Savannah’s First Partier

Oglethorpe’s Tent, 32.081360° -81.092032°

Other coordinates listed are at the end of the page.

Georgia’s First Partier — George Symes

Hey, everyone!

What a great day for a podcast!

I don’t know if you know, but Savannah, Georgia, where this podcast… is based… is known for being a bit of a party town.

If you’ve never been here, this is a place where you can walk around downtown with a plastic cup of your favorite beverage… of any kind… in your hand… legally.

Also, our city has… as claimed by some people… the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the country. That, of course, is in the springtime.

But it also has a large and popular Octoberfest in the fall.

And… during the rest of the year, there are parties going on just about every weekend.

Now, as for St. Patrick’s Day… as for the claim as being the second largest… I don’t know… but on some years when St. Patrick’s is on a weekend… I can tell you that they have been crowds numbering in the millions.

It’s a big deal here… lots… of… parties.

So, if Savannah… or even the State of Georgia, ever elects a patron saint of /partiers, I nominate a guy named George Symes because he was and should be remembered as Savannah… and Georgia’s first recorded party \boy.

That was back in 1733 when he, his wife Sarah, and all of Georgia’s first settlers followed Colonel James Oglethorpe to the New World. By the time they arrived… they had been through a lot on their grueling sea voyage of two long months.

Now, they were stressed and tired when… at last… they were within view of the coast of the Carolinas. There near Edisto Island is when pirates challenged, and they had to fight them off.

Finally, they landed Charles Town, South Carolina. But after a a short stay in that town it was back on the boat and down the coast to the fairly new settlement of Beaufort.

Symes was ready to let off some steam. But he had to hold on and wait for the right time. His group still had one last canoe trip before their journey was finally over.

I’m JD Byous and welcome to History by GPS, where you travel through history and culture GPS location by GPS location. You can find transcripts of this episode along with the coordinates of where all these events happened at

Now, the main coordinates for this episode show the location of James Oglethorpe’s tent. That’s where the party started.

And those coordinates are…

 32.081360° -81.092032°

So, follow along on your favorite map app… or later… when you’re not… at… work. We always want keep the boss happy.

Okay, back to the story.

George Symes had some pent-up tension as he and others waited to be transported to their new homes in the brand-spanking-new Colony of Georgia. That soon-to-be colony would be destined to become the thirteenth English colony along America’s eastern coast that would join to become the United States of America.

Now, George Symes was a pharmacist. I say, “pharmacist.”

His actual title was apothecary, which is an older term that means he does the same type of thing pharmacists do today… prepare and distribute medications… Of course, Symes and the other colonist didn’t have the opportunity to oxcart down to the local Walmart and stock up on Tylenol and Preparation-H… Symes had to make all of his medications up from scratch.

So… we can safely assume that he was an educated guy. But education does not trump logistics. They had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and finally made it to within thirty-five crow-flight miles of where their new homes would be. But things had to be prepared for him and the others before they could continue. So, they hung around the little town of Beaufort, South Carolina, learning how to drill like the military and honing up on the new skills they would need to survive.

While he and the other settlers waited, their leader, Colonel James Oglethorpe, and South Carolina Colonel William Bull paddled ahead of them to find the spot that had been chosen for their new city. So, Symes had to wait for a while.

Things had to be done before other things could happen. Syme’s new home was different… very different from what he had always known.

Forty-five canoe miles away, Oglethorpe and Bull scrambled up a steep sandy slope to take a look at the place that would be called Savannah. Others had wanted to settle on the site, but it had specifically been set aside for Oglethorpe and his colonists by Governor Robert Johnson of the South Carolina Colony.

As they dug and grappled their way upward, loose granules seeped and rolled into their boots and sleeves and down their sweat-stained shirts. 

Below on the river, beached on a narrow strip of sand, their shallow-draught periagua canoes rested at the bottom of the forty-foot-high, three-quarter mile-long mass of silicon-dioxide grit. Along the base, freshwater seeped from springs every few yards. Here, the two men reasoned, was a very good site for the new town, the capital of the Colony of Georgia. At the right time, workers would begin clearing trees… but not yet.

