Extraordinary from the Beginning
In 1733, there were 114 new arrivals to the area, which then consisted mostly of forest, with a small Indian town and a trading post as the only signs of civilization. The newcomers were English settlers led by James Edward Oglethorpe — a politician, soldier and philanthropist bent on establishing the 13th colony of Georgia.
Oglethorpe selected a bluff on the south side of a mighty river as the site of the colony’s first city, and he christened the fledgling town Savannah after the Indian name for the waterway. Aided by the Yamacraws, a tribe of American Indians who lived nearby, the settlers struggled but made a go of establishing a city in the wilderness.
During the first two decades of its existence, Georgia was a trusteeship created to give people who were out of work a place to make a fresh start. By 1766, Savannah was home to almost 18,000 people and a healthy economy based on the exportation of rice.
The city became a major exporter of cotton in the early 1800s, and its prosperous residents built elegant homes and enjoyed a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Although the city came through the Civil War intact, the conflict left Savannah bankrupt, but a resurgence in cotton production soon had Savannah back on its feet and prospering.
The decline of cotton production and the Great Depression threatened to curtail Savannah’s progress in the 1920s and ’30s, but the town got a boost when the Union Bag and Paper Company opened a large plant just west of the city. The plant — now a part of the International Paper Company empire and still one of the city’s largest employers —helped Savannah through those tough times, as did the presence of the military here during World War II. Two large Army Air Corps bases were in operation in Savannah, and one has been retained in the present-day form of Hunter Army Airfield.