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Slavery and Freedom in Savannah

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah

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Slavery and Freedom in Savannah

477 pages
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Feb 1, 2014


Slavery and Freedom in Savannah is a richly illustrated, accessibly written book modeled on the very successful Slavery in New York, a volume Leslie M. Harris coedited with Ira Berlin. Here Harris and Daina Ramey Berry have collected a variety of perspectives on slavery, emancipation, and black life in Savannah from the city’s founding to the early twentieth century. Written by leading historians of Savannah, Georgia, and the South, the volume includes a mix of longer thematic essays and shorter sidebars focusing on individual people, events, and places.

The story of slavery in Savannah may seem to be an outlier, given how strongly most people associate slavery with rural plantations. But as Harris, Berry, and the other contributors point out, urban slavery was instrumental to the slave-based economy of North America. Ports like Savannah served as both an entry point for slaves and as a point of departure for goods produced by slave labor in the hinterlands. Moreover, Savannah’s connection to slavery was not simply abstract. The system of slavery as experienced by African Americans and enforced by whites influenced the very shape of the city, including the building of its infrastructure, the legal system created to support it, and the economic life of the city and its rural surroundings. Slavery and Freedom in Savannah restores the urban African American population and the urban context of slavery, Civil War, and emancipation to its rightful place, and it deepens our understanding of the economic, social, and political fabric of the U.S. South.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. This volume is published in cooperation with Savannah’s Telfair Museum and draws upon its expertise and collections, including Telfair’s Owens-Thomas House. As part of their ongoing efforts to document the lives and labors of the African Americans—enslaved and free—who built and worked at the house, this volume also explores the Owens, Thomas, and Telfair families and the ways in which their ownership of slaves was foundational to their wealth and worldview.

Feb 1, 2014

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Jonathan M. Bryant is associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University.

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Slavery and Freedom in Savannah - Jonathan M. Bryant

SLAVERY and FREEDOM in Savannah

SLAVERY and FREEDOM in Savannah

Edited by

Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry

Published in cooperation with Telfair Museums

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

© 2014 by the University of Georgia Press

Athens, Georgia 30602


All rights reserved

Designed by Richard Hendel

Set in Miller and Clarendon types

by April Leidig at Copperline Book Services

Manufactured by Thomson-Shore, Inc.

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.

Printed in the United States of America

18  17  16  15  14  P  5  4  3  2  1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Slavery and freedom in Savannah / edited by Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry.

   pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-8203-4410-2

   (pbk. : alk. paper)

ISBN 0-8203-4410-9

   (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. African Americans — Georgia — Savannah — History. 2. Slavery — Georgia — Savannah — History. 3. Antislavery movements — Georgia — Savannah — History. 4. Slaves — Emancipation — Georgia — Savannah. 5. Free African Americans — Georgia — Savannah — History. 6. African Americans — Georgia — Savannah — Social life and customs. 7. Savannah (Ga.) — History. 8. Savannah (Ga.) — Race relations. 9. Savannah (Ga.) — Social life and customs. I. Harris, Leslie M. (Leslie Maria), 1965– II. Berry, Daina Ramey.

F294.S2S58 2014



ISBN for digital edition: 978-0-8203-4706-6

British Library

Cataloging-in-Publication Data available


List of Sidebars


Lisa Grove


Tania Sammons



Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry

Chapter 1

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Comes to Georgia

James A. McMillin

Chapter 2

The King of England’s Soldiers: Armed Blacks in Savannah and Its Hinterlands during the Revolutionary War Era, 1778–1787

Timothy Lockley

Chapter 3

At the Intersection of Cotton and Commerce: Antebellum Savannah and Its Slaves

Susan Eva O’Donovan

Chapter 4

To Venerate the Spot of Airy Visions: Slavery and the Romantic Conception of Place in Mary Telfair’s Savannah

Jeffrey Robert Young

Chapter 5

Slave Life in Savannah: Geographies of Autonomy and Control

Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry

Chapter 6

Free Black Life in Savannah

Janice L. Sumler-Edmond

Chapter 7

Wartime Workers, Moneymakers: Black Labor in Civil War–Era Savannah

Jacqueline Jones

Chapter 8

We Defy You!: Politics and Violence in Reconstruction Savannah

Jonathan M. Bryant

Chapter 9

The Fighting Has Not Been in Vain: African American Intellectuals in Jim Crow Savannah

Bobby J. Donaldson


Further Reading




James Edward Oglethorpe and the Georgia Plan

Walter J. Fraser Jr.

