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“The Phoenix City”

By R. Dalton Bryant


The Phoenix City walking tour focuses on the Savannah Fires of 1796 and 1820 which are important events in the city’s history. This walking tour takes a multifaceted approach to present these historical Savannah events. This includes an examination of the conditions which allowed these fires to start and the capabilities of Savannah firefighters to combat these infernos. There are stories of human kindness and charity amidst the despair of citizens of the city losing everything they have. The Phoenix City tour will also explore the aftermath of these fires, detailing the charitable relief efforts that helped rebuild the city after these conflagrations. This includes a description of a nationwide fundraiser that resulted in a battle over race between New York and the mayor of Savannah. The racial tensions in the United States at the time focused around the debate about the Missouri Question, will be highlighted in this tour.

When I began researching, I became interested in these two events which seemed to be news on a national scale, but I could not find much information beyond the surface. After further investigation, I became inspired to bring this part of Savannah’s history to light because it showed the good and bad of the city. Tales of courage, bravery, and charity are framed by the institutional racism which plagues America. Any historical depiction of Savannah without mentioning the Savannah Fires of 1796 and 1820, and all the rich historical events those entail, is incomplete and should be integrated into the city’s regular walking tours. The Phoenix City walking tour makes the argument that the effects of these fires on the local city level as well as the ramifications it had on the national political stage are vital components to the history of Savannah. Utilizing the research from this tour, other Savannah walking tours can more accurately tell the history of the city.

Further Readings

For further reading on this topic see:

  • Coulter, E. Merton. “The Great Savannah Fire Of 1820.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1939): 1-27.
  • Fraser Jr., Walter J. Savannah in the Old South. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2003.
  • Gamble, Thomas. A History of the City Government of Savannah, Ga., from 1790 to 1901. [publisher not identified], 1900.
  • Hodgson, Adam. Remarks during a Journey through North America in the Years 1819 1820 and 1821. New York: Praeger, 1823.
  • Mason, Matthew. “”The Fire-Brand of Discord”: The North, the South, and the Savannah Fire of 1820. ” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 92, no. 4 (2008): 443-459.
  • Michaels, Brenna and T.C. Michaels, Hidden History of Savannah. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing Inc., 2019.
  • Wilson, Adelaide and illustrated by Georgia Weymouth, Historic and Picturesque Savannah, 1889.

Savannah Fire Maps

Map of Savannah Showing Damage of 1796 Fire-

Map of Savannah Showing Damage of 1820 Fire-

Last updated: 3/30/2022