Jonathan Bryan (1708-1788)

This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Charlie Swerdlow as part of his SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2014.

The Jonathan Bryan (1708-1788) historical marker was dedicated on April 19, 2011. View the Jonathan Bryan (1708-1788) historical marker listing.

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1.  Reconstruction of the Yamacraw’s Village. Courtesy of Charlie Swerdlow.

2. Jonathan Bryan marker text, 2014. Courtesy of Charlie Swerdlow.

3. Tomochichi and Toahahwi, 1739. From the Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), photographs, 1899-1960, MS 1360.

4. Yamacraw Village, 2014. Courtesy of Charlie Swerdlow.

The following essay is by SCAD student Charlie Swerdlow, 2014. 

In describing Jonathan Bryan and James Oglethorpe’s initial visit to this region, this historic marker omits their hosts, the earlier indigenous inhabitants of this area (figs. 1-2). The Yamacraw bluff was named for the Native American population that lived in the Savannah region at the time of the colonists’ arrival. The Yamacraw were crucial to Savannah history, in granting the colony’s land and shaping relationships with neighboring populations. This marker is among those closest to the location of the original Yamacraw village.

The tribe of Yamacraw had not resided on the Savannah River bluff for more than five years before the arrival of Oglethorpe and the British colonists in 1733.[i] This tribe was only formed in the 1720s, due to the splintering of the Lower Creek and Yamasee peoples following the Yamasee War (1715-1717).[ii] The Creek and Yamasee were in conflict over which colonial powers to align with and whether military action was called for.[iii] In 1728, the Yamacraw broke with the Lower Creeks and traveled to the Savannah River in order to be closer to British protection and to disengage from further military action.[iv] Along with their desire for further military protection, this short period of acclimatization to their new home helps explain why the Yamacraw were willing to give up this land to the British.[v] However, in that short time between the Yamacraw’s arrival and emigration, this small group built a town with large public buildings, family houses, and a thriving trading post, all of which were supported by trade, farming, and hunting practices.[vi]

The Yamacraw chose the Savannah River region for its proximity to the British, an ancestral burial ground, and Creek hunting grounds.[vii] The area the Yamacraw once inhabited is now the government housing project to the west of the historic district, which retains the name Yamacraw Village.[viii] This name is one of very few public references to the people who gave the colonists their land, the others being historic markers and monuments discussing the chief Tomo-chi-chi and the trader Mary Musgrove (fig. 3).[ix]

The eastern portion of Yamacraw bluff, where Savannah began, was unoccupied by the Yamacraw.[x] They had picked the western promontory to be close to Musgrove Creek, where they kept their canoes.[xi] This land was also richer, boasting huge live oak and magnolia trees, whereas the eastern portion was sandy, barren, and interspersed with tall pines for a mile back from the river.[xii]

Due to the successive eras of construction on this site from early colonial times through the 20th century, the size and layout of the original Yamacraw Village can only be established from written accounts and comparison with similar Creek and Yamasee sites. This small village consisted of eighteen families, or around 200 inhabitants, of which about forty were adult male hunters.[xiii] The village was bounded by a circular stockade of wooden posts, twice as tall as a man.[xiv] As this was a defensive measure, it had only one entrance, facing the creek. The opening brought both ends of the circular wall past one another, as in a spiral, allowing only the space for two men to pass side by side. This village contained around twenty houses, the largest being the ovular winter dwelling houses. These winter homes were shared by multiple families and measured between twenty and thirty feet in diameter at the widest dimension. The houses had walls covered in white clay mixed with shells and clapboard roofs.[xv] Each house had one or two doors and no windows to conserve the sauna-like heat from the fireplace.[xvi] In contrast, the summer houses were open huts thatched with palmetto fronds, with kitchens set apart from the sleeping areas.

These domestic houses surrounded the public buildings and open space at the center of the town. A large council house, or hot house, was constructed as a much larger and circular winter house. It was estimated to be two hundred feet in diameter, with sloping walls of thatch and woven wood. Beside this was a large public recreation area, on which the sport of “Chunkey” was played. This was a two-person game involving sprinting and hurling javelins after a rolling, discus-like target. On the other side of this area was the public square, consisting of four long rectangular houses facing one another and each opening toward the center. This gathering space was used in the summer instead of the hot house. The other building in the town center was the Musgrove Trading House, which faced the entrance. This warehouse resembled the town dwellings, though it was larger in scale.

In the colonial period, the site of the original Yamacraw Village was built over by impoverished mixed-use communities, notable for their early interracial neighborhoods.[xvii] Any traces of Native American archaeology to survive the twentieth-century construction would have been destroyed when the area was demolished in 1938 for the current government housing project (fig. 4). With the physical traces gone, it is easy to overlook the original inhabitants of the site. This is evidenced by the lack of public references to the Yamacraw in Savannah, a city famous for its many markers and monuments to history. However, the Yamacraw were important not only as the stewards of this land, but also in shaping relationships with other populations and granting the rights necessary to the foundation of this colony. For these reasons, Savannah and the representatives of her history should take stronger steps toward conveying the historical presence and importance of the Yamacraw.

[i] Yamacraw, Yamacraws, Irene Mound, Tomo-chi-chi. From the Marmaduke Hamilton and Dolores Boisfeuillet Floyd papers, MS 1308.

[ii] Julie Anne Sweet, Negotiating for Georgia: British-Creek Relations in the Trustee Era, 1733-1752 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005), 21.

[iii] Sweet, Negotiating, 19-20.

[iv] Ibid., 21.

[v] Ibid., 20.

[vi] Yamacraw, Yamacraws, Irene Mound, Tomo-chi-chi.

[vii] Sara H. Banks, Tomo-Chi-Chi: Gentle Warrior (Watsonville: Talking Leaves Press, 1992), 2.

[viii] Yamacraw, Yamacraws, Irene Mound, Tomo-chi-chi.

[ix] “Historical Marker Index,” (accessed May 2, 2014).

[x] DBF: Manuscripts: 1st Year – Colony of Georgia; Georgia Navy in the Revolution. From the Marmaduke Hamilton and Dolores Boisfeuillet Floyd Papers, MS 1308.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Banks, Tomo-Chi-Chi, 3.

[xiii] Helen Todd, Tomochichi: Indian Friend of the Georgia Colony (Atlanta: Cherokee Publishing Company, 1977).

[xiv] Unless otherwise noted, the source of facts for the remainder of this text is Yamacraw, Yamacraws, Irene Mound, Tomo-chi-chi.

[xv] Banks, Tomo-Chi-Chi, 4.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Paul M. Pressly, On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013), 80.

Sara H. Banks, Tomo-Chi-Chi: Gentle Warrior. Watsonville: Talking Leaves Press, 1992.

DBF: Manuscripts: 1st Year – Colony of Georgia; Georgia Navy in the Revolution. From the Marmaduke Hamilton and Dolores Boisfeuillet Floyd papers, MS 1308.

Articles in Gentleman’s Magazine by Thomas Lediard, 1734. MS 1038.

Paul M. Pressly, On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

John R. Swanton, Social Organization and Social Usages of the Indians of the Creek Confederacy (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970).

Julie Anne Sweet, Negotiating for Georgia: British-Creek Relations in the Trustee Era, 1733-1752. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005).

Helen Todd, Tomochichi: Indian Friend of the Georgia Colony (Atlanta: Cherokee Publishing Company, 1977).

Yamacraw, Yamacraws, Irene Mound, Tomo-chi-chi. From the Marmaduke Hamilton and Dolores Boisfeuillet Floyd Papers, MS 1308.