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You can’t always trust an historical document

September 9, 2009

cityview_prnt1734This first historic image of Savannah, the Peter Gordon view of 1734, shows the laying out of the first four wards by the city’s founder, General James Oglethorpe. This famous and often reproduced image has some inaccuracies, however: the small cottages appear to be each about 12 feet wide to judge from the size of the central door and flanking windows, yet each cottage stands on a lot  that is 60 feet wide and defined by a wooden fence. Using the lots for scale, each cottage would have to have been almost 50 feet wide! Picture1

Also, the street extending into the distance aligns with present-day Whitaker Street, yet it was Bull Street, one block to the east (to the left in the print) that appears on later historic maps extending southward from the city as the “Road to Whitebluff”.

These inaccuracies most likely reflect idealizing tendencies for symmetry on the one hand and the needs of graphic clarity (in the case of the house scale) on the other.  Such modifications were more common than not on images prior to the advent of photography in the 19th century.

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