The Savannah San Francisco Connection

Matthew Hall McAllister

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        McAllister in San Francisco

 

In 1850, and few yards offshore from the eastern end of Savannah’s Yamacraw Bluff, forty-nine-year-old Matthew Hall McAllister sailed down the river on his way to the boomtown of San Francisco. In five years, a street less than one-half mile away would carry his name.   The smell of salt air and marsh mud hanged on the air as he saw visions of shining gold nuggets beyond Savannah and beyond the horizon three-thousand miles to the West. He had given up on the city of his birth. For the Georgian and local leader, it is time to move on. Fifteen miles to the south, on the Ogeechee River at Strathy Hall, were his cousins who would make history later, That branch of the family would be known for Fort McAllister and the end of the Union Army’s march through the state. Hall, as he was known, would stay in touch and for the meantime, the family ties will reach over a continent and remain.

After serving in the State Senate, Hall ran as a candidate for Governor of Georgia. He lost. He had served as mayor of the city a few years earlier, and as far as credentials go, his were admirable. In 1799 his father had been mayor and had presided over the dedication of a new Exchange Building at the end of Bull Street, a milestone in the city’s history that ushered in an age of prosperity. On his mother’s side, his grandfather, Thomas Gibbons, had also served in the office. Savannah was Hall’s birthright, a part of the genetics of his family. McAllister’s family roots may have tangled and interwoven through the city’s history, but now they were balled up, stashed aboard ship, migrating to California where a new life beckons.  The West had called,  His golden illusion wasn’t in the placer and hard-rock, yellow metal that others were seeking. For him, it was in the law and litigation and legislation that controlled legal tender. Gold may be where you find it, but law books and their content are where you find the real riches, power, and influence. His wife and children traveled with him to settle in the new boomtown on the bay but Georgia politicians convinced him to sail home for one last attempt to gain a US Senatorial seat. But, again, he lost.

By that time of his first voyage Savannah’s edge-of-the-river, War-of-1812 ditch and parapet at Trustees’ Garden had eroded and had filled with sand and discarded household debris. In the layers of trash and litter were fragments of butcher-cut bone, glass and ceramic shards, unrecognizable decayed nodules mixed between carbon lenses that tell of the firing of tossed household trash and plant clippings. At the top of the slope on the West, the British Revolutionary War trenches had filled with discarded bricks, metal, and trash. Times of war were behind. The need for defenses was out of mind and slowly filling out of sight.

As he sailed past, demolition work was underway to dismantle old Fort Wayne, a stronghold named for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Shovel by shovel, portions of the earthen stronghold disappeared the same way others on the site had in years past. As it stood, it’s a sickle-shaped earthen structure stretched one-hundred yards long arcing from the southwest to the northeast along the edge of the bluff. The “handle” section stood halfway down the slope in the center of the Trustees’ Garden, pointing to the intersection of Randolph and Broughton Streets. The blade-shaped structure led from the handle, around the bluff northward, arcing toward the intersection of Bay and East Broad Streets. The partial demolition of the fort was for progress, to take the city into the future with Savannah’s new manufactured gaslight plant. Some of the earth from the fort would fill a small terrace to hold a Gasometer tank that would rise and fall, expand and contract, regulating pressure and distributing fuel to the homes of the area. Reynolds street, laid out three decades prior to the American Revolution, was being rerouted around the bulkhead before it proceeded north to intersect Bay Street below the bluff. Gas was the modern way, the progressive way, the future for lighting, for cooking, and for heating. It epitomized the birth pangs of the industrial revolution, and Savannah is on the crest of the wave.

When Hall returned to run for the Senate, he sailed back by the site, the gas plant he saw had expanded to meet the need of the booming cotton and naval stores port. A new wall engulfed the first, looping from Bay Street, around and into the heart of the Garden intersecting with Wright Street that would become a drive and parking area for the Pirate’s House Restaurant a century later. Fort Wayne’s earthen mass was shoveled into the terrace and surrounded by a masonry wall, erasing the fort with only one brick-structured bombproof to tell of its existence though partially hidden. Except for the protective wall, the old fort is completely gone, recycled into a new fortress-looking bulkhead. During the excavation, crews found three discarded cannons from the Revolution era. Years later, gas workers would place them along the parapet creating an unintended prank that confused future generations into calling the wall, “Old Fort Wayne.” Paradoxically, the fort does remain composed of the sand-layered fill in the elongated, square enclosure. Two additional gasometers had sprung up, dominating the skyline of the bluff.