Atop the hill, a mild breeze encircled the two men. The weather was mild, as winters in the region can be. It was cool but refreshing after their long trip along the inland waterways and upriver.

In their view to the south, down through the forest, the men found an open canopy of tall, straight green pines that were accented with the bluish hue of ancient gnarled live oaks in an open, nearly brush-free landscape.

The area had been cleared by the native people in the area, who regularly burned the undergrowth to improve hunting and wild food supplies. Behind and below to the north, the Savannah River sparkled around a large, flat, green island… perfect for pasturage.

The water surrounding it was superb for fish and seafood, both fresh and salt water. There, hidden beneath the river’s surface, the waters of the Savannah divide horizontally into three tiers. The upper, tinged with tannin from inland trees and swamps, contains fish that prefer fresh water. The mid-level… brackish water is created where the lighter fresh Lowcountry runoff slides up and over the heavy sea-salt-laden tidewater that flows inland at high tide as it hugs the lower tier along the river bottom.

In South Carolina, on the north bank of the river, growers were using the aqueous phenomenon to flood and water their rice fields. It was taught to the plantation owners by the enslaved folks from Africa’s west coast. A technique that their people had used for centuries by making flood gates from toppled, fire-hollowed tree stumps and burying them horizontally in the levies. This allowed fresh water to run into the fields when the tide was high, then they blocked the trunks to hold the waters in the flooded checks when the tide dropped. Today, they still call the water gates trunks even though they are made of concrete and steel.

Commercial crabbers in the area still exploit the river tiers by dropping their pots into the deepest channels to catch the crustaceans miles inland along the waterways.

The early settlers were able to do the same, supplementing their food supplies with seafood.

As Oglethorpe and Bull walked around the flat of the bluff, they knew it was not only a good spot for settlement and a good spot for commerce.

The river had been a long-used trading route for upland Indian groups who bartered with the English at a place called Savannah Town 120 miles upriver on the South Carolina side of the waterway. That site lay near the end of navigable waters… and had served as home for the Westo people, a band of northern invaders who traded with the English in deerskins and native slaves from rival tribes.

They, the Westo, were pushed out of that site during the Yemassee War in 1715. Now the Savannah people, a subgroup of the Shawnee, held that trade spot and continued less-offensive enterprises. It was for their group that the river was named.

Colonel Bull knew the area well. A politician, surveyor, and Indian Commissioner for South Carolina, he had followed the meandering waterway many times in the past when he served as a Captain during fighting against the Yamasee and the Tuscarora.

He had dealt with the long-established white traders, though generally, he did not like them, and he had negotiated with the Cherokee, the Yuchi, the Westo, the Savannahs, and other tribes over the years.

The landscape of the proposed site was intimately recorded in Bull’s mind and in the minds of those who carried trade goods to Charles Town over the past decades.

To Oglethorpe… a military man… Yamacraw Bluff seemed perfect. It was good defensive ground that was surrounded by marshes and water. It also had miles of land extending to the south that would be useful for farming and development. Defense-wise, a settlement on that spot made it perfect should Spanish or hostile Indians attack. See, the main purpose of the colony was to claim the land and keep the Spanish at bay.

Within the span of 150 years, British Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell and, later, Union General William T. Sherman would be forced to develop strategies to overcome Savannah’s natural topographic protection that was sculpted eons in the past.

However, there was still one obstacle for Oglethorpe. Creating a townsite for George Symes and the others would depend on an agreement with the Yamacraw mico-chief, Tomochichi.

In the 1800s, historian Charles C. Jones, Jr wrote, “There were no Indians near the Georgians, except Tomochichi, and a small tribe consisting of about thirty or forty men who accompanied him.” So… we’re looking at about 200 or so native people in the area.

See, the Yamacraw had settled there after a tribal family squabble and broke away from Creek and Yamasee groups around 1728 and they moved down the river to the bluff. Other than them, the low country around the lower Savannah River was no a man’s land to indigenous people. The reason was because of the years-long Indian slave trading that was centered at Charleston.

At first, the meeting between Tomochichi and Oglethorpe met resistance. Some in the council did not agree about giving up the spot. But concessions made by the English appeased the dissent, and an agreement was established.

