This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Nicki Klepper as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2018.
The Lazaretto historical marker was dedicated in 1958. View the Lazaretto historical marker listing.
2. Photograph of Lazaretto Historical Marker, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
3. Photograph of Lazaretto Historical Marker 2, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
4. Photograph of Bird’s Eye View at Fort Screven, Tybee Island Ga., 1937. From the Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.) photographs, 1899-1960 Collection, MS 1360.
5. Illustration of Slave Hold from The History of Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-trade by British Parliament by Thomas Clarkson and the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
6. Notes on Lazaretto Cemetery, 1984. From Sarah N. Pickney Research Materials on Cemeteries, Box #1, MS 1969.
6.1 Photograph of North Lazaretto Towards the Atlantic, 2018 Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
6.2 Photograph of Savannah River from Lazaretto, 2018. Courtesy Nicki Klepper
6.3 Photograph of Lazaretto Creek Looking West, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
7. Photograph of North View of Lazaretto Creek from Fishing Pier, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
8. Photograph of South View of Lazaretto Creek from Fishing Pier, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
9. Photograph of Man Fishing and Dolphin V, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
10. Photograph of Life Jackets and Sign at Lazaretto Creek Launching Ramp, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
11. “A Tybee Tale” Excerpt from Savannah Tourist Guide, 1995. From Sarah N. Pickney Research Materials on Cemeteries, Box #1, MS 1969.
12. Photograph of Advertisements at Lazaretto, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
13. Photograph Looking at Entrance to Pier at Lazaretto, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
14. Photograph of Fishing Boats and Shrimp Shed at Lazaretto Creek, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
15. Photograph of CoCo’s Sunset Grill and Dock, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
16. Untitled I, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
17. Untitled II, 2018. Courtesy of Nicki Klepper
18.Collage with Susie King Taylor Fourth Grader, 2018. Courtesy of Holly Goldstein
The following essay is by SCAD student Nicki Klepper, 2018.
Eighteen miles east of the Historic District of Savannah, Georgia, lies the small beach community of Tybee Island. Home today to approximately 3,500 permanent residents, this small island town’s population increases to about 8,000 during the prime spring and summer season.[i] Upon entering this quaint town that provides luxurious beaches, sanctuary for city dwellers, and an array of recreational activities, one is greeted by two incongruously-juxtaposed signs. The first sign welcomes its guests with bright, warm colors. “Welcome to Tybee Island”, it proclaims, as it greets incoming traffic. (fig. 1) About fifteen yards to the west sits a historical marker explaining the history of Lazaretto Creek, shedding light onto the island’s complex, tumultuous past. (figs. 2-3)
Tybee Island’s Colonial History
The colonial history of Tybee is inextricably linked to the Georgia colony’s first city of Savannah. Savannah was founded by General James Oglethorpe and the Trustees in 1733, and one of the many reasons for the establishment of this new colony was to protect the pre-existing colony of South Carolina from the territory of Spanish Florida.[ii] In 1736, Oglethorpe established an outpost on Tybee Island to guard the mouth of the river that led ships toward their new capital of Savannah. A small fort and lighthouse were erected that year.[iii] (fig. 4) Although the original Georgia colony banned the use of African slavery, following the initial settlement of the land in 1733, slaves were imported from South Carolina to clear plots of land and became a useful addition to the workforce.[iv] During the 1740s, despite the ban, slaves were openly sold in Savannah until the ban on slavery was lifted in 1749.[v] Tybee Island was not innocent in this regard. The island served not only as an outpost for incoming ship traffic, but it was also used for Sea Island Cotton Plantations and home to the infamous “pest house.”
