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1736 Description of Savannah


Francis Moore sailed for Georgia in late 1735, arriving in February of 1736. James Oglethorpe - who had been back in England procuring supplies and soliciting support for the colony of Georgia - returned on the same ship. Soon after their arrival, Moore visited Savannah and described the town, only three years after it had been settled. His description showed the progress that had been made, but also showed evidence of the problems that would plague the young colony during the Trustee period, including some of the regulations opposed by a group of colonists called the Malcontents. Moore also vividly described the beauty of the near pristine landscape still surrounding Savannah the time:

...I took a View of the Town of Savannah; it is about a Mile and Quarter in Circumference; it stands upon the flat of a Hill, the Bank of the River (which they in barbarous English call a Bluff) is steep, and about 45 Foot perpendicular, so that all heavy Goods are brought up by a Crane, an Inconvenience designed to be remedied by a bridged Wharf, and an easy Ascent, which in laying out the Town, care was taken to allow room for, there being a very wide Strand between the first Row of Houses and the River. From this Strand there is a very pleasant Prospect; you see the River wash the Foot of the Hill, which is a hard, clear, sandy Beach, a Mile in Length; the Water is fresh, and the River 1000 Foot wide. Eastward you see the River increased by the Northern Branch, which runs round Hutchinson’s Island, and the Carolina shore beyond it, and the Woody Islands at the Sea, which close the prospect at 10 or 12 Miles Distance. Over against it is Hutchinson’s Island, great part of which is open Ground, where they mow Hay for the Trust’s Horses and Cattle. The rest is Woods, in which there are many Bay-trees 80 Foot high. Westward you see the River winding between the Woods, with little Islands in it, for many Miles, and Toma Chi Chi’s Indian Town standing upon the Southern Banks, between 3 and 4 Miles Distance.

The Town of Savannah is built of Wood; all the Houses of the first 40 Freeholders are of the same Size with that Mr. Oglethorpe lives in, but there are great Numbers built since, I believe 100 or 150, many of these are much larger, some of 2 or 3 Stories high, the Boards plained and painted. The Houses stand on large Lotts, 60 Foot in Front by 90 Foot in Depth; each Lott has a fore and back Street to it; the Lotts are fenced in with split pales; some few People have Palisades of turned Wood before their Doors, but the Generality have been wise enough not to throw away their Money, which in this Country, laid out in Husbandry, is capable of great Improvements, though there are several People of Good Substance in the Town, who came of their own Expence, and also, several of those who came over on the Charity, are in a very thriving way; but this is observed, that the most substantial People are the most frugal, and make the least Shew, and live at the least Expence. There are some also who have made but little or bad Use of the Benefits they received, idling away their Times, whilst they had their Provisions from the publick Store, or else working for Hire, earning from 2 Shillings, the Price of a Labourer, to 4 or 5 Shillings, the Price of a Carpenter, per diem, and spending that Money in Rum and good Living, thereby neglecting to improve their Lands, so that when their Time of receiving their Provisions from the Publick ceased, they were in no Forwardness to maintain themselves, the Consequences of that Folly forces them now to work for their daily Bread. These are generally discontented with the Country; and if they have run themselves in Debt, their Creditors will not let them go away till they have paid. Considering the Number of People, there are but very few of these. The Industrious ones have throve beyond Expectation; most of them that have been there three Years, and many others, have Houses in the Town, which those that Let, have for the worst, 10 l. per Annum, and the best let for 30 l.

Those who have cleared their 5 Acre Lotts, have made a very great Profit out of them by Greens, Roots and Corn. Several have improv’d the Cattle they had at first, and have now 5 or 6 tame Cows; others, who to save the Trouble of Feeding them, let thm go into the Woods, can rarely find them, and when they are brought up, one of them will not give half the Quantity of Milk, which another Cow fed near Home will give. Their Houses are built at a pretty large Distance from one another, for fear of Fire; the Streets are very wide, and there are great Squares left at proper Distances, for Markets and other Conveniences. Near the River-side is a Guard-house inclosed with Palisades a Foot thick, where there are 19 or 20 Cannons mounted, and a continual Guard kept by the Free-holders. This town is governed by 3 Bailiffs, and has a Recorder, Register, and a Town Court, which is holden every six weeks, where all matters Civil and Criminal are decided by grand and petty Juries, as in England; but there are no Lawyers allowed to plead for Hire, not no Attornies to take Money, but (as in old times in England) every Man pleads his own Cause. In case it should be an Orphan, or one that cannot speak for themselves, there are Persons of the best Substance in the Town, appointed by the Trustees to take care of the Orphans, and to defend the Helpless, and that without Fee or Reward, it being a Service that each that is capable must perform in his Turn. They have some Laws and Customs peculiar to Georgia; one is, that all Brandies and Distilled Liquors are prohibited under severe Penalties; another is, that no Slavery is allowed, nor Negroes; a Third, that all Persons who go among the Indians must give Security for their good Behaviour; because the Indians, if any Injury is done to them, and they cannot kill the Man who does it, expect Satisfaction from the Government, which if not procured, they break out into War, by killing the first white man they conveniently can. No Victualler or Alehouse-keeper can give any Credit, so consequently cannot recover any Debt. The Free-holds are all entailed, which has been very fortunate for the Place. If People could have sold, the greatest part, before they knew the Value of their Lotts, would have parted with them for a trifling Condition, and there were not wanting rich Men who employed Agents to Monopolize the whole Town: And if they had got Numbers of Lotts into their own Hands, the other Free-holders would have had no Benefit by letting their Houses, and hardly of Trade, since the Rich, by means of a large Capital, would underlet and undersell, and the Town must have been almost without Inhabitants, as Port Royal in Carolina is, by the best Lotts being got into a few Hands.

