I’d like to propose amending the recent discussion about changing the name of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge to humbly suggest that it be called The Oglethorpe-Tomochichi Memorial Bridge.
Many, if not most, Savannahians know at least the outlines of the famous friendship between the Colony of Georgia’s founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, and the great Creek nation chief, Tomochichi, which enabled the early colony to gain a peaceful foothold.
Based on rampant abuses he saw while chairing an 1828 English parliamentary committee on prison reform, Oglethorpe and the Trustees — many of whom had also served on the committee — successfully petitioned the crown to establish the charter for the colony of Georgia in 1732. Oglethorpe and his associates saw the colony as a comparatively egalitarian haven for Englishmen who had been imprisoned for debt. Land ownership was initially limited to 50 acres. Moreover, as is taught to Georgia schoolchildren, slavery was initially prohibited in the new colony — as were (somewhat ironically given contemporary Savannah) alcoholic beverages.
Oglethorpe arranged for Tomochichi to visit the English royal court of George II in 1734. Upon his return to Georgia, according to Wikipedia, Tomochichi met with other lower Creek Indian chieftains “to reassure them of the honest intentions of these new Englishmen and convinced them to ally with the English despite deceitful encounters with their Northern neighbors in South Carolina.”
The high regard with which Tomochichi was held by the colonists is attested by the fact that, when he died in 1739 at the estimated age of 95, he received a public military funeral.
Renaming the Savannah River span the Oglethorpe-Tomochichi Memorial Bridge would honor two individuals who reached well beyond their upbringing and personal circumstances to forge an unlikely but enduring friendship. It’s a great message for today’s fractured world — and will continue to be a great story for future generations to emulate.
Jeff Kole is the president of Kole Management Co. in Savannah.