In 1733 James Oglethorpe brought 114 colonists, many poor, from Gravesend, England, to Georgia to establish America’s 13th colony. Oglethorpe had four rules for his new community: no slaves, no Roman Catholics, no strong drink, and no lawyers.
None of these restrictions lasted, especially the 3rd. It wasn’t long before the Chatham Artillery, Georgia’s oldest military organization, was serving its special punch during important occasions, like a visit by George Washington. Punch is the perfect name for a concoction of wine, rum, gin, brandy, whiskey, champagne and strong tea, only 7 of its 12 ingredients.
Oglethorpe, who traveled to Hungary to participate in 1 of the 4 Austro-Turkish Wars, designed Savannah. He divided America’s 1st planned city into blocks of five symmetrical 60-by-90-foot lots and 24 public squares. His plan was to creates spaces for public meetings and provide areas where citizens could camp out and fortify themselves against attack from natives, whom Oglethorpe took pains to befriend.
Georgia was the world’s 1st non-profit colony. Anyone 16 or older could acquire 50 free acres, but claimants had to agree to live on this land for at least 3 years. All property owners also had to agree to be armed, even women, and defend Savannah militarily. Scheduled muster days for training included what became known as petticoat soldiers.
England declared war on Spain because of Georgia. Oglethorpe gathered 800 soldiers and invaded Florida with the intent of making it the 14th colony and collecting taxes for England. Battles resulted, like Bloody March during the curiously-named War of Jenkin’s Ear in which women sank a battleship with one well-aimed cannon ball. This battle earned it designation as bloody because 100 men were lost, but none of Oglethorpe’s. He returned to England and was court-martialed in 1743 after allegations of misconduct were made. They were discharged but he never went back to Georgia.
James Oglethorpe wasn’t honored with a statue in Savannah until 1901 when Daniel Chester French, designer of the famous seated Lincoln in Washington, DC’s Lincoln Memorial, crafted a 9-feet-tall bronze monument.
21 of Oglethorpe’s public squares remain, and one is named for him. However, it wasn’t the 1st one he laid out. That’s Johnson Square. It also isn’t where his statue is. It’s in Chippewa Square. There are lots of imposing statues in Savannah. And lots of fountains. And lots of plotzed people according to John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, still the New York Times champion best seller that listed for 216 weeks, still a rip-roaring read, and still detested by much of Savannah’s elite.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is another historical figure with a Savannah connection. He is from Pin Point, a small community in the Savannah area. Thomas, who has called himself a son of Pin Point, was the only African-American in his high school and an honor student. In his adult free-time, it is reported, he likes traveling around the United States in a 40-feet-long, custom-made bus.
Six more important people with Savannah connections tomorrow.