist Church” in 1823.
General William Tecumseh Sherman read the Emancipation Proclamation to the citizens of Savannah from the steps of this church, promising “40 acres and a mule” to newly freed slaves.
The original church on Greene Square burned down in 1925. The church was completely rebuilt, and still contains its original pulpit, prayer benches and choir chairs.
In 1961, a guest preacher delivered a sermon at the Second African Baptist Church which he called “I have a Dream”. Two years later, the same speaker would deliver his speech from the steps of the Lincoln memorial in Washington.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s 88th birthday came and went last Sunday, a date now remembered with its own national holiday. This August, the country will mark the 54th anniversary of his speech on the Mall, as today, we mark the last day in office of America’s first black President. While “Black Lives Matter” and a sorry collection of racial arsonists attempt to divide Americans against one another for their own political advantage, we’d do well to remember other words of Reverend King, spoken at a time when it took genuine courage to be a “civil rights” leader. “In a real sense we must all live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools”.