Oglethorpe and Georgia
THE Cabots had claimed the Atlantic coast of North America for England in 1497, but it was not until 1607, more than a hundred years later, that Jamestown, the first successful English colony, was settled. It was another hundred years and more, before Georgia, the thirteenth and last English colony, was established in 1733.
The story of this colony is different from that of any of the others. The settlement was due entirely to one man. General James Edward Oglethorpe. He was an Englishman who had seen much of life. He had fought under the great Duke of Marlborough against Louis XIV of France, and had fought against the Turks; in his younger days, he had seen many wonderful adventures, but unlike Captain John Smith, he never wished to talk about them.
A hundred and fifty years ago it was a very common thing, both in England and elsewhere, to send to prison one who could not pay his debts. A man might be imprisoned for owing even a shilling. And sometimes a debtor would spend years in prison because he could not pay a small sum. There was much suffering on account of this hard law. It happened that one of Oglethorpe's friends was sent to prison for debt, and suffered so much while there from the poor food, bad air, and hard treatment, that he died. This called Oglethorpe's attention to the great number of men in debtor's prisons. He found also that those in prison were not
the only sufferers, for their families were deprived of support.
He began to exert himself on behalf of the sufferers, and after much labor succeeded in getting Parliament to modify the laws. He was also able to secure liberty for several hundred debtors. But this was not all. He knew that many of these unfortunate persons, even if set free, could get no work in England; and the idea came into his mind that in the New World they could start afresh with some hope of success.
After careful thought, he applied to King George for some land in America to found a colony. The king granted him a tract of land south of the Savannah River.
Oglethorpe named the colony Georgia, in honor of the king. It was intended not only for those who were unable to pay their debts, but also for those who were oppressed, and especially for persecuted Protestants. Oglethorpe would not take the rule himself, but all power was given to a board of trustees.
Many persons in England were interested in the plan, and gave money to carry it into effect. Oglethorpe himself took out over one hundred emigrants, who reached Georgia in 1733. Oglethorpe chose the site of the city of Savannah, and laid out its plan. Like William Penn, he bought the land from the Indians, who for a long time remained very friendly. Once some of the Indians gave Oglethorpe a buffalo skin, on the inside of which were painted an eagle's head and some feathers. "The feathers," they said, " are soft, and stand for
love; and the skin is warm, and means protection; so love and protect us."
Oglethorpe lived a whole year in a tent, doing all that he could to help the colonists. He would not allow any rum in the colony, nor would he have any slaves.
He knew that industry is necessary for success, and, finding that mulberry trees would grow in Georgia, he sent to Europe for silk worms, which feed upon mulberry leaves, hoping that Georgia would become a great silk-producing country; but the business did not pay very well, and after some years it was given up.
The Spaniards in Florida were angry because of the settlement of Georgia, claiming that the colony was upon Spanish territory ; and they prepared for war. Oglethorpe, who was an old soldier, was not afraid of the Spaniards, and defeated them so completely that there was no trouble for a long time.
The news that Georgia was a place for the oppressed soon spread over Europe, and Moravians
and Lutherans from the Continent, and Highlanders from Scotland, came over to the settlement. The colony promised well, but some of the laws which Oglethorpe and the trustees had
made, for the benefit of the colonists were not popular.
Their neighbors in the Carolinas and in the other colonies had slaves, and these colonists wished to have slaves ; the rum trade also was very profitable, and they longed for a share in the business. They did not like the restrictions thrown around them, and one by one these had to be given up. Slaves were introduced before many years, and the rum trade was begun.
One great reason why the colony did not at first prosper was that the colonists were not enterprising men. Many of them had fallen into trouble in England and had become debtors because they had not the knack of getting on in the world; and moving to Georgia had not changed their characters.
The trustees, after twenty years' trial, gave up their charter to the king, and Georgia became a royal colony, in its laws and form of government resembling the other colonies. More emigrants came, and gradually Georgia entered on a prosperous career.
Oglethorpe spent ten years or more in the colony, and then went back to England. He lived to
see the independence of the United States. Some one who saw him in 1784 wrote, " Even then he was the finest figure of a man you ever saw; but very, very old ; the flesh on his face like parchment." He died the next year, 1785, the last of the original English colonizers and one of the best.
Elementary History of the United States by A. C. Thomas, D. C.
Heath & Co., Publishers, Boston, U.S.A. 1911