For Hall, the return was frustrating. After his loss, he again pulled his stakes and sailed for California. As he again passed Trustees’ Garden, the Savannah Gaslight Company facility is running at maximum output providing gas for cooking, heating, and especially lighting. The shanghai-prone waterfront of his embarkation was a priority for the City and for gas.  Wharf lighting was universally embraced in an attempt to stop the epidemic problem of the kidnapping of citizens and drunken sailors that awoke to find themselves aboard ships, miles from home. When Hall entered the Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay on the other side of the continent, he found that three Irish immigrants, the Donohue brothers, had built gasworks there as well.  Their venture formed the first manufactured gas company on the West Coast using imported Australian coal to fire the ovens.  San Francisco, like Savannah, was growing.

In two years, Matthew Hall McAllister left his impression on his new home and became revered in San Francisco’s history. Few know of his connection to Savannah and his family history in the east. That historical mark was made when he was named the first judge of the Federal Ninth Circuit Count. His likeness is now enshrined in a bronze sculpture that stands near front steps of San Francisco’s City Hall. A few yards away is statue commemorating Abraham Lincoln. During the first year as a Federal Judge, he would meet and work with a young banker and Major-General of the California State Militia. They would help put down the San Francisco Vigilance Committee, a group of revolutionary elites formed to defy the law and take power in the city. The young banker-general would visit Hall’s hometown a few years later. Generations will remember and revile the day when William Tecumseh Sherman marched across Georgia and came to town.

 Bibliography

Survey of footing-soil stratification at Trustees’ Garden, J Byous Company/A.T. Dowd Research, 2015.

Remediation of Former Manufactured Gas Plants and Other Coal-Tar Sites, Allen W. Hathaway, CRC Press, 2012.

The Story of the Ninth Circuit Court, San Francisco Call, Volume 78, Number 35, 5 July 1895.

Law in the West, edited by Gordon Morris Bakken, Brenda Farrington, Garland Publishing, 2000.

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Oglethorpe: Between Heaven and Hell

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                                                         Oglethorpe’s tree-fronted home is shown at the right on the northeast edge of Old Palace Yard.

He lived halfway between Heaven and Hell, Georgia founder James Edward Oglethorpe. His front steps on London’s St. Margaret Lane were downwind of the King’s fish yard that occupied a courtyard that opened a few houses to his right. The subsequent air often fogged his parlor and bedrooms with acrid, pungent punctuated smells that mixed with the sounds of morning-barking fishmongers, street merchants, and neighborhood workers. Around them, the clatter of knocking, squeaking wagons and carts rolled along the lane, bouncing over sparsely patched islands of free-stone pavers that dotted the long-furrowed thoroughfare.

At the far end of the market behind the rows of salmon, trout, and eel-laden stalls was the location of Hell, an eatery and watering hole once frequented by poet Ben Johnson and ridiculed by diarist Sir William Pepys.  The main entrance lured its customers down a stairway from the interior of Westminster Hall the way hookers call salesmen from an Amsterdam window — liquor lubricates opposition tongues.  It was known for being a “petty-tavern,” a gathering spot frequented by parliament’s lowly law clerks who boozed in a basement hollow that once housed the Kings’ torture chamber, thus warranting the Hadean label.

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The Old and New Palace yards with Oglethorpe’s home marked with the red dot.

According to Pepys, the tavern was a “resort of disreputable characters and the most raffish of lawyers’ clerks.”  South, across the street to left of Oglethorpe’s house was Heaven, a more, but little more, up-scale tavern in a line of ramshackle brick and Tudor buildings running from west to east.  They blocked his view of the greater part of the Old Palace Yard like listing and leaning hung-over sailors lined across a deck of an outbound schooner. 

From there a few feet to the left and diagonally across the lane was another tavern, the Naked Boy and Star, which held the ground beside Westminster Abbey.  It served a slightly-more upscale clientele, Members of Parliament, poets, businessmen, lobbyist, and the occasional well-known Londoner.  Other Taverns in the area carried the trend with the names, Purgatory and Paradise.  A few doors away from the Star, at the corner of the Abbey, Geoffrey Chaucer had once lived in an upstairs flat near “The Poet’s Corner” where he was later interred.

