City of Savannah (Ga.) records
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City of Savannah (Ga.) records

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Georgia Historical Society
Creator: Savannah (Ga.)
Title: City of Savannah (Ga.) records
Dates: 1817-1912
Extent: 0.25 cubic feet (10 microfilm rolls)
Identification: MS 5600

Biographical/Historical Note

Savannah, Georgia's city government dates from the settlement of the colony of Georgia at Savannah in 1733. Until 1741, the Common Council of Trustees governed the colony from England through their appointed officials at Savannah - three bailiffs who supervised two constables, a recorder, two tythingmen, and eight conservators of the peace (Walter McElrath, A Treatise on the Constitution of Georgia, p. 5).

In 1741, the County of Savannah was established and placed under the jurisdiction of a president and four assistants, who served as the Trustee's representatives. These appointees were required to make reports to the Trustees, enforce laws, oversee the granting of land, and record marriages, births, and deaths. However, the only power they possessed was to appoint and remove constables and tythingmen (Allen D. Candler, ed., Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, v. 5, p. 494; James Ross McCain, Georgia as a Proprietary Province, the Execution of a Trust, pp. 154-59).

In June of 1752, the Trustee's Corporation was dissolved. The proprietary colony then became a royal colony, administered by a royal governor, his council, and an elected legislature. Through the years, various public offices were created, and legislation was enacted to regulate the city. Many public commissions were filled by appointed lay officers of Christ Episcopal Church, who were charged with such duties as keeping records of vital statistics and supervision of the fire department (Alexander A. Lawrence, "The Development of Municipal Government in Savannah from 1732-1790," Georgia Historical Society vertical files, Savannah--Politics and Government; Candler, v. 18, pp. 267, 270-71, 315-16).

Savannah's municipal government had been inefficient and inadequate from the beginning and failed to meet the needs of the growing population. During the 1780s grievances were presented, and grand juries recommended that the town be incorporated, but no charter was immediately granted. However, laws continued to be enacted by the legislature for better regulating the town, including an act of 1787, which created seven wards and provided for the election of wardens who, in turn, elected a president from their body. This board made and administered regulations and assessed and collected taxes (Robert Watkins, A Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia, p. 354).

Finally, under an act of December 23, 1789, the legislature incorporated the City of Savannah, providing for the annual public election of one alderman from each ward, comprising a board of alderman. The alderman then elected a member of their board as mayor (Watkins, p. 416; William H. Crawford and Horatio Marbury, Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia, p. 123).

The first election of alderman was held March 1, 1790, and the first city council meeting was held on March 8th, at which time John Houstoun was elected the first mayor of Savannah. This first council created offices, established salaries for officeholders, adopted rules for governing the council, and set about addressing the needs of the city (Thomas Gamble, Jr., A History of the City Government of Savannah, Ga., from 1790-1901, pp. 47-48).

In 1843, the state legislature reduced the number of aldermen from fourteen to twelve and made the mayorship and several city posts publicly elected officials. In December of 1844, Dr. Richard Wayne became the first mayor elected by the people of Savannah ( A Digest of All the Ordinances of the City of Savannah, 1858, p. 318; Gamble, p. 186).

Through the years various departments, bureaus, boards, committees, and commissions have been created, abolished, merged, and/or divided to meet the increasing needs of the city. Since 1954, the City of Savannah has operated under a council/manager system. The elected council now consists of the mayor and eight aldermen who appoint a city manager. The city manager is the chief administrative officer of the city government, advising the council and supervising the implementation of the policies and legislation it adopts (Laura Urban, compiler, Serving Savannah, p. 2).

For a more detailed history of Savannah's municipal government, consult Thomas Gamble, Jr.'s A History of the City Government of Savannah, Ga., from 1790-1901. Researchers may also consult the Savannah Mayor's Annual Reports (or Municipal Reports) for further information which are available online through the digital library of Georgia and in print at the Georgia Historical Society and City of Savannah Research Library and Municipal Archives.

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains microfilm records of the City of Savannah. Georgia, treasurer and clerk of city council. Records include tax assessment books (i.e., tax returns) and registers of free persons of color. Records in the collection date from 1837 to 1912.

