The city of Savannah was founded on that date, along with the colony of Georgia. Because of the friendship between Oglethorpe and Tomochici, Savannah was able to flourish unhindered by the warfare that marked the beginnings of many early American colonies. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (with etymologies), the name "Savannah" means "Shawnee"; it derives from a Muskoghean Indian word—a variant of the native name of the Shawnees. Georgia colonists adopted this name for the Savannah River and then for the city.
Savannah's physical layout was the subject of an elaborate plan by the Georgia colony's founders. Oglethorpe's Savannah Plan consisted of a series of wards built around central squares, with trust lots on the east and west sides of the squares for public buildings and churches, and tithing lots for the colonists' private homes on the north and south sites of the squares.
In 1738, Jews from Spain and Portugal arrived in Savannah. Over the next century and a half the city welcomed other non-British immigrants, and Savannah remains to this day one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the South. In 1740, George Whitefield founded the Bethesda Orphanage, which is now the oldest extant orphanage in the United States.
During the American Revolutionary War, Savannah came under British and Loyalist control in 1778. At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, American and French troops (the latter including a company of free blacks from Haiti) fought unsuccessfully to retake the city.
On January 27, 1785, members of the State Assembly gathered in Savannah to found the nation's first state-chartered, public university—the University of Georgia (located in Athens).
In 1818 shipping and business stopped when the city fell under yellow fever epidemic. Many ships never came back to Savannah, dealing a harsh blow to the local cotton industry.
In 1864, the city was captured by Northern troops led by General William Tecumseh Sherman. After taking the city General Sherman offered the captured city and Port of Savannah to his Commander-in-Chief and telegraphed President Lincoln with the following message:
"I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."
In the 1930s and 40's many of the distinguished buildings in the historic district were demolished to create parking lots. Squares had been bisected by streets and fire lanes to speed traffic flow. The demolition of the 1870 City Market on Ellis Square and the attempted demolition of the 1821 Davenport House prompted seven Georgia women, led by Davenport descendant Lucy Barrow McIntire, to create the Historic Savannah Foundation, which was able to preserve the city from destruction. In 1979, the Savannah College of Art and Design was founded, and began a process of renovation and adaptive reuse of many notable downtown buildings, rather than building a centralized campus. This effort, along with the work of the Historic Savannah Foundation and other preservation groups, has contributed greatly to Savannah's now-famous rebirth.
The city's popularity as a tourist destination was solidified by the best-selling book and subsequent movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (View video), which were set in Savannah. Also of note is the Pinkie Masters Bar which has been the site of presidential visits and political aspiration. Pinkie Masters (a local political figure) was a friend of President Jimmy Carter, who made several visits to the bar and the city. Additionally, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was born in nearby Pin Point, Georgia.
The city's location offers visitors access to the coastal islands and the Savannah Riverfront, both popular tourist destinations. Tybee Island, formerly known as "Savannah Beach", is the site of the Tybee Island Light Station, the first lighthouse on the southern Atlantic coast. Other picturesque towns adjacent to Savannah include the shrimping village of Thunderbolt and two residential areas that began as summer resort communities for Savannahians: Beaulieu and Vernonburg.