Africans and Indians in Colonial Georgia

Christina Snyder

The Haitian Revolution’s Savannah Connection

Jermaine Thibodeaux

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah’s Industrial Corridor

Mark R. Finlay

Enslaved Women in the Savannah Marketplace

Alisha M. Cromwell

Richard Richardson, the Owens-Thomas House, and the Slave Trade in Savannah

Karen Cook Bell

Torn Asunder: Savannah’s Weepin’ Time Slave Sale of 1859

Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson

Frances Lewis Bolton Richardson

Paulette Thompson

The Marquis de Lafayette in Savannah

Alan R. Hoffman

Salley and Her Children: Maria, Emma, and John Charles Gibbons

Feay Shellman Coleman

Andrew Cox Marshall

Tania Sammons

Owens Family Plantations

Jermaine Thibodeaux

Ossabaw Island and the Atlantic World

Paul Pressly

Laurel Grove South Cemetery

Corrie Hand

Sarah Wallace Owens

Paulette Thompson

The Wanderer

Erik Calonius

Jane Deveaux and Her Secret School

Dawn Herd-Clark

Experiencing Emancipation in Savannah and Its Environs

Jacqueline Jones

Daughter of Savannah: Susie Baker King Taylor, 1848–1912

Tracey Jean Boisseau

Coming Full Circle: Harriet Jacobs and the Crafts in Reconstruction-Era Savannah

Jenifer L. Barclay

The Beach Institute and the American Missionary Association

Hilary N. Green

The Postbellum Transition from Agriculture to Industry

Mark R. Finlay

Black Militia Units in Postbellum Georgia

Gregory Mixon

George Gibbons, 1819–1884

Feay Shellman Coleman

Mother Mathilda Beasley: Georgia’s First Black Nun

Anne Roise


As the oldest art museum in the South, Telfair Museums in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District has a vital role to play in telling the story of urban slavery.

Beginning with the preservation of the former slave quarters at the Owens-Thomas House in the mid-1990s, Telfair Museums has demonstrated its commitment to promoting new understanding of this important topic. The thousands of visitors who walk through our doors each year hear a broad story about the site and all of its inhabitants, including free and enslaved men, women, and children.

We are proud to further expand the public’s understanding of American history and culture by exploring the complexities of urban slavery and freedom in the American South with this valuable publication, Slavery and Freedom in Savannah.

Material generated by prominent national and international scholars for this book will provide essential information from which we will further develop the histories of Telfair Museums’ two National Historic Landmark buildings — the Owens-Thomas House and Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. This publication will also offer students, academics, and lay historians the opportunity to discover a deeper, more complete story about our collective past.

Coeditors Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry have thanked the numerous people involved with this project in their acknowledgments. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to those individuals as well. I would also like to recognize the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which awarded the Telfair a large grant used to provide funding for the October 2011 symposium Slavery and Freedom in Savannah and this subsequent book. Other financial assistance for the symposium came from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the City of Savannah, and the Friends of the Owens-Thomas House. Partnering organizations for the symposium included the Second African Baptist Church and Live Oak Public Libraries. Finally, I’m grateful for our ongoing partnership with the University of Georgia Press. Their professionalism and attention to detail have secured in this publication a significant and useful document that will be turned to for years to come.


Telfair Museums


I believe that the truth about any subject only comes when all the sides of the story are put together, and all their different meanings make one new one … the whole story is what I’m after.

