Thursday, December 9, 2010
Non Sibi Sed Aliss.....Not For Themselves But For Others
Would I kid you?
I’m sure you have questions.
Questions such as…where is the arch with three pillars representing the three branches of government draped with the words “wisdom”, “justice” and “moderation”? Where is the soldier standing with his sword drawn? Where are the words “State of Georgia” and the year “1776”?
The image seen here is NOT the seal of the state of Georgia but it IS the seal of the Georgia colony and was used by the Trustees of the colony.
The Georgia Historical Society states, “The seal used by the Trustees represented the colony's role within the British Empire, as well as its emphasis on the production of silk. The seal, seen in the above sketch, incorporated a black mulberry leaf with a silkworm and cocoon (mulberry leaves were used to feed the silkworms in sericulture, the cultivation of silk). The motto inscribed was "Non sibi sed aliis," Latin for "Not for themselves but for others." The seal and motto are a symbol of Georgia's role as a mercantile colony established to be the source of silk, not for their own benefit, but for England's. “
Most Georgia history students are taught that due to the colony’s warm climate and southern location many felt it was the perfect location for the cultivation of silk. They are also taught that eventually the manufacturing of silk failed and other crops became more important like cotton. Usually, the silk industry in early Georgia is just a blip on the history map…..a mention lasting about ten minutes at the most.
That’s it…..a short little paragraph for students to grasp.
Well…..there’s more to the story.
The silk industry in Georgia began in 1734 with some experimental plantings of mulberry trees in the Trustee’s Garden in Savannah. The trees were planted because silk worms live off of the mulberry leaves. In fact, the cultivation of silk was so important all Georgia colonists were required to plant mulberry trees once they took possession of their plot of land.
After a few months the colonist had to admit there were significant issues regarding the silk worms themselves. The whole process was labor intensive. The Trustees decided the colonist who had been hired to manufacture the silk needed some expert advised so they invited an Italian contingent to the colony to teach them the ins and outs of manufacturing silk, but there were constant issues between the Italians and the “Georgians.”
In fact, an Italian skilled in the production of silk named Paul Amatis accompanied Oglethorpe to Georgia in 1732, and another Italian named Joseph Ottolenghe was responsible for erecting a filature at Reynolds Square, located on Abercorn between Bryan and Congress Streets. A filature is a structure used to house cocoons and where silk is reeled. The filature at Reynolds Square held a record number of 15,212 pounds of cocoons.
John Milledge was assigned a grant of land located on Skidaway Island sometime between 1754 and 1771 where he named his plantation Modena, supposedly after an Italian town that was the center of the silk culture. Milledge’s son, John, Jr., became the founder of Franklin College which eventually morphed into the University of Georgia.
Apparently, it didn’t take long for the Georgians to have some success with actual fabric being produced as James Oglethorpe was able to supply the wife of King George II, Caroline, enough silk for a gown she wore to the King’s birthday celebration in 1735.
I would love to write I was able to locate a painting of Queen Caroline wearing Georgia silk, but at this point I can only speculate. I did find a painting she commissioned by Jacopo Amigoni (Giacomo Amiconi) in1735….the same year she reportedly wore the dress created from Georgia silk. The cape the Queen is wearing in the painting is actually a state robe trimmed in ermine, however, the dress she is wearing could very well be the dress she wore for the King’s celebration and was made entirely of Georgia silk.
By 1742 enough silk was being produced for it to be a commodity and records show by 1767, a ton of silk was being exported each year.
The Salzburger colonists outside of Savannah were also experimenting with silk and had even more success than those in Savannah. One woman in the community was quite successful creating silk for fishing lines.
Eventually the industry could not overcome the ups and downs in the Georgia climate, and cotton proved to be a far easier and more economical crop to produce.
Even so silk didn’t just go by the wayside. It was still around in the 1830s as far inland as Cherokee County. In fact, the state of Georgia historical marker at the square in front of the courthouse states, “Early settlers tried to start silk production, but were not successful, and today there remains no trace of this except Canton, hopefully named for the Chinese silk center.
At that point silk then just became a chapter in the Georgia history books.