By Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
It’s a documented fact that has been completely left out of the history and botany books. When British settlers established the town of Savannah about 16 miles upstream from the mouth of the Savannah River, the local indigenous peoples were cultivating both pineapple plants and cacao trees, which had been adapted to the sub-tropical climate of Georgia’s Coast.
Pineapple and cacao were among the potential crops for the new colony, listed by Supervising Trustee James Edward Oglethorpe in his report to King George II and the Georgia Province Board of Trustees. Generations of scholars since then have ignored their mention as merely a fantasy of a British country squire, unfamiliar with the climate of the region.
Yet we have proof today that indeed, cacao and pineapple were cultivated by Uchee and Creek families near Georgia’s coast. A German artist created water colors of both crops in situ. The plants are slightly different than their tropical cousins, but enough similar to be, indeed, pineapple and cacao. The artist’s name was Georg Von Reck. We will tell you more about him later. Von Reck also painted calabaza squash and coconut palms, growing near Savannah. The calabaza squash is plausible, but there are no mentions of coconut palms in the archives of the Province of Georgia. Maybe yes . . . maybe he saw a coconut palm elsewhere.
Apparently, the reason that the British soon forgot the presence of these valuable cultivars has to do with land acquisitions. For several decades, the Creek village of Yamacraw continued to exist at a location near the present-day Savannah Convention Center, but they soon became primary traders rather than farmers. In the 1740s, the Uchee farmers, whom Von Reck painted, moved northward to a region, where these crops would not thrive. English and Scottish farmers were initially encouraged to grow mulberry trees for silkworms, plus cash crops such as rice and indigo, which would bring more direct income to England.
Scholars in the United States and UK were completely unaware that Von Reck had produced beautiful water colors of the Georgia Colony until 1977, when by chance they were discovered in the Dansk Kongelige Bibliotek (Danish Royal Library). His drawings and water colors now may be viewed and downloaded from a special, multi-lingual Danish website – www.kb.dk/permalink/2006/manus/22/eng/. Also, some used copies of a book on Von Reck’s observations in Georgia is now available on Amazon.com.
Who was Georg Von Reck?
Phillip George Friedrich Von Reck was a Protestant nobleman and talented artist, who accompanied the Salzburger Refugees. The Saltzburgers were 20,000+ German-speaking Austrian Lutherans, who were forcibly deported from the Saltzburg Province, after a Roman Catholic Cardinal was selected as its “prince.” This was long after the Religious Wars of the 1500s and resulted in outrage from many countries in northern and western Europe. However, the Prince-Cardinal of Salzburg would not relent.
Von Reck played a major role in the first and third transports of the Salzburgers. He was responsible for their secular affairs. He was described by his contemporaries as charming and enthusiastic but totally inexperienced young commissary. He was stripped of his responsibilities, after repeated disputes with the Rev. Johann Martin Boltzius and the competing commissary Jean Vat.
After the first voyage, von Reck left Georgia with vivid descriptions of what he experienced. He wrote about Native Americans with great sympathy: He stated in his published journal:
“They are very courteous, friendly, and hospitable towards strangers, with whom they quickly become acquainted. Their table is open to everyone, and one can sit at it uninvited. When an Indian want to assure someone of his friendship, he strikes himself with his right hand on his left breast and says, my breast is like your breast, my and your breast is one breast the equivalent of my and your heart is one heart, my heart is closely bound with your heart, etc. And it is all so a sign of friendship and welcome to light a pipe of tobacco and hold it up before the arriving stranger so that he can take a couple of draws on it, also to hold up a bottle of rum, so he can take a swallow from it.
They are satisfied with the little that they have, even if it consists only of a gun, kettle, and mirror. They keep their word, and hate lies. When they praise a European, they say that he has never told them an untruth. They are affectionate and live peaceably with their wives.”
Von Reck’s journal was published in 1734 in German and English. He came back to Ebenezer on February 7, 1736 with the third transport of which he was in charge. Ultimately, Von Reck never formalized his land claim and returned to Europe where he entered the Hanover and later Danish civil service. He died in 1798 in a section of Germany, which was then part of Denmark . . . hence the reason that his original art was in Copenhagen.
*All officials in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama used the spelling, Uchee. The “Yuchi” spelling originated on the Tennessee frontier and was never used by the Uchee.