History
College of Arts and Humanities

“New Horizons: Immigration to Historic Savannah”

By Dalton Blackmon

Introduction

New Horizons: Immigration in Historic Savannah is a tour that focuses on several immigrant groups in Savannah from the first two hundred years of the city’s existence. These groups include Greeks, Cubans, Irish, Chinese, South Americans, and Russian and German Jews. There are other groups such as Italians, French, and Hungarians, but due to how few there were, they are not discussed at any length. The Irish are discussed but are given less attention than the other narratives because there are already tours available in Savannah that focus exclusively on them. The aim of this tour is to discuss the other immigrant groups which have received less attention in Savannah’s history. In the past, historians have not paid as much attention to immigration in the South.

What caught my attention was that nothing had been written on the Cuban influence in Savannah. The city has a connection with the Caribbean Islands through trade relationship, but has not garnered much attention. The South had a great interest in Cuba ever since the early 1800s.[1] Southerners played key roles in several filibusters across Central and South America. A filibuster is an unauthorized expedition into a foreign country to foment revolution. These filibuster expeditions had numerous reasons. The Walker Affair in Nicaragua in 1855 was one infamous example. The filibuster William Walker was hired by the Liberal Party of Nicaragua to help them maintain control of the country against the Conservative Party. Instead, Walker seized the opportunity to overthrow the government and install his own.[2] Reasons for filibustering also included attempts to establish independent nations, such as James Long’s attempt to create an independent republic in Mexico from 1819-1921.[3] Anglo and Hispanic merchants spread across the South during the 1850s to gain support for other such expeditions in Central America and the Caribbean. One such example was Narciso Lopez, who came to the South to gain financial and military support from numerous Southerners like John Quitman and John O’Sullivan.[4] There were even Cubans in Savannah who enlisted Americans for a filibuster expedition in 1869 to help establish Cuban independence from Spain.[5]

The presence of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church also caught my attention since its existence implied a Greek community large enough to establish it. However, there are few written works on the subject.[6] Looking into these two groups led to the further discovery that there were additional groups who were also missing from books written on Savannah’s history.

Further Readings

For further reading on this topic see:

  • Frey, Valerie, Kaye Kole, and Luciana Spracher. Voices of Savannah: Selections from the Oral History Collection of the Savannah Jewish Archives. Savannah: Savannah Jewish Archives, 2004.
  • Gleeson, David. The Irish in the South, 1815-1877. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2001.
  • Hoskins, Charles. Out of Yamacraw and Beyond: Discovering Black Savannah. Savannah: Department of Cultural Affairs, 2002.
  • Joshi, Khyati and Jigna Desai. Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South. Campaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013.
  • Odzak, Lazar. “Demetrios is Now Johnny:” Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965. Durham, NC: Monography Publishers, 2006.
  • Mohl, Raymond, John Van Sant, and Chizuru Saeki. Far East, Down South: Asians in the American South. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2016.
  • Russel, Preston and Barbara Hines. Savannah: A History of Her People Since 1733. Savannah: Frederic C. Beil, 1992.
  • Winders, Sheila Counihan. Images of America: Irish Savannah. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

[1] This was not limited to any specific states; however, more interest was shown by Southerners who came from states that bordered the Atlantic or Caribbean.

[2] Scott Martelle, “President Walker” in William Walker’s Wars: How One Man’s Private American Army Tried to Conquer Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2019), 160-179.

[3] Ed Brady, “The 1819 Texas Filibuster of James Long” in “We Never Retreat;” Filibustering into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822 (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2015), 135-179.

[4] Orville Vernon Burton and Georganne B. Burton, ed., The Free Flag of Cuba: The Lost Novel of Lucy Holcombe Pickens (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002), 10.

[5] Stephen McCullough, The Caribbean Policy of the Ulysses S. Grant Administration: Foreshadowing an Informal Empire, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017), 28-30.

[6] Savannah’s Greek population is discussed in two or three books on Greek immigration but there are only a few pages dedicated to the subject.

Last updated: 10/27/2020

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