February 12, 1733 The Last Colony

Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England, a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation was connected to the American colonies.

In 1727 England, the anonymously published book “The Sailor’s Advocate”, argued for improvements in the terrible working conditions, that sailors of the day were forced to endure.

The pamphlet’s “unknown” author was James Oglethorpe, a crusader, an idealist, and member of the British Parliament.  Oglethorpe saw urbanization as the great evil of his day, the stripping of the productively employed from the countryside, while depositing them in cities with no opportunity for meaningful work.

Oglethorpe chaired a committee on prison reform the following year, calling attention to the horrendous conditions in English debtors’ prisons, and the hopeless plight of those released with no means of support.

To deal with the problem, Oglethorpe and others petitioned in 1730 to form a committee of trustees, to form the 13th Colony in America. They would call this new colony “Georgia”, a new start for the worthy poor, and a military buffer against Spanish Florida to the south, and French Louisiana to the west.  The charter was signed by King George II on April 21, 1732.slide_11

Thousands applied to go, trustees narrowing the number down to an initial 114 colonists. Those who couldn’t pay their own way would be subject to a period of indenture, typically 5-7 years.

It was November of that year, when the first group of colonists left aboard the “Anne”, bound for the new world.  James Oglethorpe and his 114 pilgrims scrambled up the 40′ banks of the Savannah River on February 12, 1733, there to establish the Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah.

Artist’s depiction of Johnson Square, the earliest public square in Savannah

A personal friendship developed between Oglethorpe and native Chieftan Tomochichi, Mico (Leader) of the Yamacraw, a formal treaty of friendship signed in May of that year.

The Trustees obtained £10,000 for the Georgia colony that first year, the subsidy becoming smaller in the following years. Georgia was the only American colony thus dependent on a Parliamentary allowance.

Oglethorpe returned to England two years later along with several “goodwill ambassadors”, among them Chief Tomochichi himself, his wife Senauki, their nephew Toonahowi, and six other members of the Lower Creek tribes. Members of the Indian delegation were treated as celebrities, entertained by Trustees and personal guests of the King and Queen, after which the group became tourists, visiting the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and enjoying a number of plays, from Shakespearean dramas to comic farces.

Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England, a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation was connected to the American colonies.

“As the principal mediator between the native population and the new English settlers during the first years of Georgia’s settlement, Tomochichi (left) contributed much to the establishment of peaceful relations between the two groups and to the ultimate success of Georgia. His nephew, Toonahowi, is seated on the right in this engraving, circa 1734-35, by John Faber Jr.” – Hat tip for this image, to the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries

The home town to Oglethorpe’s Utopian experiment, Savannah, was founded around four wards, each containing eight blocks situated around its own central square. Established to help the poor and to produce materials like silk and olives for England, Georgia issued each colonist 50 acres of land – perfect for the yeoman farmer, but too small for major landholders.  Its motto was “Non Sibi Sed Allis”. “Not for Themselves But for Others”.  Oglethorpe outlined four by-laws for the Georgia province, four prohibitions forming the legal framework of his Utopian experiment.

1. No rum, Brandy or spirits were allowed in Georgia, though beer, wine and ale, were OK.
2. No African slaves were permitted, though they were occasionally “borrowed” for construction projects.
3. Oglethorpe believed that every man ought to be able to speak for himself. Hence, no lawyers were allowed.
4. No Catholics were allowed either, as it was feared that they’d be too sympathetic with co-religionist Spain, then in control of the Florida territory.

“If we allow slaves,” Oglethorpe had said, “we act against the very Principles by which we associated together, which was to relieve the distressed.”

Returning to England, Oglethorpe continued to serve on the Board of Trustees, though he often found himself outvoted.  Despite his opposition, the Board of Trustees gradually relaxed their restrictions on land ownership, on hard liquor, and on slavery. By 1750, Georgia’s founding father was no longer involved with the board which had given it life. Oglethorpe’s grand experiment was over in 1754, when Trustees voted to dissolve their governing charter, making Georgia the 13th of Great Britain’s American colonies.

Mico Tomochichi’s monument, Wright Square, Savannah, Georgia

Chief Tomochichi died in 1739 at age 97, requesting that he be buried among his English friends. The Mico of the Yamacraw was interred in Wright Square, and saluted with cannon and musket fire. James Oglethorpe himself was one of the pall bearers. If you ever visit the city of my childhood, there you will find Wright Square and Tomochichi’s monument, dedicated on April 21, 1899. A bronze tablet is engraved with Cherokee roses and arrowheads, and inscribed with these words. “In memory of Tomochichi – the Mico of the Yamacraws – the companion of Oglethorpe – and the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia”.

Featured image, top:  LaFayette Square, Savannah, named for the Frenchman and Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.


January 20,  1788  I Have a Dream, Savannah edition

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 james-oglethorpe-with-yamacraw-chief-tomochichi-mary-appears-between-themsouth 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 hadsunset-palms 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.

first_african_baptist_church_savannahOn 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 whichmlkjr-i-have-a-dream-speech-jpg 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”.