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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: America's first exports go from Savannah to London
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is part of a series of columns about early shipping in Georgia and Bulloch County.

Georgia's Royal Gov. Sir James Wright wrote in 1768, "Last year we made 17,000 barrels (of rice), and from Loading only 42 Sail of Vessels (in 1760) we have loaded 185 in (1767)."

In 1772, more than 160 ships totaling 12,124 tons and employing 1,700 sailors cleared the customs house. In addition, documents show merchants and planters in the Savannah area were acquiring their own fleets.

Reports indicate some 20 brigs, 10 coastal vessels, one scow, five ships and some 15 sloops and schooners, as well as numerous cotton boxes, flats, pole boats and rafts were owned by coastal merchants and planters.

Sailing ships came in many sizes. A schooner was a sailing ship with fore-and-aft sails on two masts. A brig was a two-square rigged masted vessel, and a barque or bark was a vessel with three or more masts.

James Habersham, one of the wealthiest Savannah merchants, wrote friends in London that there were "a greater number of Vessells in the Savannah harbour than has ever been known here at any one Time."

What's more, Habersham declared that "the Demand for our Produce ... is so very great, that I am afraid, we have scarcely sufficient on Hand to give the Vessells now here ... the necessary Dispatch."

Documents show that Georgia's exports were almost exclusively sent to Britain. In the 1770s, this trade was almost exclusively limited to deer skins, indigo, rice and silk. However, the trade in naval stores (rosin and turpentine), barrel staves, shingles and timber had begun to flourish.

In fact, records show that in 1772, Georgia shipped 3.5 million wooden shingles, almost 1 million barrel staves and more than 2 million feet of lumber to England.

By the end of the American Revolution, despite the state remaining a royal colony, trade between Georgia and England had been reduced, with only 5 percent of American exports shipped to England.

In addition, the sea coast rice culture began to play a much smaller part in the overall trade picture as Eli Whitney and his development of the cotton gin in 1793 sparked the cotton revolution.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at



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