Historical Timeline

Mary Musgrove (ca. 1700 – ca. 1763). Georgia Historical Society Print Collection.

The First Inhabitants

The First Inhabitants 

Indigenous peoples have occupied the area that we now call Savannah National Wildlife Refuge for over five thousand years. These Indigenous peoples relied heavily on freshwater mussels, fish, deer, birds, and occasionally oysters. 

The first English settlers encountered the Yamacraw, a Muskogean-speaking people in the Savannah area led by Tomochichi and later his nephew, ToonahowiMary Musgrove, known as Coosaponakeesa among her Creek kin, operated her first trading post in the early 18th century on the Savannah River near the refuge.  

Tomochichi (Chief of the Yamacraw Indians) & Nephew Tooanahowi. Georgia Capitol Museum, University System of Georgia.
1700s map of the County of Savannah, showing current location of Savannah NWR. Courtesy of Digital Library of Georgia.

English Settlers

English Settlers 

Englishman James Oglethorpe founded the Georgia Colony in 1773. Oglethorpe and a small group of colonists built a settlement on the present site of the City of Savannah, 18 miles upstream from the ocean. Vast river swamps, now part of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, provided a natural barrier against enemies. 

Rice Plantations

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge includes portions at least 30 former plantations, including thirteen former rice plantations. One, Laurel Hill, was nearly 400 acres in size and belonged to several owners during the years of rice cultivation in the Savannah area (1750-1860).

Arrival of the Last Slave Ship to Union Landing

Union landing, located on the Refuge, is on file in the South Carolina Department of Archives and History as being the landing place of the last group of Africans brought to this country as slaves.

Refuge Establishment 

President Calvin Coolidge established the 2,352-acre Savannah River Bird Refuge in 1927 by Executive Order.

Early refuge managers realized the potential for establishing high-quality habitat by restoring the former rice fields, but that would be no small task.

Savannah impoundment at sunset. DicksonImages.

How African-Americans Built the Refuge

What is the CCC?

What is the CCC?

The refuge was established on former rice plantation fields in 1927, when the Great Depression pommeled the American economy. One of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs to address unemployment was the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. This program was an attempt to tackle two problems-- unemployment and land degradation-- by paying young men $30/month to complete conservation work on federal and state lands.

How CCC built the refuge

CCC Camp BF-1, which was located approximately 2 miles south of Hardeeville, was established August 21, 1935. The camp housed the African American Company 4432.

This company rehabilitated much of the refuge’s impoundment system, using draglines to refurbish the river embankments and interior dikes between the various pools, as well as excavating canals and installing spillways. Through these actions, the crew ensured that the refuge could repurpose the water control system that was once used for growing rice to instead benefit waterfowl.

CCC enrollees wading through flood waters in 1938. The Rice Mill Tavern is visible in the background.
African-Americans played huge, but little-known role in creation of wildlife refuges.

Learn more through an audio-tour

Click on the button below to be transported through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge through an audio-tour.