The collection is arranged into two series according to City of Savannah record group numbers: 1. Clerk of City Council (5600CL-130) and 2. City Treasurer (5600CT-90).

Index Terms

African Americans--Georgia--Savannah.
Registers (lists)
Savannah (Ga.). City Council.
Savannah (Ga.). Revenue Department.
Tax returns.

Location of Originals

Originals records are located at the City of Savannah Research Library and Municipal Archives as of May 2008.

Technical Access Restrictions

Microfilm reader required to view collection materials.

Administrative Information

Custodial History

This collection originally consisted of original documents and microfilm placed on deposit at the Georgia Historical Society by the City of Savannah during the 1950s. The deposit collection was removed by the city in May 2008. The microfilm in this collection was acquired by GHS from the Georgia State Archives.

Preferred Citation

[item identification], City of Savannah (Ga.) records, MS 5600, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.

Acquisition Information



Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the Georgia Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Division of Library and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Georgia Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.


Encoding funded by a 2012 Documenting Democracy grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Container List


SERIES 1:: Clerk of City Council (5600CL-130), 1837-1864

This series contains the Registers of Free Persons of Color. According to a city ordinance of 1839, owners of slaves and guardians of free persons of color were required to register and obtain badges from the clerk of council before hiring out or permitting the employment of their charges. Badges were only to be issued to "old, decrepit, and infirm" individuals for purposes of vending.
All free persons of color 16 years of age (lowered to 14 in 1854) or older were required to register annually with the clerk of council. Notice of removal from the city was also required. By state law, all registered free persons of color between the ages of 15 and 60 were liable for public service in the county/city of their residence for an annual term not to exceed 20 days. If a person of color entered and remained in the state and failed to register, he/she faced arrest, trial, and a fine of $100, and/or punishment of labor (Savannah Ordinances 1854, pp. 339, 342, 347; Code of Savannah 1858, pp. 174-77).
This collection contains two volumes of these records. The information in each volume varies. Volume 1 (1837-1849) includes name, place of birth, date of arrival, occupation, name of guardian, and date appointed. Volume 2 (1861, 1863-1864) includes name, age, parentage, place of birth, place of residence, occupation, description, and name of guardian.
Please note: Five other collections are located on the microfilm roll with this series. Researchers must fast forward the film through several other collections before reaching the Registers of Free Persons of Color.









SERIES 2:: City Treasurer (5600CT-90), 1854-1912

This series contains tax assessment books created by the city treasurer. The office of the city treasurer was created at the first meeting of the newly established City Council in 1790, and the treasurer was selected by the Council (Gamble, History of the City Government, 1790-1901, p. 48). As Savannah's financial officer, the treasurer's responsibilities included: the collection of monies due the city from taxes, license fees, rents, and duties; payment of vouchers approved by the City Council; acting as custodian for redeemed bonds and coupons; keeping accurate books on the city's financial affairs; and attending meetings of the City Council (Code of Savannah, 1858, pp. 10-07). Nonpayment of taxes was reported to the city marshal for collection. Assessments of property values were assigned to appointed freeholders who turned them over to the treasurer (Code of Savannah, 1854, pp. 422-25, 443-44). The city treasurer also acted as the secretary and treasurer of the Water Works in 1888 (Code of Savannah, 1888, p. 72).
After 1945, several other functions were added and changes in the organizational structure were made including the addition of a paymaster in 1845, the creation of a Finance Department in 1958, and the later addition of a Revenue Department.
The tax assessment books in this series, also called tax returns, contain some or all of the following information: the ward in which the property is located, the lot number, street name, owner's name, value of increase, amount due, amount of ground rent, value of the lot, value of improvements, taxable value, and remarks. Information is organized alphabetically by ward name.


5600CT-90-011854, 1861, 1866


5600CT-90-021870, 1871, 1873


5600CT-90-031876, 1878-1879, 1879-1883


5600CT-90-041883, 1884, 1884-1885


5600CT-90-051888, 1889-1893


5600CT-90-061900, 1904