To understand the inferiority complex that Savannah  feels to this day with regards to Charleston , you have to remember that literally from day one, Savannah was intended to play second fiddle to its older, richer neighbor to the north. By the early 1700s, the land south of Charleston was a staging area for attacks by the Spanish and Native Americans. So in 1732, King George II granted a charter to the Trustees of Georgia, a proprietary venture that was the brainchild of a 36-year-old general and member of Parliament, General James Edward Oglethorpe .
On February 12, 1733, the Anne landed with 114 passengers along the high bluff on the south bank of the Savannah River. Oglethorpe bonded with Tomochichi, the local Creek Indian chief, and the colony prospered. (Contrary to what locals might tell you, Savannah  did not get its name because it resembles a grassy savanna. The city is christened for the Savannah River, which itself is named for a wandering, warlike offshoot of a local Shawnee tribe.)
Ever the idealist, Oglethorpe had a plan for the new “classless society” in Savannah that prohibited slavery, rum, and—wait for it—lawyers! But as the settlers enviously eyed the economic dominance of Charleston ’s slave-based rice economy, the Trustees bowed to public pressure and relaxed restrictions on slavery and rum. By 1753, the crown reclaimed the charter, making Georgia America’s 13th colony.
Though part of the new United States in 1776, Savannah  was captured by British forces in 1778, who successfully held the city against a combined assault a year later. After the Revolution, Savannah became the first capital of Georgia, a role that lasted until 1786.
Despite hurricanes and yellow fever epidemics, Savannah’s heyday was the antebellum period from 1800 to 1860, when for a time it outstripped Charleston as a center of commerce. By 1860, Savannah’s population doubled after an influx of European immigrants, chief among them Irish workers coming to lay track on the new Central of Georgia line.
Blockaded for most of the Civil War, Savannah  didn’t see much action other than the fall of Fort Pulaski  in April 1862 when a Union force successfully laid siege using rifled artillery, a revolutionary new technology that instantly rendered the world’s masonry forts obsolete.
War came to Savannah ’s doorstep when General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea concluded with his capture of the town in December 1864. Sherman sent a now- legendary telegram to President Lincoln granting him the city as a Christmas present with these words: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the City of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”
After a lengthy Reconstruction period, Savannah began reaching out to the outside world. From 1908 to 1911, it was a national center of road racing. In the Roaring Twenties, native son Johnny Mercer rose to prominence and the great Flannery O’Connor was born in downtown Savannah.
World War II provided an economic lift, with Savannah  being a major center for the building of Liberty Ships to transport soldiers and equipment overseas. But the city was still known as the “pretty woman with a dirty face,” as Britain’s Lady Astor famously described it in 1946. Almost in answer to Astor’s quip, city leaders in the ’50s began a misguided program to retrofit the city’s infrastructure for the automobile era. This frenzy of demolition cost such civic treasures as Union Station, the City Auditorium, and the old DeSoto Hotel. Savannah’s preservation movement had its seed in the fight by seven Savannah women to save the Davenport House  and other buildings from similar fates.
Savannah played a pioneering, though largely unsung, role in the civil rights movement. Ralph Mark Gilbert, pastor of the historic First African Baptist Church , launched one of the first black voter registration drives in the South, which led the way for the historic integration of the police department in 1947. Gilbert’s efforts were kept alive in the ’50s and ’60s by the beloved W. W. Law, a letter carrier who was head of the local chapter of the NAACP for many years.
Savannah ’s longstanding diversity was further proved in 1970, when Greek American John P. Rousakis began his 21-year stint as mayor. During Rousakis’ tenure, the first African American city alderman was elected, the movie industry discovered the area, and Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Summer Olympics, which brought several venues to Savannah. Once-decrepit River Street  and Broughton Street  were revived. The opening of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1979 ushered another important chapter in Savannah’s renaissance.
After the publication of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in 1994, nothing would ever be the same in Savannah. Old-money families cringed as idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies were laid bare in “The Book.” Local merchants and politicians, however, delighted in the influx of tourists.
Savannah ’s first African American mayor, Floyd Adams Jr., was elected in 1995. Immediately succeeding him in the office was Otis Johnson, the first black Savannahian to graduate from the University of Georgia.