— Alice Walker, Beyond the Peacock

With the preservation of the Owens-Thomas House slave quarters in the mid-1990s, Telfair Museums began introducing visitors to a broader spectrum of its former inhabitants than before — white and black; men, women and children; enslaved and free. This new effort in interpretation began a process of telling a more complete story, the whole story, as Alice Walker would say, about the house and all of its inhabitants. Slavery and Freedom in Savannah focuses on the lives and labor of the enslaved people who built, maintained, and serviced the house, and contextualizes the Owens-Thomas House within the social environment of its neighborhood, where more than 50 percent of the residents were people of color — enslaved and free. Special emphasis is given to the Telfair family and their enslaved servants in an effort to bridge and contextualize their story as part of Telfair Museums’ history.

For over a half century, Telfair Museums’ architecturally significant Owens-Thomas House has been interpreted as the home and stylish showplace of two former owners: Richard Richardson, the merchant and banker who first commissioned the residence, and later George Welshman Owens, plantation owner, alderman, mayor, Georgia state senator and representative, and U.S. congressman. Attention was also paid to the most famous guest at the house, the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette, who stayed there in 1825 when the house was between owners and run as an upscale boardinghouse. The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (now Telfair Museums), following the bequest of Margaret Gray Thomas, opened the Owens-Thomas House to the public for tours in 1954. Tours focused primarily on the architecture and decorative arts, with limited information about the families who owned and lived in the house and nothing about the enslaved household workers. In 2005 and 2006, the museum received two National Endowment for the Humanities consultation and planning grants, which allowed the institution to move forward with its reinterpretation efforts. In 2010, the museum received a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which supported the Slavery and Freedom in Savannah symposium presented in October 2011 and the publication of this book, which includes material presented at the symposium. The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the City of Savannah, the Second African Baptist Church, Live Oak Public Libraries, and the Friends of the Owens-Thomas House also supported the symposium.

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah will broaden public understanding of American history and culture by exposing audiences to the complexities of urban slavery and freedom. Providing the foundation for the entirety of the reinterpretation project, the new research generated by nationally and internationally prominent scholars provides a crucial informational base for future interpretation and exhibits at the Owens-Thomas House. The complete picture of this largely unstudied form of slavery in Savannah — a microcosm of urban slavery throughout the nation — unfolds through the Telfairs’ own historic assets and stories.

TANIA SAMMONS, Senior Curator

Decorative Arts and Historic Sites


This book has benefitted from contributions of time, energy, and resources by many different people and institutions. We would like to thank the staff of Telfair Museums, especially Telfair’s director and CEO, Lisa Grove; Cyndi Sommers; Paulette Thompson; Harry DeLorme; and especially Beth Moore, who performed crucial work in obtaining the images for the book. Steven High, a former Telfair Museums director and CEO, and Vaughnette Goode-Walker, a former Telfair Museums staff member, provided critical early support for this book project. We thank Allison Dorsey, professor of history at Swarthmore College, for introducing us to Vaughnette and thus connecting us with this project. Tania Sammons, senior curator of decorative arts and historic sites for Telfair Museums, deserves special mention for her whole-hearted dedication to this project, her integrity, and her willingness to answer all manner of questions about the Owens-Thomas House and Savannah’s history.

The writers represented in this book have contributed their best efforts toward making this a work of the highest quality. We couldn’t have asked for better intellectual collaborators in this important effort. We thank them for their patience in answering endless questions from two scholars who were learning about the fascinating city and people that many of them have dedicated their lives to understanding.

Archivists in Savannah were unfailingly supportive. We are grateful to Luciana Spracher, director of the City of Savannah Research Library & Municipal Archives; Lynette Stoudt, senior archivist of the Georgia Historical Society; and the staffs at the Bull Street Branch of the Live Oak Public Libraries of Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty Counties, and at the Bryan-Lang Historical Library of Camden County, Georgia. Thanks go to Chyna Bowen, Nedra K. Lee, and Jermaine Thibodeaux for their research assistance.

