Georgia and the Franco-American Treaty of Alliance
Siege of Savannah
On February 6, 1778, France signed both a treaty of amity and commerce, and a treaty of defensive alliance with the newly established United States. The alliance was negotiated by Benjamin Franklin, whom Franklin College was named for, the predecessor to the University of Georgia. UGA is the first state-chartered university in America. The Franklin College of Arts and Science still remains at UGA.
French King Louis XVI ordered Admiral d’Estaing, a senior officer in the French navy, to take command of the Toulon (Mediterranean) Squadron and sail for North America. For the first time in French naval history, a French squadron crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the primary mission of combat. The first action of America’s new treaty with France was the Battle of Savanah.
On the night of October 8, 1778 d’Estaing ordered the assault on British held Savannah. The attack was the bloodiest since Bunker Hill and was a stalemate, resulting in Georgia being the only state that returned to its royal status. Alexander Lawrence wrote in Storm Over Savannah, “The battle possessed the qualities of drama and color unmatched elsewhere in American history…” Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, future designer of Washington D.C., would almost be left for dead on the field before Savannah’s defenses.
Marquis de Lafayette
The Marquis de Lafayette was a key figure in the American Revolution and toured Georgia extensively. The most poignant moments of his stay in Savannah came when he laid the cornerstones for monuments honoring two other Revolutionary War heroes, Count Casimir Pulaski and General Nathanael Greene.
Several cities and counties in Georgia are named after French cities including Beaulieu, Berrien County, Decatur, Fannin County, Fayette County, LaGrange (“The Farm” named for the French Estate of Marquis de Lafayette), Lanier County, Macon, and Valdosta.
Pictured to the right: Lafayette at the Owens-Thomas House, Savannah, Georgia, 1825.
Alexis de Tocqueville
In 1831, six years before the founding of Atlanta, French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville began a nine-month tour across the country, traveling extensively in Georgia in early 1832. He made insightful observations about the American spirit and the citizens’ unusual commitment to philanthropy. In his record of the voyage, Democracy in America, he writes, “Americans group together to hold fêtes, found seminaries, build inns, construct churches, distribute books, dispatch missionaries to the antipodes. They establish hospitals, prisons, schools by the same methods.” Tocqueville had never encountered a culture like the one he found in America, and his writings reflect the astonishment he showed in this great new world experiment.
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