I’ve dreamed of visiting the city of Savannah for years. It’s considered by the paranormal community to be one of the most haunted cities in the U.S., if not the most haunted city. It’s older than the United States itself (records start in 1733), after Georgia was named the 13th and final Colony in 1732, with Savannah becoming its first city. It has existed for 289 years, created 44 years before the U.S. gained independence from England. It’s Georgia’s 5th most populated city and is known for it’s 22 magnificent squares that dot the city. The architecture and scenery reminded me greatly of New Orleans (New Orleans: The City of the Dead.).
Not only did Savannah go through the American Revolutionary War, it was also part of the Confederacy and suffered through the Civil War. Slavery was made legal by Georgia in 1750 and ran rampant until 1865, with the city playing an important role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Slaves were eventually being openly sold in Savannah by the 1740s. To further add to the mayhem, in 1796 and 1820 two fires leveled different sides of the city, with both being rebuilt afterwards. Also in 1820, Savannah experienced an outbreak of yellow fever that killed a 10th of the population.
Savannah has seen a lot of devastation; hence why it’s routinely named as the “most haunted city in America”. There are numerous haunted locations sprinkled throughout the city, as well as multiple, centuries old cemeteries, either inside city limits or on the outskirts. The most famous of these cemeteries is Bonaventure Cemetery (Bonaventure Cemetery (Savannah, Georgia).).
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Savannah Historic District, which as the name suggests, is located right in historic downtown at 520 W Bryan St, Savannah, GA 31401. It was nice, decently priced, clean, and most importantly, quiet, so I’d certainly recommend it. We learned our lesson with cheap hotels during our 2018 East Coast road trip (SeeWorldNotSeaWorld’s 5 Rules for Road Trips.).
After grabbing dinner at a nearby Asian restaurant, we took a lovely evening stroll around historic downtown. I loved this area so much because it reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans, which is my fav U.S. city (New Orleans: The City of the Dead.). You’re even allowed to open carry alcohol around the downtown district, like in the French Quarter, Vegas and Nashville. In between all the centuries-old buildings, which have long been converted into private homes, bars, restaurants, shops, and small businesses, are small squares, complete with monuments and centuries-deep history.
There are 22 squares in downtown Savannah, each named after someone or something. They include Calhoun Square, named after John C. Calhoun, Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson; Chippewa Square (made famous by Forest Gump and his bench), named after the Battle of Chippewa during the War of 1812; Washington Square, named after, you guessed it, the U.S.’s 1st President; Franklin Square, named after the Benjamin Franklin, who was an agent for Georgia in London from 1768 to 1778; Wright Square, named after Sir James Wright, Georgia’s 3rd and last Royal Governor; and Johnson Square, named after South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson, who befriended the first Georgians after the state was settled.
We walked through multiple squares, taking time to really explore three: Franklin, Johnson, and Wright.
Completed in 1790, Franklin Square is now right in the middle of some of the liveliest night scenes in the city. As mentioned above, it’s named after Benjamin Franklin, who was a Founding Father of the United States and the first Postmaster General. The oldest building still standing on the square dates back to 1846.
It’s home to an important monument dedicated to the Haitian soldiers who fought, and died, for America’s independence during the Siege of Savannah in 1779. Also known as the Second Battle of Savannah, it was one of many battles during the American Revolutionary War. Savannah had already been taken over by the British a year prior, and this siege was an attempt to take back their city. Even though the Americans had French allies fighting alongside them (which is how the Haitians became involved), plus 1,850 more ground troops and 34 more naval ships than the British, the British still managed to overpower the American troops and win the battle.
The monument was erected to honor the Haitians who fought and died for a country they didn’t call home, a fate brought on by simply being citizens of a country in the Caribbean that was colonized by a European country called France. Although – participation was voluntary.
Shaped like a hexagon, there is text inscribed on numerous locations all the way around the monument. An important text highlights young Henri Christophe, who is also depicted as the Drummer Boy on top. As a young boy, he went into the Siege of Savannah as one of the drummer boys and luckily survived. He later became a leader in Haiti fighting for the country’s independence from colonial French rule. He then became a commander in the Haitian army, however, his biggest claim to fame is eventually becoming King of Haiti, therefore becoming one of the first Heads of State of African descent in the newly settled western hemisphere.