The mentioning the Laws and Customs leads me to take notice that Georgia is founded upon Maxims different from those on which other Colonies have been begun. The Intention of that Colony was an Asylum to receive the Distressed. This was the charitable Design, and the governmental Views besides that, was, with Numbers of free white People, well settled, to strengthen the southern Part of the English Settlements on the Continent of America, of which this is the Frontier. It is necessary therefore not to permit Slaves in such a Country, for Slaves starve the poor Labourer. For if the Gentleman can have his Work done by a Slave who is a Carpenter or Bricklayer, the Carpenters or Bricklayers of that Country must starve for want of Employment, and so of other Trades.

In order to maintain many People, it was proper that the Land should be divided into small Portions, and to prevent the unting them by Marriage or Purchase. For every Time that two Lotts are united, the Town Loses a Family, and the Inconveniency of thisshews itself at Savannah, notwithstanding the Care of the Trustees to prevent it. They suffered the Moiety of the Lotts to descend to the Widows during their Lives: Those who remarried to Men who had Lotts of their own, by uniting two Lotts made one be neglected; for the strength of Hands who could take care of one, was not sufficient to look to and improve two. These uncleared Lotts are a Nusance to their Neighbours. The Trees which grow upon them shade the Lotts, the Beasts take shelter in them, and for want of clearing the Brooks which pass thro’ them, the Lands above are often prejudiced by Floods. To prevent all these Inconveniences, the first Regulation of the Trustees was a strict Agrarian Law, by which all the Lands near Towns should be divided, 50 acres to each Freeholder. The Quantity of Land by Experience seems rather too much, since it is impossible that one poor Family can tend so much Land. If this Alottment is too much, how much more inconvenient would the uniting of two be? To prevent it, the Trustees grant the lands in Tail Male, that on the expiring of a Male-Line they may regrant it to such Man, having no other Lott, as shall be married to the next Female Heir of the Deceased, as is of good Character. This manner of Dividing, prevents also the Sale of Lands, and the Rich thereby monopolizing the Country.

Each Freeholder had a Lott in Town 60 Foot by 90 Foot, besides which he has a Lott beyond the Common, of 5 acres for a Garden. Every ten Houses make a Tything, and to every Tything there is a Mile Square, which is divided into 12 Lotts, besides Roads: Each Free-holder of the Tything has a Lott or Farm of 45 Acres there, and two Lotts are reserved by the Trustees in order to defray the Charge of the Publick. The Town is laid out for two hundred and forty Freeholds; the Quantity of Lands necessary for that Number is 24 Square Miles; every 40 Houses in Town make a Ward, to which 4 Square Miles in the Country belong; each Ward has a Constable, and under him 4 Tything Men. Where the Town-Lands end, the Villages begin; four Villages make a Ward without, which depends upon one of the Wards within the Town. The Use of this is, in case a War should happen, that the Villages without may have Places in the Town, to bring their Cattle and Families into for Refuge, and to that Purpose there is a Square left in every Ward, big enough for the Out-wards to encamp in. There is Ground also kept round about the Town ungranted, in order for the Fortifications, whenever Occasion shall require. Beyond the Villages, commence Lotts of 500 Acres; these are granted upon Terms of keeping 10 servants, &c. Several Gentlemen who have settled on such Grants have succeeded very well, and have been of great Service to the Colony. Above the Town is a Parcel of Land called Indian Lands; these are those reserved by King Toma Chi Chi for his People. There is near the Town, to the East, a Garden belonging to the Trustees, consisting of 10 Acres; the Situation is delightful, one half of it is upon the Top of a Hill, the Foot of which the River Savannah washes, and from it you see the Woody Islands in the Sea. The Remainder of the Garden is the Side and some plain low Ground at the Foot of the Hill, where several fine Springs break out. In the Garden is variety of Soils; the Top is sandy and dry, the Sides of the Hill are Clay, and the Bottom is a black rich Garden-Mould well watered. On the North-part of the Garden is left standing a Grove of part of the old Wood, as it was before the arrival of the Colony there. The Trees in the Grove are mostly Bay, Sassafras, Evergreen Oak, Pellitory, Hickary, American Ash, and the Laurel Tulip. This last is looked upon as one of the most beautiful Trees in the World; to grows straight-bodied to 40 or 50 Foot high; the Bark smooth and whitish, the Top spreads regular like an Orange-tree in English Gardens, only larger; the Leaf is like that of a common Laurel, but bigger, and the underside of a greensih Brown: It blooms about the Month of June; the Flowers and white, fragrant like the Orange, and perfume all the Air around it; the Flower is round, 8 or 10 Inches diameter, thick like the Orange-flower, and a little Yellow near the Heart: As the Flowers drop, the Fruit, which is a Cone with red Berries, succeeds them. There are also some bay-trees that have Flowers like the laurel, only less.

