The Irish were present at the creation of Georgia as a British colony in 1733. The second Royal Governor (1757-1760) of the colony was the Monaghan-born naval explorer Henry Ellis. By treaty signed in 1763 with the Creek Indians, a tract of land was transferred which was roughly southeast below Little River between the Savannah and Great Ogeechee rivers. It was to become the first Georgia frontier.
In the 1760s, Armagh native George Galphin co-sponsored a heavily Irish settlement (50,000 acres) called St. George’s Parish, and later Jefferson County. Queensborough, Jefferson County became an early capital of Georgia.
Many ships brought Protestant Irish immigrants from Belfast, Ireland to Savannah between the years of 1768 to 1774. Not all of them had manifests, and not all have left records.
In the decades that followed, the waves of Irish immigration to Georgia were not unlike those seen in regions all across the U.S. The first waves set out to tame the wilderness and, often, do battle with Native Americans. Irish influence is everywhere present in Georgia, from place names like Dublin, Burke, and Blakely Counties.
By the 1820s and 1830s, labor was needed to construct valuable canals. Irish immigrants were more than up to the task. This brought the first significant numbers of Irish Catholics to Georgia, whose first colonial charter actually banned Catholicism.
The next major source of labor for Irish immigrants were railroads, built throughout the 1840s and 1850s, including the Central of Georgia which linked the cities of Savannah and Macon. The Western and Atlantic later connected Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
With the Irish population growing, services for them spread. Irish merchant shippers William Graves handled money transactions between Ireland and the U.S. for immigrants (a majority from County Wexford) in Savannah. By 1850, Georgia became a Catholic diocese, led by Dublin bishop Francis X. Gartland.
By the time the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, there were enough Irishmen in the South to raise Irish brigades in eight of the 11 states that made up the Confederacy. There were an estimated 85,000 Irish immigrants living in the Confederacy, according to the 1860 census.
Andrew Jackson was a native of South Carolina, but he was the son of immigrants from Carrickfergus, County Antrim. More specifically, this made Jackson Scots-Irish, but Irish nonetheless.
Did you know that Savannah hosts the second largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the United States? Yes, the influence of the Irish is alive and very well in Savannah!
Image: Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade