Visit our main website at SoutheasternBound.net
If cotton was once king of the South, then the royal cradle was the sandy plot of land along Savannah’s eastern bluff called Trustees’ Garden. The role of the Garden changed over the years following the modes of history along the currents and courses that progressed from agriculture to industry to tourism. Events there helped form the face and destiny of Savannah, of Georgia and the world.
Cotton was first introduced to the New World in Virginia and Florida but was first nurtured for the commercial market at Trustees’ Garden in 1734. Joseph Fitzwalter, the caretaker of the Garden, wrote James Oglethorpe in January 1735, “I have met with some cotton seeds from Guinea, which from it I have raised… [a] thousand plants, some of which have shot eight feet… and a second season will come to their bringing forth fruit [of] cotton to the Trustees’ use.”
From the beginning, silk was the desired product to be produced in Georgia. Modeled after London’s Chelsea Botanical Garden, silk production was the goal. Cotton was seemingly a second thought for the Trustees and to founder James Oglethorpe.
Though the Garden fell into disuse after only a few years, the advancements achieved there were wide-sweeping. The short time when cotton plants were nurtured at the end of Broughton Street was an instrumental step in the development of a product that shaped the politics, the culture and the events of a growing region, nation, and eventual world power.
The bluff at the Garden was more than an agricultural nursery. It was situated with a strategic military overview of the Savannah River. Many forts and cannon batteries occupied the spot that also served as an anchor spot for fortification walls that ringed and protected the city from advancing armies, real or projected. On a map entitled “Savanna Town” a diamond-buttressed fort just outside of the Garden area entitled “Castell” can be seen. A battery of cannon was located on the bluff of the Garden.
Later in 1759 Fort Halifax occupied the bluff. The fort was named for the Earl of Halifax, the godfather of the second royal governor of the colony, Henry Ellis. The bluff was an emblematic location during the days before the Revolution. Demonstrations against the Stamp Act by the newly named “Sons of Liberty” erupted in the city in December 1765 when two hundred protesters mustered around the fort to destroy the loathed papers. Governor James Wright reported, “The Liberty Boys, as they call themselves, had assembled to the number of about 200 & were gathering fast and that Some of them had declared they were determined to go to the Fort & break open the Store & take out & destroy the Stamp’t Papers &c”. The Governor and fifty-four Rangers moved in to protect the stamps. When the crowd of protesters grew to three hundred Governor Wright spirited the stamps aboard the ship Speedwell that was docked at the base of the bluff. They secreted to Cockspur Island and the protection of Fort George at the mouth of the Savannah River. Wright had reason to be concerned since the fort was in a state of disrepair from neglect over the years.