It may have been that Oglethorpe liked Tomochichi and that he, in turn, liked the Englishman. The two men were later known for being respected friends.

Or it may have been that the wise, extremely tall, ninety-year-old Indian chief saw the proverbial writing on the wall. People like George Symes and other Europeans were coming, and Tomochichi’s small band could do nothing to stop them.

Whichever… the treaty was completed, so Bull and Oglethorpe made a preliminary survey of the townsite, then paddled back to Beaufort, leaving others to continue preparatory work.

When Oglethorpe arrived back in Beaufort, he organized Symes and the other settlers into small boats. The Anne, the ship that they had crossed the Atlantic in, was a two-hundred-ton vessel with a deep draught.

It was too big… the Anne could not sail over the bars along the Savannah, so it could not reach Yamacraw Bluff, so the people had to divide their supplies. A larger part was loaded onto a seventy-ton sloop, with the remainder stacked into several periaguas.

The vessels zig-zagged their way southward and along the shallow inland tidal creeks that today connect along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.[ix] Passing the northwestern shore of Hilton Head, a gale began to blow. Headwinds buffeted the boats halting their headway and their goal of spending the night on Jones Island at the mouth of the Savannah. At Look Out Island, across a narrow waterway from Hilton Head, they anchored in a creek and waited for the storm to pass.

Still today, squalls in the area come up quickly. Black clouds can slip in from the south, the west, or the east, carrying wind, rain, and lightning at any time. The sky looks fine, then unexpectedly, a storm is boiling across the marsh. It’s like the sudden change in Southern weather was a planned initiation for the group.

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Now, we were talking about what George Symes and the other colonist were learning. They were learning that… contrary to Oglethorpe’s recruitment brochure that promised a temperate climate in the utopian destination, the area’s climate and weather was unpredictable and extreme. Temperatures in the winter can be cool and fresh on one day, then warm and muggy the next, and then freezing cold on another. Summer days were marked by high humidity and boiling heat, cloudy or clear, or in tandem with an occasional sky patched with clouds that stratified the landscape with tepid, muggy rain.

After the rain leaves, thick, sauna-like humidity hangs in the air… Today, locals joke that they need to chew and wring the oxygen out of the air before swallowing it to fill their lungs.

Now, in 1733, our settlers… when the storm eased, Symes and the pioneers sailed on to Jones Island near the mouth of the Savannah. A feast waited there… Indian hunters had carried thirteen venison quarters in for them. During the evening, One of their English guides gave all of the travelers hats to protect their pale skin from the subtropical sun. I suspect they were made from woven palm leaves. You can still see a few of those around the area today.

The next morning, February 1, 1733, they sailed upriver and landed at the bluff. As they grounded, soldiers saluted the travelers with a volley from their small arms. Workers had not yet erected a crane for offloading supplies but were able to build stairs up the forty-foot sand slope. The steps helped the new arrivals pack their provisions before pitching their temporary lodging tents.

A quick sidebar… That date I gave you, February 1, 1733… that’s from the Old System… the Julian Calendar. Today we’re in the New System… and use the Gregorian Calendar. See, eleven days were lost when the switch was made in England in 1750. It was done to catch up with other European nations that changed over two hundred years earlier. That’s why today, school kids in Georgia celebrate “Georgia Day” on February 12th.  

…and our British friends make fun of us for not changing to the metric system…

So… as for the colonist… who arrived on February 1st… or the 12th… or however you look at it… One hour after they climbed up Yamacraw Bluff… Tomochichi sauntered up the western incline with his welcoming group.

Remember… I mentioned a party… this is when the official ceremony started. It was kind of like a wedding… the ceremony is for doing the business of connecting the principal participants, then afterward, everybody goes to a party.

Peter Gordon, a soon-to-be bailiff, and the resident persnickety colonist… wrote that “The Indians came, With Their King, Queen, and Mr. Musgrove the Indian Trader and Interpreter along with Them, to pay Their Complements to Mr. Oglethorpe, And to welcome us to Yamacraw. The manner of their approach was Thus, at a little distance They Saluted us with a Voly of Their Small Arms, which was returned by our Guard And then the King Queen, Chiefs and other Indians advanced…”

Oglethorpe stood outside his tent, waiting. “In front advanced the “Medicine Man,” bearing in each hand a fan of white feathers—the symbols of peace and friendship.”