Our wonderful local hosts in Savannah were Vaughnette Goode-Walker; Deborah L. Mack of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture; Diane and Ervin Houston; and Tina B. Brown. We are grateful as well to Bill Strothers, who welcomed us to Ivanhoe Plantation in Camden County, Georgia. We thank the Telfair Museums Owens-Thomas House Advisory Committee for the 2011 Slavery and Freedom in Savannah symposium: Ronald Bailey, Michael Benjamin, Verdise Bradford, Pastor C. MeGill Brown, Constance Coleman, Jeanne Cyriaque, Shirley James, Charles J. Johnson Jr., Candy Lowe, Deborah L. Mack, Jerome Meadows, Danielle Meunier, Tanya Milton, Paul M. Pressly, Preston Russell, Leon Spencer, Lynette Stoudt, Richard Shinhoster, John Tuggle, Robin B. Williams, and Darlene Wilson. And many thanks to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the City of Savannah, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Live Oak Public Libraries, and the Second African Baptist Church for their support of this project.

The staff at the University of Georgia Press has managed this project with energy, patience, and grace. Many thanks to Derek Krissoff, who as senior editor worked with us closely during the early stages of this book project; and to Lisa Bayer, director of the Press; Jon Davies and Beth Snead; and especially John Joerschke, who carried us across the finish line. We are especially grateful to our copy editor, Kip Keller. Steven Moore’s index provides a wonderful map to this book.

As we were completing this volume, we learned of the tragic death of one of our authors, Mark Finlay, an esteemed historian and citizen of Savannah. We dedicate this volume to his memory, and to the people of Savannah. We hope this work and Mark’s example inspire Savannahians to carry on their investigations of the region’s rich historical legacy.


Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry

We are amid a renaissance in the study of slavery and emancipation in the United States. One of the prime areas of research encompasses the lives and contributions of African Americans, enslaved and free, in urban areas.¹ Slavery and Freedom in Savannah brings together the latest scholarship on one of the most important port cities of the South, from its founding through the early twentieth century. This book positions slavery and emancipation, along with their aftermath, as a central set of events that left no one in the city untouched and that cast shadows into the twentieth century.

Most histories of slavery have been concerned with understanding plantation slavery. This is not surprising, since for more than four centuries nearly all enslaved people of African descent who labored in North America did so in rural communities. Plantation slavery was the chief driver of the transatlantic and domestic slave trades in the United States and throughout the Americas. Because of the centrality and economic successes of plantation slavery, historians have sometimes assumed that slavery in cities was insignificant and that slave labor was ill suited to urban economies. But a reexamination of slavery in North American cities reveals the importance of urban communities — especially port cities — to the slave economy, and the adaptability of slave labor and slave mastery to metropolitan regions. Urban slavery was part of, not an exception to, the slave-based economy of North America and the Atlantic World.

Savannah exemplifies the centrality of cities to slave-based economies, and the centrality of slavery to cities. Urban communities such as Savannah incorporated slave labor into their economic, social, and political frameworks, often from the very beginning of their existence. Thus, the founders of the Georgia colony, led by the British general James Edward Oglethorpe, requested and received black laborers, no doubt enslaved, from the neighboring colony of South Carolina to help construct the city. This request came despite the restrictions on slavery in Georgia intended to create a colony that would forgo large, slave-reliant plantations in favor of smaller farms that would provide opportunities for ordinary British citizens seeking a new life in North America. But colonists and trustees alike were ultimately unable to imagine a colony — much less a world — without slavery. By the 1750s, slavery was an important component of the colony’s economy, and on the eve of the Revolutionary War, Georgia colonists were among the most vociferous defenders of the continuation of slavery and the slave trade, amid patriots’ attempts to undermine the British war effort by embargoing the British slave trade. Indeed, no southern region hoping to build an economy dependent on agriculture could imagine itself a success without slave labor. By the mid-1770s, Georgians had committed to slavery, and Savannah was the port through which many of their American and transatlantic slaves arrived.

But blacks did not simply accept white Georgians’ decision to continue slavery after the American Revolution. Freedom-seeking blacks established maroon communities in rural areas around Savannah in the chaotic aftermath of the war. Although the communities were successful for a time, supporters of slavery ultimately crushed them as threats to the surrounding slave system, which was struggling to reassert itself.

That struggle was resolved with the successful emergence of the slave-based cotton economy of the nineteenth century. Savannah grew to be the third-largest antebellum southern exporter of cotton, behind the behemoth of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama. Although not the largest city in the South, Savannah was key to the success of the southeastern Cotton Kingdom. The city flourished because of its location amid fertile coastal rice plantations, cotton plantations to the west, and Atlantic access to markets for raw materials, slaves, and finished products. Rice and indigo were other important crops that carried over from the eighteenth-century economy, the former reaching its peak production on the eve of the Civil War. Although antebellum Savannah was not as populous as Baltimore, New Orleans, or Charleston, its slave-produced wealth is still evident in the gracious squares of the planned city.

In Savannah as throughout the South, labor became associated with black slaves. Whites competed with blacks for skilled and unskilled jobs. Employers with the ability to pay had little difficulty in — and sometimes preferred — owning or hiring slaves; as a result, white workers fought for, and often lost, the ability to dominate trades within Savannah.

Free blacks occupied a middle ground between white workers and enslaved blacks in Savannah, forming a small, precarious, yet vibrant community. Though required by law to have white guardians and prevented from owning real estate, some free blacks nevertheless ran small businesses; owned property in collaboration with their white guardians, who held the deeds in their own names; and led some of the largest black church congregations in the South, composed of free and enslaved blacks. But these fragile freedoms were always subject to whites’ interpretation and enforcement of laws that designated blacks as less than whites.

The history of Savannah and its hinterlands highlights the struggles for control and autonomy between owners and enslaved people in slave-labor-based communities throughout the South. Both slave owners and enslaved people adjusted to the conditions of the city in a variety of ways. The arrangement of living quarters demonstrates the variability of experiences necessary to the success of slavery in the city. Domestic slaves owned by wealthy families might live in proximity to their owners, in their attics or basements, or in separate urban slave quarters, as was true of the residents of the Owens-Thomas House. Other enslaved individuals, couples, and families lived independently in shacks they rented, perhaps seeing their owners only intermittently, for example, when it was time to hand over the wages they may have earned in skilled occupations around the city, if their employers did not pay their owners directly. Slave owners who hired out their slaves may not have had enough space on their city lots to house them, or may not even have lived in Savannah. These types of conditions have led some scholars to call such forms of slavery nominal. But the autonomy that owners allowed enslaved people could be limited at any time; and all wages earned by such slaves were ultimately the property of their owners. Additionally, the city’s white constables, as well as the slave owners themselves, formed a broad network of control over enslaved people, bolstered by increasingly detailed slave codes. Among the community of white laborers, free blacks, and slaves, the lines of slavery and freedom — and just as importantly, of race and status — might blur in the day-today rhythm of work and home, but whites easily redrew those lines to maintain control over the wealth that enslaved people produced.

The bold resistance to enslavement exemplified by Revolutionary-era maroon communities did not cease in the antebellum era. From running away to outright rebellion, enslaved people expressed their dissatisfaction with the system of slavery broadly as well as with specific abuses inflicted on them by individual owners. In contrast, elite slave owners, as exemplified by the Owens and Telfair families, viewed themselves as benevolent employers who were duty-bound to enslave blacks; in their eyes, abuses were rare, though not nonexistent. And on those occasions when they lost control of their enslaved property, Savannah slaveholders sent their workers to the Chatham County Jail to receive punishments ranging from incarceration to public whippings, thus reinforcing the city government’s involvement in maintaining the system of slavery.

