The Port of Savannah lies at the mouth of the Savannah River in southeastern Georgia on its Atlantic Ocean coast just south of the State's border with South Carolina. The Port of Savannah is an important industrial seaport and the seat of Chatham County. The Port of Savannah is about 91 nautical miles (135 kilometers or 84 miles direct) southwest of the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. The Port of Savannah is also about 130 nautical miles (196 kilometers or 122 miles direct) north-northeast of the Port of Jacksonville, Florida. The 2010 US Census reported a population of almost 136.3 thousand within the city limits of Savannah and over 355.5 thousand people living in the metropolitan area.
Savannah's port has long been vital to the city's economy, and it an important port for exporting goods manufacture in the southeastern United States. Savannah's economy depends on four major sectors: tourism, manufacturing, the military, and the Port of Savannah. Tourism is a major contributor, with more than six million visitors coming to the city each year who bring more than $2 billion to the city. The Port of Savannah is home to several major industries. International Paper is the city's biggest employer, and Gulfstream Aerospace makes the famous private jets in the Port of Savannah. JCB, the world's third biggest producer of construction equipment, is headquartered in the Port of Savannah.
Long before Europeans arrived in the New World, the future Port of Savannah area was occupied. The earliest Paleoindian people came to coastal Georgia as early as 10,000 B.C. These hunter-gathers found rich estuarine resources and abundant upland plants and animals. During the Woodland period, life became more settled. Villages were more permanent, and the people began to cultivate crops to supplement hunting and fishing.
During America's Colonial Period, the indigenous Creek Confederacy inhabited areas in Georgia and Alabama, including the future Port of Savannah. The Creek Confederacy likely began to protect the people from other warring tribes in the region. The Creek people dominated the Southeast United States in the early 1500s. In the 17th Century, the Cherokee and then Europeans pushed the Creek to the west, ultimately to the modern State of Oklahoma.
The founder of Georgia, James Edward Oglethorpe, established Savannah in 1733 when he arrived at the site with 120 passengers aboard the Anne. Naming the new colony (Georgia) for England's King George II, Savannah became the colony's first city.
Oglethorpe befriended the chief of the indigenous Yamacraw, Tomochichi, and the two pledged goodwill. Due to this pledge, the Port of Savannah did not suffer the warfare and resulting hardships that many early American colonies experienced.
An early planned city, the Port of Savannah was created around a system of squares (that are now parks) surrounded by buildings reflecting many architectural styles, particularly Greek Revival and Georgian Colonial. The city was built around 24 squares, 21 of which still exist in the Port of Savannah.
The Port of Savannah was created in 1744 to export cotton and tobacco from the area's plantations. As the port economy grew, the area's transportation infrastructure was developed to link rural areas to the Port of Savannah.
The Port of Savannah was the capital of the colonial government from its beginning until 1786. The town was dominated by loyalists during the American Revolution, and the British held it from 1778 until 1782. French-American troops attacked the city in 1779 but failed to take it.
After United States independence, the Port of Savannah flourished. Though Georgia originally outlawed slavery, competition from nearby plantations in South Carolina changed the new State's attitudes. The surrounding land was rich, and the climate offered a long growing season for cotton and rice. Plantations and the system of slavery made fortunes for the agriculture-based gentle society. Many slaves entered North America through the Port of Savannah.
The wealth realized through cotton allowed residents of the Port of Savannah to build extravagant homes and churches. When the cotton gin was invented on a plantation outside the city, the Port of Savannah grew to rival Charleston as an important commercial port. The Savannah Cotton Exchange, which still stands today, was instrumental in setting worldwide cotton prices.
Despite the prosperity, the Port of Savannah did suffer some tragedies. Two terrible fires destroyed half of the city in 1796 and in 1820. Also in 1820, a yellow fever epidemic reduced the city's population by one-tenth.
Before the American Civil War, the Port of Savannah was well known throughout America as a beautiful peaceful city. The port continued to play an important role in the development of the city. The first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean, the Savannah, left from the Port of Savannah to go to Liverpool, England, in 1819.
The Port of Savannah was important as a supply depot for the Confederate States during the American Civil War until Union troops took Fort Pulaski in 1862. Commerce in the Port of Savannah was thwarted by an effective Union blockade throughout the war, but the Union could not take the city. In 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman ended his march to the Atlantic Ocean in Savannah. It is said that Sherman found the city so beautiful that he could not burn it as he had Atlanta. In 1864, he offered the Port of Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas present.
After the war, the Port of Savannah suffered like many southern cities. Food was in low supply, and the local economy had collapsed. However, many freed slaves chose to stay in the city and built a community that led the Port of Savannah to become one of the United States' most historically important African-American cities.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, cotton was again an important commodity. The Port of Savannah thrived on exports and commerce, and new industries began to appear. Resin and timber became important exports. Unfortunately, boll weevils came to destroy the cotton crops about the same time that the Great Depression began. The Port of Savannah's economy once again languished until after the end of World War II.
In the 1950s, a group of civic-minded women took on the battle to save the Port of Savannah's historic structures that were under siege by modern development. Their efforts led to the establishment of the Historic Savannah Foundation and the preservation of the beautiful architecture and charm that characterized the Port of Savannah throughout its long history. In 1966, Savannah's Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark, one of the country's largest and most-visited historic places.