Savannah, GA’s Oglethorpe Monument

The Oglethorpe Monument in Savannah, GA's Chippewa Square.

Commemorates James Edward Oglethorpe (1696-1785), founder of Savannah and the colony of Georgia
Location Chippewa Square
Artists Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon
Erected 1910

Over a period of a little less than a century, Savannah filled each of its Bull Street squares with a monument to a figure important in the development and defense of the city.

The Oglethorpe Monument, dedicated in honor of James Oglethorpe, founder of both Savannah and the State of Georgia, was the last to be placed.

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James Oglethorpe

James Edward Oglethorpe was born on 22 December 1696 in Surrey, England. After studying briefly at Oxford University, he pursued a career in the military, later moving into politics.

In his early political career, Oglethorpe concerned himself with the reform of conditions in the British Navy and of Britain’s prison system. It was in connection with the latter, and particularly, the problems faced by people released from debtors’ prison with no prospect of supporting themselves, that the idea of the Georgia colony was formed.

Oglethorpe and a group that would become the Trustees of Georgia originally planned to send debtors to British colonies in the Caribbean. The idea was that they would there be able to support themselves, rather than be indigent or unproductive at home.

The settlement of the territory that is now Georgia, however, had advantages beside the removal of indigent former prisoners from British cities. Namely, it would provide a military buffer between the British colony of Carolina and Spanish-controlled Florida.

The Trustees devised a plan by which Georgia would be settled as an egalitarian agrarian society (ideals which were soon abandoned). The first shipload of settlers, Oglethorpe in command, landed at the site of Savannah early in 1733. There, Oglethorpe liaised with Yamacraw Chief Tomochichi for a site for the city and parts of the territory that would become Georgia.

Oglethorpe did not stay in Savannah for long, traveling through various parts of Georgia to defend the area from Spanish attack. He participated in various military engagements, including the (failed) Siege of St Augustine in 1740.

In 1743, Oglethorpe left Georgia for good, returning to England where he pursued his military career until his eventual retirement. He died in 1785.

Oglethorpe is buried in the cemetery of the Parish Church of All Saints’ Cranham, near London, England.

The Oglethorpe Monument

The monument to James Oglethorpe was the last of the major monuments to be erected in Savannah’s Bull Street squares. Over the course of the 19th century, citizens erected various monuments in the squares to their most favored historical figures. The idea that one of the monuments should be to Savannah’s and Georgia’s founder, James Oglethorpe, occasionally came up, but no memorial in his honor was built.

Various independent societies campaigned for Oglethorpe’s public commemoration, individually raising small sums, but never enough to fund an appropriate monument. In the early 20th century, an official organization, the Oglethorpe Monument Association, was finally formed to push the movement forward.

The several independent societies turned their funds over to the new association, but the accumulated $5000 was not enough. It took several years of campaigning before the State of Georgia was persuaded to contribute an additional $15,000 to the project to commemorate its founder. Together with $15,000 more from Savannah’s city coffers and a few more private donations, $38,000 was eventually raised.

The Association commissioned acclaimed sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), assisted by New York architect Henry Bacon, to produce the Oglethorpe Monument.

The bronze statue they sculpted depicts Oglethorpe dressed in the British General’s uniform of the period. Ten feet in height, he stands atop a marble pedestal. Four lions hold shields bearing the Coats of Arms of Oglethorpe, the Colony of Georgia, the State of Georgia and the City of Savannah.

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The monument was installed in 1910, but not without incident. As the base of the monument was being maneuvered into place, the heavy derrick used to move it snapped and crashed to the ground, almost crushing several workers who were just able to leap out of the way. The falling structure missed the portions of the monument already in place by a matter of inches.

The Oglethorpe Monument was officially dedicated on November 23 1910; Savannah devoted three days to the celebration of its founder. The Monument Association judging that General Oglethorpe’s primary accomplishments were as a soldier, they decided that the occasion should be primarily of a military character.

The three-day program began on Wednesday morning with addresses on the history of the monument and the life of James Oglethorpe. The monument was then unveiled by Joseph M. Brown, Governor of Georgia, followed by a parade and review of the troops in the Forsyth Park extension.

The remainder of the festivities consisted of military displays and sporting competitions: cavalry displays and bareback “rough riding” on Wednesday afternoon, and motor racing, a military gymkhana and a football game on Thursday.

The occasion was rounded off on Friday November 25 with a mock battle staged in the park extension, in which the Coast Artillery Corps defended and held the southern line of Forsyth Park against the attack of two battalions of the Seventeenth Infantry and a squadron of the Eleventh Cavalry.