By 1820, despite a hault in shipping caused by a quarantine of the city due to a recent outbreak of yellow fever, Savannah had grown to become the eighteenth-largest urban area in the United States. Savannah may have seemed slow, but it was growing in wealth and reputation, and by 1820, Savannah was exporting $18 million worth of goods. The ugly truth about Savannah at this time, was that the wealth accumulated was mainly the product of slave labor an the forced removal of indigenous peoples of the region.
Officially slavery had been banned by General Oglethorpe and the founding Trustees within the 13th colony. Unofficially, slavery in Georgia was stillpracticed by importing enslaved laborers from South Carolina while the politicians in Savannah had their backs turned. Though a shifty excuse for the practice of slavery-it was a constant topic among Georgia colonists, who incessantly preached that the colony would never see prosperity unless it followed in suit with the example set by South Carolina. Tired of hearing the arguements, and mildly afraid of public backlash, the Trustees gave in and slavery was officially permitted in the beginning in 1750. Officially, slavery existed in Georgia one hundred fifteen years.
By the end of the 18th century the slave population exceeded the free population in Savannah (5,146 free and 8,201 slave in 1800). There is very little actual documentation as to the exact numbers outside of those found within the Census Bureau which state that between 1810 and 1830, there was a decrease in the number of slaves in the city, followed by an increase in the slave population from 9,478 in 1830 to 14,018 in 1850. Even as the population of free people of color began to boom and had risen by 68 percent between 1850 and 1860, the slave population remained relatively stable.
Buddy Sullivan, Georgia: A State History (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Press, 2003).
- Did Black People Own Slaves? (amren.com)
- Esclavage: Les Noirs aussi ! (Black people owned slaves and fought to defend their right to it) (jcdurbant.wordpress.com)
- Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans And The End of Slavery (atlantablackstar.com)
Research is becoming a little bit more interesting this week, with the expansion of the history of the city of Savannah Georgia, outbreaks of the yellow fever, the invention of the Cotton Gin, and (finally) some very solid cultural accents which may contribute to the ethnographic relevancy of hauntings in Savannah.
While researching for “History of Savannah, Georgia (part 2)”, I found myself deeper and deeper in the economic infancy of seaport Savannah, from it’s conversion of rice to “King Cotton“, to the yellow fever and possible genetic immunities of blacks to fever outbreaks in 1820 and beyond, to the Revolutionary War and the Seige of Savannah.
Revolutionary War- The Seige of Savannah
…or the Second Battle of Savannah, was an encounter of the American Revolutionary War in 1779. Just a year before, On December 29, 1778, the colonial capital fell to British troops and the city of Savannah was captured by expeditionary corps lead by Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell, with the help of a slave who reportedly showed the troops a secret passage behind the American lines. The rebel defenders were routed, losing 550 captured or killed. Patriot forces were swept from the state. The events of the siege consisted of a joint attempt to retake Savannah by Franco-American forces from September 16 to October 18, 1779, followed by a failed attempt against British seige works on October 9. With the ugly failure of the joint American-French attack, the entire seige turned out to be a loss, and the British remained in control of Savannah until July 1782.
Yellow Fever and Cotton: Cotton is King
In 1755 James Habersham and Francis Harris established the first import-export businesses of the colony which sold cattle and cattle related products. What began as an important seaport, and mainly rice-supported economy, converted to the import/exportation of cotton about the year 1820, after the first deaths contributed to a series of outbreaks of yellow fever were recorded. Though there had been many outbreaks previous to 1820, the epidemic became most notable in 1820’s, when the racial breakdown of the death tolls showed that blacks seemed to have a natural genetic immunity to the fever.
Outbreaks of the yellow fever continued well through the 1880’s.
An 1876 newspaper article from the Galveston News entitled, “Yellow Fever Ravages: A Review of the Epidemic in Savannah,” shows the severity of the disease. In a four month span between August and November in 1876, there were 1,574 deaths. Of this total, 940 of them were diagnosed with yellow fever, while the remaining 634 were categorized as having other diseases. The racial breakdown of these deaths showed that whites were affected more by these diseases than blacks seeing that 1058 of the deaths were whites and the remaining 516 were blacks. This can show a genetic resistance to the disease between the races even though it must be kept in mind these numbers could be skewed for various reasons. The author does not clearly state how accurate these numbers are when dealing with the racial breakdown of the population.
Up until the major crop conversion , all of the products of agriculture and trade with the Indians were sent back to England for approval, which could sometimes take weeks, and often did. After the yellow fever ravaged the newly established city, the rice culture was abandoned and cotton became the dominant crop, partially thanks to the Cotton Gin, created by a tutor and Yale graduate named Eli Whitney. It was easier to plant and harvest. The cotton gin revolutionized the cotton industry and cotton production soared. “King Cotton” became Savannah’s dominant export crop. In 1790 Savannah exported 1000 bales of cotton, but by 1820, they were exporting ninety thousand bales a year.For nearly a century, trading in the Cotton Exchange on Savannah’s waterfront set world cotton prices.
There is a fascinating article about disease and dying in Savannah, on the Ghost City Tours and Events blog site. Click here to check it out!
Robert L. Usinger, “Yellow Fever from the Viewpoint of Savannah,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 3 (September, 1944): 146-147.
Kenneth and Virginia H. Kiple, “Black Yellow Fever Immunities, Innate and Aquired, as Revealed in the American South,” Social Science History Vol.1, No.4 (Summer, 1977), pp. 419-436. Duke University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1170791
- Savannah, Georgia Southern work to unearth a piece of history (savannahnow.com)