Historian C.C. Jones wrote, “Then came Tomo-chi-chi and Scenauki, his wife, attended by a retinue of some twenty members of the tribe filling the air with shouts.”

Oglethorpe advanced a few paces to meet them. Jones said that the medicine man, or priest, or whatever he was… proclaimed all of the brave deeds of his own ancestors as he stroked Oglethorpe front, back, and sides with a feather fan… which were symbols of friendship.

Ya know… I’m old enough to remember that a lady named Sally Rand did similar things with feathers as a sign of… friendship.

Anyway… CC Jones continued… “This done, the king and queen drew near and bade him and his followers… him, being Oglethorpe… welcome.

After an interchange of compliments, the party began. First, the colonists gave a party for the Indians… as much as the colonists’ supplies could manage. That’s when Peter Gordon decided the Indians were showing their obedience to young Colonel Oglethorpe.

The pretentious young bailiff was wrong. Never did the Yamacraw agree or feel that they were subjects of an English king, nor of Oglethorpe. They were equals. Their leader was Tomochichi. They were coming in friendship, not in subjugation.

With the party started… we now enter the saga of pharmacist George Symes… Savannah’s first recorded person to party hearty. See, the group left Oglethorpe’s tent and headed down the bluff toward the Indian village… which was appropriately located near the west end of today’s Indian Street on Historic Savannah’s western edge. From there, the Yamacraw had prepared a dinner in honor of the newcomers at Musgrove’s trading post, about five miles upriver. But when they came back to the Indian village, that’s where the party for George Symes really began. Dancing in a circle around a fire, the Indians followed each other in a rhythmic step, yelling and hooping, celebrating the evening.

George Symes, the colony’s pharmacist, was, to quote Peter Gordon… “one of the oldest” of the English. To Symes, their arrival at their new home… and the party atmosphere… said it was time to let off steam, so he disappeared from the campfire and the dancing… walked up the hill, and into his tent, where he drank a good portion of his personal liquor stash. The more he drank, the more the sound of drums and shouting grew more inviting. Symes staggered back down the low bluff slope to the party and joined the Yamacraw in their dance.

It was reported that his arms flailed and his feet stamped in time to the drumbeat, mimicking the natives and shouting to the moon. Up the hill at the English camp, our pretentious note taker, Peter Gordon, was embarrassed and incensed at Symes’ actions… so he sent men to retrieve said Symes with the caveat, “Otherwise I would acquaint Mr. Oglethorpe with his Folly.”

And that’s a stinging rebuke. I personally remember my mother warning me… when I had done something wrong… “I will acquaint your father with your folly when he gets home.” Stinging is a very good description for what I experienced later.

The aforementioned Symes grumpily complied and returned to the camp. Then he went back into his tent, drank a bit more, then promptly staggered back down the hill to party with his new-found friends.

Woefully, Peter Gordon could only shake his head and complain… to quote him… “That the Indians Should see any Follies, or indiscretions in our old men, by which They Judge that our Young Men must be still guilty of Greater,… for They measure man’s understanding and Judgement, according to Their Years.”

The “old man” Symes was 55 years old.

More than likely, the next day George Symes regretted his actions as his head pounded in rhythm of the hammering of tent stakes and while he hauled supplies up the bluff to the new English encampment.

While we give Symes a break to get over his headache, I’ll remind you to go to where you can find the GPS locations for these places. While you’re there, please check out our merchandise and books. You can find a George Symes tee shirt to wear on your next trip to Georgia… or to Savannah, where you can stand on the spots where these things happened.

Now, back at the colony… the settler’s new home was proving to be other than what had been promised. If the sweet land of Utopia was the promised icing on the cake of life, then Georgia’s early colonists were finding theirs to be a crusted, bitter crumb. By the end of summer that first year, Sarah Symes, George’s wife, was dead.

The colony would grow to over six hundred settlers within that first year, but twenty-six more of the original group… also… died.