Indeed, Savannah’s economic dependence on and whites’ belief in the correctness of slavery never wavered in the antebellum years. By the time of the Civil War, Savannah’s economic success and political position made its capture central to the Union army’s plan to crush the slaveholding republic. Although the city’s beautiful architecture was largely preserved, Sherman’s troops destroyed slavery and reordered, at least temporarily, the relationships between blacks and whites. In the face of strong and sometimes violent white opposition, blacks briefly gained access to the vote and political office, and expanded on antebellum institutions such as churches and schools. For the next forty years, blacks sought to negotiate their new roles as members of the paid working class, hoping to carve a space in which to exercise their full rights as citizens. They made every effort to remember the years of enslavement while fighting against new forms of racial subordination, which were often associated with mob violence. But by 1900, the gains that blacks had made during Reconstruction had been replaced by legal segregation; whites limited blacks’ access to the political realm, employment, and a host of other rights and privileges of citizenship. In response, Savannah’s blacks became part of regional and national efforts to continue the march toward freedom and autonomy for African Americans, work that did not see fruition until the mid-1950s, when a series of Supreme Court decisions struck down segregation.

Savannah is a prime location for understanding both the centrality of slavery and race to the national and world economy, and the importance of the city to southern landscapes and the southern economy. Tourists from all over the world have been fascinated with coastal Georgia in general and Savannah in particular. They visit to see the state’s oldest city, which has been hailed as a model for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century city planning.

Yet cities such as Savannah hold in their physical structures sometimes overlooked clues to their early history. We have been pleased to work with the Owens-Thomas House, a historic site that is part of Telfair Museums, to provide a broader context for the house’s existence and to facilitate greater knowledge about all the people who at one time or another inhabited the house and contributed to its upkeep and preservation. The house was built by the famed British architect William Jay between 1816 and 1819 for Richard Richardson, a cotton merchant, banker, and slave trader, and his wife, Frances Lewis Bolton. The Richardsons lived there for only three years; upon Frances’s death, Richard sold the house, which was then occupied by Mrs. Mary Maxwell, who operated an elegant boardinghouse there for six years. In 1830, George Welshman Owens bought the house, and it remained in the Owens family until 1951, when his granddaughter Margaret Thomas bequeathed it to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences — today’s Telfair Museums. The beauty of the early iron gates, tabby-constructed exterior walls, interior arched bridge and symmetrical stairway, courtyard garden, and carriage-house slave quarters enchants visitors, but also inspires deeper questions about the complex relationships among those who inhabited the dwellings, as well as about their connections to the enormous plantations owned by the Owens family.

Our work with the Owens-Thomas House builds upon some twenty-plus years of collaboration among museum professionals, academic historians, and historical archeologists, in which major U.S. landmarks and historic sites have begun to tell more fully the history of nonwhites and nonelites. For much of the twentieth century, most of these experts believed that nonwhites and nonelites did not have a history worth recovering. Sites such as the Owens-Thomas House were concerned only with the fine objects the wealthy had left behind, and visitors — largely white — fantasized about owning the mansion, the comfortable bedrooms, and the luxurious dining rooms; they never imagined themselves as the enslaved and free laborers who made such living possible. Similarly, historians and others presented slavery as a positive experience for the enslaved. Indeed, house tours often used the word servant rather than slave, if slavery and servitude were referred to at all. Through such museum presentations, the brutality of slavery was minimized and the place of blacks as present-day servants to whites was reinforced as the best role to which blacks should aspire.²

These ideas about the history of slavery began to shift in the 1950s, and we live today among new, more complicated ideas about the meaning of slavery for our institutions and for our history. More and more teachers are able to share with their students, from grade school through college and beyond, an understanding of slavery that includes the perspectives of both the slave owner and the enslaved. More and more people understand that slavery was a system of forced labor regimented through the use of brutality against African Americans. Yet we understand as well that African American labor, culture, and experience has contributed so much to the world around us, that African Americans were foundational to U.S. economic and political success.

