Important commercial city of Chatham county, Georgia; situated on the Savannah River. It was founded in 1733 by Gen. James Oglethorpe, and received its charter about half a century later (1789). It constituted the central point of the colony of Georgia, intended as a refuge for all persons fleeing from religious persecutions; and the spirit of its founder is best expressed in the words of Francis Moore ("A Voyage to Georgia," p. 15, London, 1744), who says that Oglethorpe "shew'd no Discountenance to any for being of different Persuasions in Religion." On the arrival of the first Hebrew settlers (1733) the trustees of the colony informed General Oglethorpe that they did not purpose "to make a Jews' colony of Georgia . . . and that they hoped they [the Jews] would meet with no encouragement." The general ignored the suggestions of the trustees, and called their attention to the good offices of Dr. Nuñez, who was one of the first Hebrew arrivals in Savannah.
The Jews of Savannah prospered both materially and religiously, and led a peaceful existence until the outbreak of the American Revolution, when they became scattered, several of them enlisting in the Revolutionary army. On the ratification of the treaty between Great Britain and the United States they began, however, to return to Savannah, and shortly afterward were again prominently identified with the commercial and industrial growth of the city. When the independence of the United States was declared, and Washington was elected president, the Jews of Savannah extended their congratulationsto the chief magistrate in a letter signed by Levy Sheftall, the president of the Mickwa Israel congregation; the letter was suitably acknowledged.
Since the declaration of the independence of the United States the Jewish community of Savannah has enjoyed an almost uninterrupted era of tranquillity. An exodus of Jews which took place between 1797 and 1820 was soon offset by the arrival of new settlers; and the history of the growth of the Mickwa Israel congregation (See Georgia), which was founded shortly after the arrival of the first Jewish settlers, gives ample evidence of the prosperity of the Savannah community.
Among the ministers who have served the Mickwa Israel congregation special mention should be made of Dr. Jacob de la Motta and the Rev. I. P. Mendes. The latter, who was appointed to the rabbinate in 1877, had officiated for four years previously as rabbi of the Portuguese congregation in Richmond, Va. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, Jan. 13, 1853; studied at Northwick College, London; and received the degrees of M. A. (1892) and D.D. (1899) from the University of Georgia, being the only Jew in the state of Georgia on whom the university bestowed an honorary degree. He published "Pure Words," a collection of prayers; "First Lessons in Hebrew," dedicated to the Council of Jewish Women; a booklet of "Children's Services" for use in his own congregation; and a collection of special prayers for Sabbath services and Sunday-school. He died at Savannah June 28, 1904.
In addition to Congregation Mickwa Israel, Savannah now (1905) has the congregations B'nai B'rith Jacob and Agudas Achim (incorporated 1904), besides the following communal organizations: Daughters of Israel, founded 1891; Chevra Gemiluth Chesed, 1887; Hebrew Benevolent Society, 1851; Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society, 1853; Mickwa Israel Temple Gild, 1894; Orphan Aid Society, 1880; and a Young Men's Hebrew Association, 1874.
At present the Jews of Savannah number between 2,800 and 3,000 in a total population of 54,244.