Savannah, GA’s Tomochichi Memorial

Commemorates Tomochichi, Mico of the Yamacraw (c1644-1739)
Location Wright Square
Artist N/A
Erected 1899

The Tomochichi Memorial in Wright Square honors Tomochichi, mico (chief) of the Yamacraw tribe of Creek Indians living in the area around the site chosen for the settlement of Savannah. Tomochichi was instrumental in the formation of the colony of Georgia, assisting James Oglethorpe and the English colonists from their arrival in 1733 until his death six years later.

The current memorial replaces an earlier tribute to the Creek leader, placed in Wright Square after his death. The first memorial was destroyed during the erection of the monument to William Washington Gordon, which now stands in the center of the square.

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Tomochichi

Little is known about most of the life of Tomochichi. He most likely lived much of it in a Creek settlement in South Carolina and may have participated in trade between the American Indian people and British colonists.

Tomochichi was already an elderly man when he became the mico, or chief, of a group of Creek and Yamasee Indians who had split from their original tribes over the question of how to manage relations with the English and Spanish colonists.

This community of around 200 people, known as the Yamacraw, came together under Tomochichi’s leadership in 1728, settling on the high banks to the south of the Savannah River, and living there about 5 years before the arrival of the British colonists.

Tomochichi was an important figure in the development of relations between British colonists and American Indians and in the establishment of the colony of Georgia.

The English very much desired an alliance with the local American Indian people, as a defense against the Spanish and French to the west and south, and to avoid the antagonistic relationships between indigenous people and colonizers that had hampered many previous efforts at settling the New World.

Tomochichi too wanted to strengthen trade and diplomatic ties with the English to secure European goods and education for his tribe members.

He courted the arriving English with this end in mind, offering assistance to them in the early years of the settlement of Georgia and allowing their use of the land near his tribe’s own settlement.

Together with his wife Seenauki and nephew Toonahowi, Tomochichi traveled to England in 1734 to negotiate trade with the English and strengthen their alliance, meeting the Trustees of Georgia and King George II.

Often an advisor to Oglethorpe, Chief Tomochichi also accompanied him on a mission southwards to negotiate with the Spanish over the lower boundary of Georgia.

Tomochichi died in 1739, reputedly into his 90s. Conscious of his role in the founding of Savannah, he requested burial within the town. He was, according with his wishes, brought down to the city on the river and buried, with full ceremony, in what was then Percival (now Wright) Square. Oglethorpe was amongst his pallbearers, afterwards instructing that a pyramid of stones be erected over Tomochichi’s burial place.

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The Tomochichi Memorial

The pyramid of stones placed in what is now Wright Square in Tomochichi’s honor was one of the earliest memorials ever erected in a Savannah square, and it stood there (or some remnant of it) for almost a century and a half.

In the early 1880s, Tomochichi’s memorial was destroyed to make way for another monument, to the railroad founder William Washington Gordon. Gordon’s daughter-in-law, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, outraged by the ruin of Tomochichi’s burial site, began a movement to create a new memorial to Tomochichi.

The original memorial might have been saved: around the same time as the Gordon Monument plans were made, a monument to James Oglethorpe was also considered. One proponent of the Oglethorpe monument suggested placing it in Wright Square, close to the place where his ally Tomochichi was buried, a plan that could have honored both men (“Civis,” Letter to the editor, Savannah Morning News, November 3 1882, p4).

By that date, however, Wright Square had already been allocated as the site for the Gordon Monument, unveiled in its center in 1883. (The Oglethorpe Monument, not built until 1910, was placed instead in adjacent Chippewa Square, still close to Tomochichi’s burial place, though not as close as some Savannah residents would have liked.)

A decade later, Nellie Gordon had become first president of the newly founded Georgia Society of Colonial Dames (established in 1893). Her association with the Colonial Dames finally allowed her to pursue her intention to have the role of Tomochichi in the founding of Savannah properly memorialized.

The memorial to Tomochichi also fit in with the Georgia chapter of the Colonial Dames’ broader project to recognize and preserve their state’s colonial history.

In 1898, the Colonial Dames requested permission from council to erect a tablet commemorating Tomochichi’s role in the founding of Savannah. They received it the following year.

A large boulder, obtained from the mountains of North Georgia through the Stone Mountain Company, was placed in the southeast corner of Wright Square, with inscribed tablet affixed. The monument was dedicated in April 1899.

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