In November 1816, work began on the new home of banker, shipping merchant, and slave trader Richard Richardson and his wife, Frances. The home was designed by English architect (and relative to Richardson by marriage) William Jay, but was constructed by builder John Retan and the team of free and enslaved men in his charge.
The site also included a two-sided privy and a building located on the east end of the lot, which was divided into a carriage house and slave quarters.
In 1830, George Welshman Owens, then mayor of Savannah, purchased the property at auction for $10,000. Owens, who was also a lawyer, planter, and politician, moved in with his wife, Sarah, and their six children in 1833. Over the years, Owens kept nine to 15 enslaved people on the property and held almost 400 men, women, and children in bondage on his plantations.
The last Owens descendent to live in the home was George Owens’ granddaughter, Margaret Gray Thomas. When Thomas passed away in 1951 with no direct heirs, she willed the house to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences to be run as a house museum in honor of her grandfather, George Owens, and her father, Dr. James Gray Thomas.
The Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters site opened to the public in 1954.