Marker Monday: Johnson Square

To highlight this year’s Georgia History Festival theme, “A Legacy of Leadership,” February’s #MarkerMondays explore the history of the colony of Georgia and its first city, Savannah.

This week’s #MarkerMonday highlights Johnson Square, the first and largest square in Savannah. When General James Edward Oglethorpe and the first colonists landed at Yamacraw Bluff, the group set about creating temporary shelters and laying out the new city. While the historical record is not entirely clear on who designed Savannah’s city plan and what inspired it, it is clear that Oglethorpe led the effort to take the design from plan to reality.  The City of Savannah was organized into wards with building lots and streets organized around a central open space called a square.

Johnson Square in the foreground on left. Peter Gordon’s View of Savannah 1734. From the Foltz Photography Studio Collection, MS 1360.

Oglethorpe and Colonel William Bull laid out Derby Ward, the city’s first ward, in 1733. The center of Derby Ward was Johnson Square, named for Governor Robert Johnson of South Carolina who had helped determine the best location for the new colony. Johnson Square served as a multifunctional location. In early colonial days the public stores, the house for strangers (a hotel or inn), a church, and the public bake oven stood on the trust lots around the square. It also served as a place for Savannah’s citizens to meet. In 1737, Rev. John Wesley posted a notice of his intent to return to Great Britain in the Square. Citizens of Savannah gathered in Johnson Square to hear the Declaration on Independence read aloud on August 10, 1776. Johnson Square also served a military purpose. Oglethorpe used the square as his military campground while in Georgia, and when British forces occupied Savannah during the American Revolution, the square was used as a parade grounds for soldiers. Traditionally the financial center of downtown Savannah, today Johnson Square is one of the most visited squares in Savannah. The Square is also home to several businesses, banks, and Christ Episcopal Church.

Explore the links below to learn more about Johnson Square, Savannah’s City Plan, and General James Edward Oglethorpe.

GHS is proud to house several collection items and photographs related to Johnson Square, which can be referenced by searching the GHS Collection.

James Oglethorpe was one of GHS’ Featured Historical Figure for the 2016-2017 Georgia History Festival. Visit his page to learn more about his life and the founding of Georgia.

Full Marker Text

James Edward Oglethorpe and Savannah’s City Plan

Hidden History: Johnson Square

New Georgia Encyclopedia (Savannah City Plan)

Visit Historic Savannah: Johnson Square

Further Reading

Clippings and articles on Johnson Square. From the GHS Vertical Files.

If your library does not have access to JSTOR, you can go to and create a free MyJSTOR Account.

Related Marker Monday Posts

Marker Monday: Nathanael Greene Monument (Posted August 7, 2017)

Marker Monday: The Landing of Oglethorpe and the Colonists (Posted September 12, 2016)