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Videos are easy?

Making videos are easy, I was told.  They’re not.  They’re work… I mean, lots of work.

Working with Trustees’ Garden in Savannah, I’ve had the pleasure and job of finding the history of the ten-acre site that was the first British-Crown sanctioned experimental garden in North America.  The history of the site has been astounding when one finds the things that took place there and the people associated with the spot on the eastern side of the Historic District.

There is so much history I’ve started declaring it to be, arguably, the most historic piece ground in the southeastern United States.  I qualify by saying, “If it isn’t, then it is definitely a most historic ground.”

The video…

First, the script must be written, condensed, and (semi) memorized.  Then film the narrative.  Then finding illustrations for which permissions can be gained.  Then the editing.  It’s a bunch of work… and I loved every minute.

It is fitting that a short video introduce the site.  But saying that is like trimming 286 years of intense activity into a seven-minute YouTube post.

I didn’t.

I can’t.

So here’s what I was able to cram into that length of “air time.”  Take a look and give me your opinion.

– JB

© J Byous Company, All rights reserved 2019

 

 

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The Mysteries of the Trustees’ Garden

The History of the Trustees’ Garden

The Gas Works Wall

The 1853 Gas Works Wall at Trustees’ Garden is often mistaken for “Old Fort Wayne.” Studies find that it is partially… very partially… true.

 Historians and archaeologists uncovered a wealth of military and industrial history on the grounds and in the buildings situated on an historic bluff overlooking the Savannah River.

The surface is rough and scratches at my fingertips as I run them along the plane of fire-hardened bricks.  A faint-but-pungent scent of coal tar wafts from the walls that have been forgotten and misinterpreted for generations. In sequence, seven earthen fortifications stood here through the years.  There is nothing left of them today – or so many historians believe.  But here is the evidence:  a small section of one fortification did survive, undetected by decades of history buffs and connoisseurs of the past.

This remnant of an earlier Savannah is old.  Well, “old” by the youngest-of-the-thirteen-colonies benchmark.  Hidden in plain sight for a century and a half, the now sandy-brown wall reflects the morning light through a narrow archway. A few yards away sleepy commuters navigate past, their vehicles climbing the road-grade beside the city’s legendary Trustees’ Garden. If a piece of land could be a movie character, Savannah’s Trustees’ Garden would be Forrest Gump.  Always in the background, excluded and ignored.

But like the character portrayed by Tom Hanks, the site holds secrets of which the bus-stop folks know little.  The Garden’s ten-acre plot of sloping ground has, as some say, “more history per square foot than any other spot in the city.”  And, I like to think, possibly in the southeast.  I love and study history.  Never have I seen one small plot of land with so many significant and overlapping historical characteristics. The Trustees’ Garden was planned in 1732 when Georgia’s founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, enlisted the help of John Pine, an English artist, and engraver.  The two of them conferred and drew a plan for rows, rank, and file for mulberry, orange, peach and other trees and then inked the lot lines for the rest of the town.

When the settlers arrived in 1733 Oglethorpe staked-out the garden and had it planted the following spring. The garden itself lasted less than two decades.  In historical records, the area is always an afterthought — a footnote.  Life and history are like that.  Who knew this chocolate-history-bonbon in a box held so many hidden treats and treasures?  You never know what you’re gonna get. The land has changed hands many times over the years.  Early on, the profits expected by the Trustees failed to blossom, so the title was passed to former Royal Governors, then to industrialists, and eventually to hotel developers.   The current owner, Charles H. Morris, initiated a shift toward the preservation of the Garden’s rich history.  The renovation and historical inspection of the site is slowly revealed forgotten stories that seem to peel away, like the layers of a Vidalia onion.

A historian in his own right, Morris took his time with the renovation.  “I want to get it done right,” he said.  “I want to make sure we think it through.” The Garden’s northernmost section, alongside the Savannah River, has long been known as a strategic military location.  Over the years, military leaders fortified the bluff to provide protection against enemy ships that might sail up the river from the Atlantic.

Earthen fortifications were built on the site when hostilities seemed imminent.  Then, as each war or threat of war ended, each successive fortification fell into ruin. Dirt is easy enough to move, so for each new conflict, the battlement-du-jour was staked and excavated in accordance with the newest defensive plan.  The soil from the dry moats was “thrown up” to the inner line to create the parapets… time after time, fortification after fortification. At least seven battlements have stood on this site, beginning with colonial times and extending through the Civil War, when the last fort anchored the Union Army’s line on what was then the terrace of the Savannah Manufactured Gas Works.

In order the seven were; Oglethorpe’s fort, built circa 1740, Fort Halifax, circa 1759, Fort Savannah, 1778, British cannon emplacements employed during the Siege of Savannah 1779, Fort Prevost, 1780, Fort Wayne, 1813, and the Union fortifications in 1865.  There is evidence that there may have been additional fortifications as well, but that is yet to be determined. An interesting legend surrounds the brick wall that currently stands watch over the river at the location of the recently discovered Revolutionary War-era structure.  Guide books refer to the wall as part of “Old Fort Wayne.”

Many historians do the same.  The confusion is justified.  The building of the wall in 1853 destroyed the older fort that was the namesake of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.  The older earthen ramparts were shoveled into the interior of the wall to create a terrace for gasholders.  Workers unearthed old cannons that they placed along the wall, making it look like an old fort to generations of Savannahians.

Everybody in town knew that the fort had been located on that spot. After all, the cannons were there to prove it. Fort Halifax, the second on the bluff, was built in 1759.  It was a tender spot and tinder box during the days leading up to the American Revolution.  In December 1765 the “obnoxious” stamps that represented taxation by the Crown were stored at the fort.  Royal Governor James Wright placed the stamps there for protection against the local Sons of Liberty, who vowed to burn them.  Fifty-five Royal Rangers under the leadership of the Governor and Captain John Milledge stood guard.  Nearby, 200 angry Patriots awaited an opportunity to strike a blow for liberty. Wright had the stamps moved by ship to Cockspur Island at the mouth of the river, thus defusing the matter, at least for awhile.

And that’s only a partial history of the site. I’ll post more later.

– JD Byous

Looking east from the location of the ancient powder magazine.

Looking east from the location of the ancient powder magazine.

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The Trustees’ Garden in the beginning

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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.

The Gas Works Wall

The Gas Works wall at Trustees’ Garden is often mistaken as Old Fort Wayne because it stands on the same spot.

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.

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