The Garden is laid out with Cross-walks planted with Orange-trees, but the last Winter, a good eal of Snow having fallen, had killed those upon the Top of the Hill down to their Roots, but they being cut down sprouted again, as I saw when I returned to Savannah. In the Squares between the Walks, were vast Quantities of Mulberry-trees, this being a Nursery for all the Province, and every Planter that desires it, has young Trees given him gratis from this Nursery. These white Mulberry-trees were planted in order to raise Silk, for which Purpose several Italians were brought, at the Trustee’s Expence, from Piedmont by Mr. Amatis; they have fed Worms, and would Silk to as great Perfection as any that ever came out of Italy: But the Italians falling out, one of them stole away the Machines for winding, broke the Coppers, and spoiled all the Eggs, which he could not steal, and fled to South-Carolina. The others, who continued faithful, have saved but a few Eggs when Mr. Oglethorpe arrived, therefore he forbade any Silk should be wound, but that all the Worms should be suffered to ear through their Balls, in order to have more Eggs against next Year. The Italian Women are obliged to take English Girls Apprentices, whom they teach to wind and feed; and the Men have taught our English Gardeners to tend the Mulberry-trees, and our Joyners have learned how to make the Machines for winding. As the Mulberry-trees increase, there will be a great Quantity of Silk made here.

Besides the Mulberry-tree; there are in some of the Quarters in the coldest parts of the Garden, all kinds of Fruit-trees usual in England, such as Apples, Pears, &c. In another Quarter are Olives, Figs, Vines, Pomegranates and such Fruits as are natural to the warmest parts of Europe. At the bottom of the Hill, well sheltered from the North-wind, and in the warmest part of the Garden, there was a Collection of West-India Plants and Trees, some Coffee, some Cocoa-nuts, Cotton, Palma-christi, and several West-Indian physical Plants, some sent up by Mr. Eveleigh a publick-spirited Merchant at Charles-Town, and some by Dr. Houstoun, from the Spanish West-Indies, where he was sent at the Expence of a Collection raised by that curious Physician Sir Hans Sloan, for to collect and sent them to Georgia, where the Climate was capable of making a Garden which might contain all kinds of Plants; to which Design his Grace the Duke of Richmond, the Earl of Derby, the Lord Peters, and the Apothecary’s Company contributed very generously; as did Sir Hans himself. The Quarrels amongst the Italians proved fatal to most of these Plants, and they were labouring to repair that Loss when I was there, Mr. Miller being employ’d in the room of Dr. Houstoun, who died in Jamaica. We heard he had wrote an Account of his having obtain’d the Plant from whence the true Balsamum Capivi is drawn; and that he was in hopes of getting that from whence the Jesuists Bark is taken, he designing for that Purpose to send to the Spanish West Indies.

There is a Plant of Bamboo Cane brought from the East Indies, and sent over by Mr. Towers, which thrives well. There was also some Tea-seeds, which came from the same place; but the latter, though great Care was taken, did not grow.

Three Miles from Savannah, within Land, that is to say, to the South, are two pretty Villages, Hampstead and Highgate, where the Planters are very forward, having built neat Huts, and clear’d and planted a great deal of Land. Up the River also there are several other Villages, and two Towns, not much better than Villages, on the Georgia Side, and one call’d Joseph’s Town, which some Scotch Gentlemen are building at their own Expence, and where they have already clear’d a great deal of Ground. Above that is Ebenezer. a Town of the Saltzburghers. On the Carolina Side is Purysburgh, chiefly inhabited by Swiss. There are also a Party of Rangers under the Command of Capt. McPherson, and another under the Command of Capt. Aeneas M’Intosh; the one lying upon the Savannah River, the other upon the Ogeechie. These are Horsemen, and patrole the Woods to see that no Enemy Indians, nor other lawless Persons, shelter themselves there.

There were no publick Buildings in the Town, besides a Storehouse; for the Courts were held in a Hut 36 Foot long, and 12 Foot wide, made of split Boards, and erected on Mr. Oglethorpe’s first Arrival in the Colony. In this Hut also Divine Service was perform’d; but upon his Arrival this time, Mr. Oglethorpe order’d a House to be erected in the upper Square, which might serve for a Courthouse, and for Divine service till a Church could be built, and a Work-house over-against it; for as yet there was no Prison here.

Two Ships lay close to the Town, the James. Capt. Yokely, in the Trustees service, waiting for our Arrival, (with Provisions) and another ship from Bristol, Capt. Dickens, Commander, loaded with Passengers. The Water is not only deep, but thoroughly shelter’d from Hurricanes, and, being fresh, there are no Worms’ an Advantage few Ports have in America.

Source: Our First Visit in America: Early Reports from the Colony of Georgia, 1732-1740 (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1974), pp. 96-104.