As you enter the front door of the Pirates’ House Restaurant in Savannah, GA, you step back in time. The multiple dining rooms bring you back to the times of seafarers and pirates, eating, drinking, and at times waking up out to sea on a ship without knowing how they got there! All of this history can be experienced while you dine on southern cuisine at the Pirates’ House Restaurant.
The Trustees’ Garden
The history of this famous restaurant began in 1733 when General Oglethorpe and the colonists arrived in what is now known as Savannah. The idea for an experimental garden was put into action on the plot adjacent to the current restaurant structure. The garden was an attempt to grow all types of plants from around the world to see what would grow in the new area. It was modeled after the famous Chelsea Botanical Garden in London, England and named the Trustees’ Garden.
Everything from fruit trees, vine cuttings, herbs, spices, cotton, and hemp were just some of the crops they tried to grow. Not everything would grow, especially the grapes to produce wine and the Mulberry trees to produce silk. However, it was from this very garden that the peach trees that Georgia and South Carolina are so well-known for were distributed as well as a type of cotton crop.
The small house that is adjacent to the restaurant was built-in 1734 and was for the caretaker or gardener of the Trustees’ Garden. It is known as The Herb House. It is one of the oldest houses in the State of Georgia, if not the oldest. The experimental garden however, only lasted about 20 years until 1753 when it was determined it was no longer needed. The garden site and surrounding land became a residential area.
One of the first residential type buildings constructed on this available land was an Inn for those seaman visiting the area. The second floor hosted the rooms and the first floor hosted a tavern for sailors visiting from abroad. The reputation of the restaurant was of a place to be avoided. It hosted pirates and drunken sailors, some who went missing from the tavern, never to be heard of again!
Savannah is known for having an extensive underground tunnel system. The true use of the tunnel system has many origins. Some of the tunnels were built during the yellow fever endemic to conceal the bodies of the dead. Other portions of the tunnels are said to have been used as part of the Underground Railroad. Some areas of the tunnels, under the hospital, were said to have been used as a morgue.
The tunnels under the Pirates’ House is said to have a more criminal use. Legends have it that captains needing men for their ships would watch sailors drinking at the tavern. Once the sailor was drunk, they would be hit over the head and knocked unconscious. The sailor would then be taken through the tunnel to the port and wake up on a ship out to sea! This fate, though enslaved on a ship, is much better than the torture and murders that have been rumoured to occur in the cellar of the Pirate’s House. Some say that trap doors were installed in the tavern floor. Drunken sailors were chained and then dropped through the doors. If they sustained injury and were no longer “fit” for working, they were killed. Those fit to work were taken off to ships!
Modern Day Restaurant
In 1948, the Pirates’ House and the surrounding land became the property of The Savannah Gas Company. The building was taken under the wing of Mrs. Hansell Hilyer who happened to be the wife of the president of The Savannah Gas Company. She transformed the buildings into what is today the Pirates’ House Restaurant.
The restaurant consists of 15 different dining rooms, all very different, and serves a variety of southern cuisine. The entrances to the tunnels are still visible within the restaurant and give it a wonderfully spooky vibe!
Just The Facts!
- James Oglethorpe and the early colonists established the Trustees’ Garden on the site in 1733.
- The garden was modeled after the famous Chelsea Botanical Garden in London, England.
- The First structure, the Gardener’s Home known as The Herb House, was built-in 1734.
- Peaches and Cotton were two important crops that came from this experimental garden.
- Garden abandoned in 1753 and the area was turned into a residential area.
- The Inn that is now known as the Pirates’ House Restaurant was opened in 1753 with a tavern for sailors and pirates!
- Drunken sailors often went missing from the tavern only to wake up enslaved on a ship out to sea.
- Part of Savannah’s extensive tunnel system runs underneath the restaurant and takes you to the port.
- 1948 the buildings were turned into what is now known as the Pirates’ House Restaurant by Mrs. Hansell Hilyer.
- 15 Dining rooms make up the restaurant that serves a variety of southern cuisine.
Let’s have some fun! We have some great activity sheets for children to help reinforce the facts above. Check out our Kids Activities page!