Greene Square in Savannah Georgia

As one of Savannah's twenty-two historic squares, Greene Square dates back to the nineteenth century.  Located on Houston Street, between East State and East York Streets, Greene Square has certainly witnessed some of its fair sure of history.  Historic homes and churches bracket the edges of the green space (pun not intended), and even the Square’s namesake has a longstanding place in history.  So, come for a stroll in the area; enjoy the quiet green and when you're feeling a bit more adventurous, walk the perimeter of the Square and catch a glimpse of history for yourself.

Nathanael Greene: Revolutionary War Hero

Like many of the other squares and streets in Savannah which are named after war heroes and other patriotic figures, Greene Square is no different.  During the eighteenth century, General Nathanael Greene was one of the most celebrated Revolutionary figures.

A native of Rhode Island, Greene would later become one of the most trusted generals in the Revolutionary army; he was a personal friend of George Washington.  Greene’s ancestors had been some of the first to settle in Rhode Island and to establish it as a colony.  He was an avid reader, and dedicated a lot of his wealth to accumulating a very large library.  The books in his library ranged from blacksmithing to milling and everything in between--but military science was perhaps the most intriguing subject to Nathanael, and he sought out various works on the subject to satisfy his craving to learn more.  (Who knew that at the time, Nathanael Greene's passion for military science would aid him some decades later in the fight against the British? Hindsight really is 20/20.)  But Greene lived in a pacifist Quaker region, and he himself was a Quaker.  When Quaker authorities realized that Greene harbored such a fascination for military studies, they ordered him to court for an examination.  History tells that Greene informed the interrogating committee that he was, yes, a Quaker, but he refused to stop learning about topics which peeked his interest.  It seems that Greene made a successful argument because the case was subsequently dropped soon after.

During the Revolutionary War, however, Greene proved himself invaluable to Washington.  In fact, he involved himself so greatly in the war against the Brits, that when the war came to a close, the new state of Georgia honored him by gifting him with Mulberry Grove, a plantation which sat along the Savannah River.  Greene was ecstatic about his new home, at one point even writing in a letter to a friend that “the garden is delightful,” before describing all the vegetables and fruits he grew in it (including the size of the strawberries).  Unfortunately, after a business trip to Savannah, Greene fell ill with a heat stroke and died shortly after.

Today, a monument in Greene’s honor stands in Johnson Square.

Houston Street, between E. State Street and E. York Street

Attractions in Greene Square

The Crooked Little House

The little red house at 536 East State Street hasn’t always been there.

It was originally built in 1845 for shipwright John Dorsett’s wife, Sarah.  Dorsett had made a business out of building sailing ships.  Although he had once had a grand idea to build a railway, someone purchased the plot of land he had envisioned for his business venture and his dream never came to fruition.  It was through shipbuilding that Dorsett amassed the majority of his wealth.

When Dorsett was thirty-four, he hired his brother-in-law to build this cottage for his wife.  Even today, the house at 536 East State Street is the tiniest house in all of Savannah with a meager 511 square feet of living space inside.  But a stroke of bad luck would hit Dorsett in 1846, just as the house was being completed.  Dorsett fell ill with “dropsy,” a painful disease which causes the lymphs to swell.  He died within days, though his wife, Sarah, and their two children would ultimately move into the tiny home.

By 1955, the home had fallen into much disrepair.  Seven women in Savannah gathered together with one goal in mind: to preserve the homes that previous generations in Savannah had constructed.  One of those woman was Stella Henderson who decided to restore the old Dorsett cottage.  Fearing that its original place on Hull Street might aid in the house's demise, she had it moved its to East State Street, where it stands today.  The red color that Henderson used to restore the house is thought to have been the same that was often used on eighteenth century wood homes in Savannah.

Take a peek at the tiniest house Savannah has to offer as you wander around the outer perimeter of Greene Square.

The Old Orphanage

The property that stands at 117 - 119 Houston Street is believed to be one of the oldest period homes in Savannah.  In its earliest days it functioned as an orphanage for girls, as the original orphanage in Bethesda had become unusable.  Also known as the “House of Mercy,” the orphanage had been founded much earlier, around 1740 by the evangelist George Whitefield.

In the 1730s, there was almost so funding for orphans in Georgia.  Having arrived in the Georgia colonies in 1738, Whitefield decided to collect money to rectify this problem.  However, Whitefield's version of “saving” the children certainly did not match with many of his peers.  The institution that Whitefield implemented was one of extreme discipline and regime with the intention to cure the children of their inherent wickedness.  When he died in 1770, he bequeathed the orphanage to Selina, the Countess of Huntingdon, who had practiced similar methods in England.  A disastrous fire consumed the orphanage in 1773, rendering it completely unusable.

The orphanage would later be moved into the house at 117-119 Houston Street in 1810, the year that the property was built.  It remained there until 1838, when the orphanage was once again moved to a new property on Bull Street.

The Second African Baptist Church

Although the Second African Baptist Church standing at 123 Houston Street is not the first church to have been erected on the site, it is certainly the oldest Baptist congregation in Savannah.  More importantly, it is the first African-American Baptist church in Georgia with a lineage stretching back to 1802, when the founder of the First African Baptist Church ordered its construction.

Andrew Bryan was born enslaved in 1737 on a plantation outside of Charleston, South Carolina.   For most of his early life, he served as a coachman and servant to his master, Jonathan Bryan.  Jonathan Bryan, along with his brother and some of the other plantation owners, had actually been previously arrested on multiple occasions for preaching to the enslaved people on the plantations.  It is perhaps because of Jonathan Bryan’s desire to evangelize his slaves that Andrew Bryan found such hope in the word of God.

In 1782, Andrew was converted by the preaching of George Liele, the first African-American Baptist in Georgia.  Liele had earned a license to preach to slaves along the Savannah River.  Andrew, too, began to preach in the area—with his master’s encouragement.  Hundreds of people flocked to Andrew’s makeshift church along the river, but there were just as many—nearing nearly 350 people—who were not allowed to join.  Preaching to those who were enslaved had become perceived as inherently dangerous, and many plantation owners forbade hundreds of enslaved people from attending Andrew’s sermons.  Andrew Bryan was actually imprisoned, much to the dismay and protesting of his master.

It was not all too long after that Andrew was released from prison, and he returned to preaching along the river.  It is said that he preached from sunrise to sundown and to all who would listen.  In 1788, he was ordained and his church certified.  After Jonathan Bryan’s death, Andrew also purchased his freedom and that of his wife’s.  By 1794, he had raised enough funds to open a church in Savannah, and it is this earlier structure that predates the current Second African Baptist Church today.

Bryan died in 1812 and was first buried in the Old Burial Ground before being exhumed and interred in Whitefield Square; but by the turn of the nineteenth century, Andrew Bryan had amassed a congregation of nearly 700 members.

Interesting Facts:

  • The Second African Baptist Church is actually site where General Sherman famously promised each freed slave "40 acres and a mule" after the Civil War.
  • In 1925, the Second African Baptist Church caught fire.  Luckily enough, most of the interior was saved, including the benches, chairs and pulpit

Are you interested in learning more about any of Savannah's rich history?  Join Discover Historic America on one of our daytime historical tours--we would love to have you!

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