The Quarantine Hospital and The Atlantic Slave Trade to Savannah
When the Trustees lifted the ban on slavery they opened a door to an entire new market in Savannah: the Atlantic Slave Trade. From the 1750s onward, the cultivation of cotton, sugar, indigo, and rice began to thrive throughout coastal Georgia, a place that, prior to the legalization of slavery, was struggling economically.[vi] Not only did the economy benefit from free labor, but it also benefitted from the rising market of selling human lives. With the demand for this labor increasing with the rise of an agricultural economy, merchants in Savannah began rapidly importing enslaved people through the intercolonial and Atlantic trade.[vii] From 1755 to 1767 twenty-four percent of imported slaves came from Africa and sixty-three percent were imported to Savannah from the Caribbean.[viii] From the years 1768 to 1771, eighty-six percent of the slaves accounted for during importation descended from rice plantations off the coast of Africa.[ix] These people were kidnapped from their homeland, taken away from everything that they knew, and forced onto vessels against their will to spend four to six months below deck in hazardous, life threatening conditions. (fig. 5)
Following the repealed ban on slavery, an act passed by lawmakers called for the erection of a quarantine hospital, then known as a lazaretto descending from the Italian word for “pest-house,” in order to hinder the spread of infectious diseases from overseas into the colony. In the year of 1766, Captain David Morton on the Maryborow arrived in Savannah with a shipment of seventy-eight Africans kidnapped from the rice plantations off the coast of Senegambia.[x] That same year lawmakers in Savannah authorized a budget of seventy pounds to seek out a location to serve as a receiving juncture for incoming ships carrying slaves and potentially ill travelers.[xi] The seventy pounds was used to purchase 104 acres from plantation owner Josiah Tattnall, and the authorization to construct the hospital on the west end of Tybee Island was given in 1767 with a budget of 300 pounds. Any vessel that would enter the mouth of the Savannah River was inspected upon arrival off the coast of Tybee Island. The ship was then boarded and inspected for signs of disease and, if illness was detected, the ship was quarantined and passengers (mostly consisting of slaves) would spend a forty-day period in the lazaretto.[xii] Those who did not survive were buried in unmarked graves near the site and those who did survive were later sold in the city of Savannah. (fig. 6)
“Lazaretto” in the 20th Century
In 1887, with the completion of the Savannah-Tybee railroad, and even more so after US Highway 80 extended onto the island, Tybee Island became a prime destination for “day-trippers” from the city to enjoy some time in the sun.[xiii] What was once an entrance to the port of Savannah and the city itself, eventually became a barrier for some during segregation throughout 20th century. (fig. 7) By the 1930s it was public knowledge that African Americans were not welcome on the island, especially with the instilment of Jim Crow Laws that segregated the races and outlawed the African American use of the beaches on Tybee.[xiv] In an article written for Savannah Magazine that reflected upon this sad time, Savannah native Wanda Smalls Lloyd recalls being warned against heading to the beach after prom night.[xv] The fear felt by African Americans during this time stemmed from racial tension throughout the South; stories of blacks being jailed, beaten, and even lynched for being an unwanted face in the crowd circulated throughout the country.
In 1952, a petition was started by African Americans living in the Savannah area to use the beaches on Tybee Island, but they were quickly denied. It was not until the year 1960, during the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement in Savannah, that change began to occur. On August 18 of that year it was reported by the Savannah Morning News that twenty-seven young African Americans entered the water at the beach on Tybee Island. Out of the twenty-seven that entered the water, eleven were arrested and charged with “disrobing in public” during this “wade-in” protest.[xvi] In 2014, during a city council meeting, Tybee Island’s mayor Jason Buelterman presented Savannah’s mayor Edna Jackson with a brick from the demolished jail where these young people were held after their arrest.[xvii]
Present Day Lazaretto
In 1997, Wanda Smalls Lloyd returned to Savannah after the loss of her mother. During her trip home, she made her way out to Tybee Island to reflect on her loss and to find peace near the ocean. In 2013, she and her husband relocated back to Savannah and would consider Tybee Island their family “stay-cation” spot.[xviii] Today Lazaretto Creek still functions as a barrier between McQueens Island and Tybee Island, but its role is quite different. (figs. 8-10) Present day Lazaretto functions as a tourist attraction for ghost hunters, a welcoming vision of fishing boats, dolphin tours, and CoCo’s Sunset Grille’s charming colorful building. (figs. 11-15) The location has not changed, but its surrounding culture definitely has. Lazaretto has become a reflection of how the South has evolved over time, but the marker still remains to remind those who pass it of the tragedies that landscape has endured.
Regardless of how Lazaretto has changed over the past two and a half centuries, it is important to note its function of a symbol of power throughout history. While some may know of its controversial and complex history, the greater public are seemingly unaware of such complexities. I was interested in this location because of how the place itself shares no physical connection to its past. The site of Lazaretto today is drastically different than I can imagine it has been in the past. The marker itself sheds light onto some of the history about the hospital, but it neglects to address the subsequent Civil Rights history on Tybee Island or numerate the volume of slaves imported internationally. Through keen observation I have made photographs that link the past and present. As a photographic artist, I expose two images on one single sheet of film, one of the land and one of the contemporary structures that inhabit the land, to reflect on the site’s evolving nature. The multi-layered photographs aim to connect the landscape to both past and present. (figs. 16-17)
[i] James Mack Adams. “Introduction.” In Tybee Island, 5-11. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2000, 5.
[ii] Mendonca, Adrienn. “Tybee Island.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. June 03, 2005. Accessed May 15, 2018. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/tybee-island.
[iv] Karen Bell. “Atlantic Slave Trade to Savannah.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. August 02, 2015. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/atlantic-slave-trade-savannah
[v] James Mack Adams. “In Colonial Days Lazaretto Creek Could Have Been Named Quarantine Creek.” Savannah Morning News, 5A.
[vi] Barry Sheehy, Cindy Wallace, and Vaughnette Goode-Walker, Civil War Savannah, vol.2, 4 vols. (Austin, TX: Emerald Book, 2001), 4.
[x] Charles Lwanga Hoskins. “African Americans on Tybee Island.” Savannah Herald. December 17, 2014. Accessed May 12, 2018. http://savannahherald.net/african-americans-on-tybee-island-p7664-1.htm.
[xi] Adams, 5A.
[xiii] “A Brief History of Tybee’s Community, Commerce, and Culture.” City of Tybee Island Georgia, accessed May 22, 2018, http://www.cityoftybee.org/DocumentCenter/View/127/History-PDF.
[xiv] Lwanga Hoskins.
[xv] Wanda Smalls Lloyd. “My Long Journey to Tybee.” Savannah Magazine. Accessed May 15, 2018. http://archives.savannahmagazine.com/2014/07/17/long-journey-tybee/.
[xvi] Lwanga Hoskins.
[xviii] Smalls Lloyd.
“A Brief History of Tybee’s Community, Commerce, and Culture.” City of Tybee Island Georgia. Accessed May 22, 2018. http://www.cityoftybee.org/DocumentCenter/View/127/History-PDF.
Adams, James Mack. “In Colonial Days Lazaretto Creek Could Have Been Named Quarantine Creek.” Savannah Morning News.
Adams, James Mack. “Introduction.” In Tybee Island, 5-11. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2000.
Bell, Karen. “Atlantic Slave Trade to Savannah.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. August 02, 2015. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/atlantic-slave-trade-savannah.
Hoskins, Charles Lwanga. “African Americans on Tybee Island.” Savannah Herald. December 17, 2014. Accessed May 12, 2018. http://savannahherald.net/african-americans-on-tybee-island-p7664-1.htm.
Kinkel, Cynthia. “A Song For Lazaretto.” The Tybee Times. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.thetybeetimes.net/tag/history-of-lazaretto-creek/.
Mendonca, Adrienn. “Tybee Island.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. June 03, 2005. Accessed May 15, 2018. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/tybee-island.
Sheehy, Barry, Cindy Wallace, and Vaughnette Goode-Walker. Civil War Savannah. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Austin, TX: Emerald Book, 2011.
Smalls Lloyd, Wanda. “My Long Journey to Tybee.” Savannah Magazine. Accessed May 15, 2018 http://archives.savannahmagazine.com/2014/07/17/long-journey-tybee/.