U.S. Mint Honors Georgia’s Secret Garden

Patrick Hickey

Friday, September 6th, 2019

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In 1734, just two years after General James Oglethorpe founded Georgia as a British Colony, he established the continent’s first public agricultural experimental garden in the new city of Savannah.  The Trustees’ Garden, modeled after botanical gardens at some of England’s most prominent universities, was to experiment with growing a wide array of commercial produce such as silk, cotton, and wine, as well as medical botanicals.

The idea of the garden was to experiment to see what crops could be grown in England’s newest colony, and subsequently sent back overseas to supplant imports currently supplied by Spain and the Mediterranean.  Silk and wine were of particular interest to the English, as expensive luxury goods in high demand throughout Western Europe.  So too were medicinal plants and herbs, a market long dominated by the Spanish with their colonies in Central and South America.

Unfortunately, Savannah’s climate was too prone to temperature fluctuations to sustain many of the subtropical produce that was grown.  The city, still very much in its infancy also struggled to find enough skilled labor, very much needed to produce silk and wine. 

However upland cotton flourished in the garden, and the cash crop would go on to grow throughout much of what is now the Southeastern United States.  So too did peach trees, a major commercial crop in Georgia and South Carolina to this day.

Without a significant immediate financial return, however, the garden’s English backers pulled the plug on the experiment in 1755, and the ten-acre plot was developed as a residential area.

This week the U.S. Mint announced the official designs of the four coins in its American Innovation™ $1 Coin Program.  The program looks to pay homage to some of America’s innovators that unbeknownst to many, had a huge effect in shaping how we see the world today.  In addition to a coin recognizing the Trustees’ Garden, the others include Delaware astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, Pennsylvania’s polio vaccine, and the lightbulb, invented by Thomas Edison in New Jersey.

The common obverse (heads side) of all the coins in the series feature a dramatic representation of the Statue of Liberty and the required inscriptions “$1” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.”  They will be released later in 2019.