After six years, a total of sixty percent of the Anne’s passengers had passed on to the eternities …including George Symes… It was due to the harsh environmental beating delivered by the endless work, heat, insects, and diseases on the Georgia frontier.

Even among historians and history buffs… few people remember George Symes, nor do they acknowledge the record of his history-making party night.

But that event led the way to a tradition of friends gathering in Savannah to raise their street-legal-plastic-traveler cups on St. Patrick’s Day and Octoberfest… or, to be accurate… just about any other random /day.

So… the next time you have a street-legal cup of your favorite brew… beer… wine… or if you’re Baptist… sweet tea… drink a toast to George Symes and the others who took a chance at a better life in the New World to a place that 43 years later would the new State of Georgia in The United States of America.

And so…

 If you didn’t know already this story… Now you know!

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See you next time.



George Symes’ Tent Location [32.079623° -81.091860°]

Beaufort, South Carolina [32.430733° -80.670526°]

Yamacraw Indian village site [32.085104° -81.100448°]

Oglethorpe Climbs Bluff 1733 [32.081552° -81.092136°]

Intracoastal Waterway [32.261239° -80.743127°]

Lookout Island (Pinckney Island) [32.241110° -80.757231°]

Jones Island Savannah River SC, 32.085938°° -80.930934°

Oglethorpe’s Tent, 32.081360° -81.092032°

[1] Old Style, Julian calendar. The New Style, the Gregorian, was implemented in the 1750s in Great Britain and America: Letter from Govr. Johnson to Mr. Oglethorpe 28th Septr, rec. in December, Charles Town, Egmont 14200, pp. 1-3, You are too good in the Sentiments You have conceived of me; neither my Capacity or Ability enables me to be very usefull to the Publick, but my Endeavours Shall never be wanting, in being observant & usefull to those of more extensive Knowledge and Abilitys to do good. It was with that view that I prevented the Lands in that part of the Province that the Trustees have obtained from being Surveyed and purchased till I knew the Success of the Corporation’s Applications, which although I had no advice of I flatter’d my self would Succeed, from the Nobleness of the Intention and Ability of the Undertakers. Some few People had Surveyed small Quantitys of Land on the South Side of Savannah River before my Proclamation issued, but I have granted them no Titles, but tell them I suppose upon Application to the Trustees, when Affairs are Settled they may obtain Grants from them and probably may have a Preference in Consideration of the Charge they have been at in the Survey they have made;

[2] Periaguas and pettiguas are shallow draught boats believed to be of Native American and African origin used in shallow marsh and sand bar waterways. It is similar to the pirogue of Louisiana, and a precursor of the 19th and 20th-century bateau styled rowboat of the Atlantic southeast that sometimes is fitted with a mast.

[3] Marc D. Abrams, Gregory J. Nowacki. Global change impacts on forest and fire dynamics using paleoecology and tree census data for eastern North AmericaAnnals of Forest Science, 2019, noted by Jeff Mulhollem, Science Daily,

[4] The site was originally inhabited by the Westo people but later taken over by the Savannah group of Shawnee. It was later called New Windsor.

[5] The Bull Family of South Carolina, The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp 76-90, 1900: Robert Edward Paulett, Trading lives: Mapping the pathways and peoples of the southeastern deerskin trade, 1732-1775, p 53, dissertation, College of William and Mary, 2007.

[6] Charles C. Jones, Jr., Historical Sketch of Tomo-Chi-Chi, Mico of the Yamacraws, p 18.

[7] Chester B. DePratter, Yamasee Indian Towns in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1684-1715, United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, NPS Form 10-900-b, National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, 1992.

[8] Charles C. Jones, Jr. History of Savannah, GA. From Its Settlement To The Close Of The Eighteenth Century, Chapter III, p 31, D. Mason & Co, 1890.

[9] Some references indicate four periaguas and one sloop. Others refer to eight small vessels.

[10] Larry E. Ivers, This torrent of indians: War on the Southern Frontier, 1715-1728, University of South Carolina Press, 2016; Lookout Island is also know as Pinkney Island and was formarly known as MacKay’s, Espalmaga, and Watch Island.

[11] Gordon’s Journal, pp 28-29.