This new history, inspired by the scholarship and activism of African Americans throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, began to take hold in the halls of academe in the 1960s and then to spread into the museum world. In 1987, the Smithsonian Institution’s landmark exhibition Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration, 19151940 recast the role of museums in interpreting African American history. In 1991, the Museum of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia, mounted what is believed to be the first major exhibition on slavery, Before Freedom Came: African American Life in the Antebellum South; and between 2005 and 2007, the New-York Historical Society mounted the two-part exhibition Slavery in New York and New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War. Even more sweeping were the National Park Service’s efforts throughout the 1990s and continuing today to reinterpret historic sites by moving away from a view of American history emphasizing the success of largely white actors in a land of the free and toward a more complex view of how freedom and wealth were also rooted in the displacement of Native Americans, built on the backs of enslaved people, and extracted from the undercompensated labor of European and non-European working-class immigrants to North America. The influence of these national institutions has inspired public and private historic sites at the state and local levels to reassess their assumed audiences and to collaborate with scholars in an effort to ensure their interpretations and brochures take a more encompassing view of the histories they tell.³

Thus, reinterpreting historic sites to include slavery and a broader range of experiences is part of a broad and important movement of historical recovery in the United States — one that has momentum and will continue. The path has not been without controversy. For example, the reenactment of a slave sale at Colonial Williamsburg in the 1990s inspired fear that such an event would not be respectful. But those who witnessed the performance were surprised and moved at the ability of the museum to thoughtfully depict the complex spectacle that was a slave auction. In addition, and just as importantly, Colonial Williamsburg continues to uncover the history of slavery at that site in Virginia and in the surrounding area, using archaeology, historical records, and material culture to contribute to the historical interpretation used by museums there and to our knowledge of the history of slavery.

The reinterpretation of such sites does not erase prior histories, but builds on them to deepen our knowledge of the past that was created by multiple groups in this country, sometimes at odds with one another, sometimes working together, even if under duress, but all part of the fabric of our past and foundational to an understanding of our present. Thus, something that for most of the twentieth century was rejected by museums has been slowly but surely embraced. The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington in 2015, long discussed and long awaited, will be a fitting summation of many of these efforts even as it continues to spur those of us at the local level to hone our understanding of our histories — all our histories.

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah is the story of a house, a neighborhood, a city, and a community. The nine chapters, twenty-five sidebars, and numerous illustrations provide readers a better understanding of the role of slavery, emancipation, race, and class in this southern urban community and its hinterlands. But the implications and legacies of Savannah’s history, as well as the process of historical recovery this volume represents, should reach far beyond the city’s geographic boundaries.

SLAVERY and FREEDOM in Savannah


The Transatlantic Slave Trade Comes to Georgia

James A. McMillin

Georgia is often touted as the only British North American colony to outlaw slavery. True, the colony’s founders, the Georgia Trustees, rejected slavery soon after the colony came into being in the early 1730s, but their ban only delayed the expansion of slavery, for a little more than a decade. After the trustees removed restrictions on slavery, the slave population grew rapidly, increasing from four hundred in 1751 to some sixteen thousand on the eve of the Revolutionary War. The overwhelming majority of these enslaved laborers were Africans. Convinced that slavery was critical to the colony’s economic development, Georgia planters and merchants imported thousands of black captives, both directly from Africa and indirectly through South Carolina and the West Indies. Most of the forced migrants entered Georgia through the colony’s principal commercial port, Savannah. By the Revolutionary War, slavery was a central element of Georgia’s economy.¹

In 1732, King George II of England granted a distinguished board of trustees, led by the British general and member of Parliament James Edward Oglethorpe, a twenty-one-year charter for the colony of Georgia. The British government and the trustees intended for the new province, located between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers and stretching west to the Pacific Ocean, to provide a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and British South Carolina. By settling the borderland with white farmer-soldiers instead of planters and slaves, they hoped to shield South Carolina’s rich plantation economy from Spanish invaders and Native Americans.² They had other motives as well; the sponsors envisioned the colony as a haven for England’s worthy poor and European Protestant refugees.³ The immigrants would gain a comfortable subsistence by producing silk and wine, which were in great demand in England, and would buy imported British manufactured goods, thus increasing "the trade, navigation, and wealth of these

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