Stepping from his portico, Oglethorpe’s route was “incommodious” as writer Henry Miles penned, noting that the lane in front of his home had “a paling of four feet high… placed between its single foot path and the carriageway, to protect the passenger from the carriages and the mud which they splashed on all sides in abundance.”  The wealthy in London, like everyone else, existed in a world of noise, foul smells, dust, mud, filth, and strewn garbage.  James held that rank in society — wealthy.

– Excerpt from the upcoming book, The Most Historic Ground, by JD Byous

 

Sources

William Maitland et al, The History and Survey of London From Its Foundation to the Present Time: in Two Volumes, Book II, 1756, p 793: Rev. Mackenzie E. C. Walcott, M.A., Memorials of Westminster the City, Royal Palaces, Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, St. Peters’s College, the Parish Churches, Worthies, Streets, Modern Buildings, and Ancient Institutions, 1851, p 221.

Henry Downes Miles, The Life of Richard Palmer: Better Known as Dick Turpin…, London, p 79, 1839.

John Thomas Smith, Antiquities of the City of Westminster, London, 1807 p 68; Henry Downes Miles, The Life of Richard Palmer Better Known as Dick Turpin the Notorious Highwayman and Robber, 1839 p 79.

Henry Miles, The Life of Richard Palmer, London, p 78, 1839.

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James Oglethorpe and the American Revolution

 

 

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James Oglethorpe Monument, Chippewa Square, Savannah, GA.

Interesting guy, James Oglethorpe, Englishman, MP and Major General in the British Army,  He was tough and courageous having once put down a squad of firearm-carrying mutineers armed only his sword.  He said of the Crown’s conduct at the time of the American Revolution, “[they have taken] …the occasion to animate us against one another. The English in Britain, against the Scots in Britain, against the English-born in America. To blind the people here, they unjustly call them Americans. The expense of this jealousy will weaken us much… the troops and Fleets sent over & the separating and making useless to us near three-millions of subjects in America completes the blow, which they hope will be a means to facilitate their execution of the division of Europe….” James Oglethorpe was the only founder of a British American Colony that lived to see it become an independent state and part of the United States of America.

He, like many other Brits, understood the American Revolution and the exasperation of the citizens there.  He too had been frustrated by the lack of understanding by the Crown, Parliament, and the people of Great Britain.  Most did not see the problems of the colonies and of the colonialist who had to deal with slow communication, no representation, and class disdain.  All of which Oglethorpe experienced during his decade in Georgia.  Though loyal to his country, he was one of the first in London to welcome John Adam, the first Ambassador from the new American nation. It was weeks before his death in June of 1785.  Adams later became the second President of the United States.

– JD Byous

 

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Southbeach, Tybee Island, Georgia

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Southbeach at sunrise, Tybee Island, Georgia.

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Ogeechee Canal

The Ogeechee Canal was completed in 1830 and ran from the Ogeechee River to the Savannah River at the city of Savannah, Georgia.  Today it is a backwater that has been filled in in multiple locations.  This image is in Savannah along West Boundary Road where the canal runs under the old Central of Georgia Railroad bridges from the same era.

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The Ogeechee Canal. ©J Byous Company, 2019.

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Panama Retrospect

A young Panamanian mother from a jungle settlement carries her sick child to the El Piro clinic for examination by volunteer doctors from the United States.  Some Guaymi (Ngobe) people walked for three days to find medical care.

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A young Panamanian mother from a jungle settlement carries her sick child to the El Piro clinic for examination by volunteer doctors from the United States.  Circa 1999. ©J D Byous, 2019.

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Bonaventure Cemetery

Savannah, Georgia’s Bonaventure Cemetery, once was a weekend destination for picnics and weekend outings, had its own trolley station.  Today the site is also know as the

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A carnation marks the grave of Johnny Mercer.

 Garden of Good and Evil after a book was published on the cities odd characters of the 1970s.  Today it the necropolis is a tourist stop featuring the final resting places of the city’s notable people from history like the grave of songwriter and lyricist, Johnny Mercer.

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A monument watches over graves among the oaks and Spanish moss.

© J Byous Company, 2019, all rights reserved

 

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