Located at the Western End of City Market, near Bryan Street.
Laid out in 1773, and named after a South Carolinian governor who helped grow the colony of Savannah, Johnson Square is the oldest and largest square in Savannah (completed 288 years ago). Many notable buildings surround the square, including City Hall, the Christ Episcopal Church, and the Ann Hamilton House (the oldest building around the square – built in 1824). Several important events in history have taken place here, including a reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Chekilli (head Chief of the Creek Nation) reciting the origin myth of the Creeks, and finally, a ball for President James Monroe in 1819.
It also holds a monument honoring Nathanael Greene, a New England-born general, as well as his gravesite. Originally from the North, and a decorated American Revolutionary War general, he managed to get himself into significant debt and fled to the South. He’d been awarded several plantations during the war and he made his new home at the Mulberry Grove Plantation, just outside Savannah. Proving that flip-flopping is not a modern day problem, Greene used to be an outspoken critic against slavery (when he lived in the North), but then decided to purchase slaves for his brand new plantations. After falling ill and dying at age 43 in 1786, he was originally buried at the Graham Vault in Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, next to his arch-rival, John Maitland. However, in 1902, he was moved to his own monument in Johnson Square.
As for why Greene was awarded his own monument when he was a slave owner, Northerner, and died with an insane amount of debt, effectively hurting many people, I’m unsure. It’s likely due to being a decorated war hero. As analyst Robert Killebrew writes, Greene was “regarded by peers and historians as the second-best American general in the Revolutionary War, after Washington”. Killebrew also considers Greene to be the “most underrated general” in American history. Or perhaps because another historian, Russell Weigley, believes that he “remains alone as an American master developing a strategy of unconventional war”.
As for his monument, it was completed by architect William Strickland in 1830, and is in the shape of an obelisk, modeled after the Egyptian style of Cleopatra’s Needle.
Located at Bull and Saint Julian streets.
My favorite of the 3, Wright Square was the most beautiful, in my opinion. It was one of the first four squares laid out and built in Savannah in 1733. It’s the second oldest square after Johnson Square. It was originally named Percival Square, after Lord Percival, who is generally considered to be the man who gave Georgia its name after King George II. However, it was later renamed after James Wright in 1763, who was the 3rd and final Royal Governor of Georgia. Located on this square is the Tomochichi Federal Building and United States Court House, which is the courthouse for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. The oldest building on the square is the Lutheran Church of the Ascension, built in 1878.
One of the things that made it my favorite, is it’s also the burial spot of the Tomochichi, the leader of the Yamacraws. An ally to the British, he was also a dear friend of General Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia (who has his own square too). Some historians even accredit Tomochichi as being a co-founder of Georgia. He is buried beneath the Gordon Monument, which is named after William Washington Gordon I, who was the first president of the Central of Georgia Railroad and Banking Company. Tomochichi has one of the few monuments in Savannah not dedicated to a war general or politician.
As to why Tomochichi is buried beneath the monument honoring a president of a railroad company – because the Central of Georgia Railroad and Banking Company didn’t care that his grave was there when they chose that spot to erect a monument to Gordon in 1882. He was buried there in 1737 with only a pile of rock, which was completely destroyed over a century later while erecting the Gordon Monument. However, in 1899, Gordon’s granddaughter, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, made it her priority to get a new monument erected in Tomochichi’s honor. While they did not destroy the Gordon Monument to exhume Tomochichi’s remains, they erected a smaller, granite rock monument in the square for him.
Location is on Bull Street between State Street and York Street.
Aside from the squares and Bonaventure cemetery, there are numerous things to do and see, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Lafayette Square, SCAD Museum of Art, Telfair Museums (first public art museum in the Southern United States), Isaiah Davenport House, the American Prohibition Museum, Georgia State Railroad Museum, Old Fort Jackson (a restored 19th-century fort), First African Baptist Church, Fort McAllister State Park (home to Fort McAllister, the best-preserved earthwork fortification from the Confederacy), Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace House (founder of the Girl Scouts of America), and much more.
Overall, my short time experiencing downtown Savannah is like the equivalent of just dipping your toe into a pool. As we were on a road trip, we only had one day here, so we did what we could and made the best of it. However, the amount of history we got to experience in that one day was phenomenal. Savannah firmly sits on my short list of “must return to and visit for much longer!”