In 1732, King George II of England granted James Oglethorpe and his co-trustees the right to create a settlement in Georgia. Oglethorpe’s initial purpose was to provide a haven for England’s poorest, but in the end, workers who possessed skills necessary for building a colony were prioritized. The immigrants sailed from England in November 1732 and docked in America in February 1733. Oglethorpe and his men explored the mouth of the Savannah River and soon came across a Yamacraw village along its banks. Oglethorpe befriended the Creek chief Tomochichi and negotiated to obtain the land on which the city of Savannah now stands. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.
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The British Colonies in America
Since their arrival in the early 1600s, English settlers in North America had been mostly confined to the northeastern coast. Unfortunately, New England was unsuitable for farming, so the settlers turned to fishing on the rich waters off the eastern coast. Fishermen from New England ventured to the waters off Maine and Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, others ventured south into the waters off the coast of the Carolinas. Although not as small as those of their French and Dutch counterparts, the British population in the Americas still left much to be desired.
It was not until the middle of the 1700s that the population of British settlers began to surge. Children were born, while new European immigrants flocked into English settlements. Ulster Scots who fled repression and poverty made up the largest wave of immigrants. They initially settled in Boston but were driven into New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania when disagreements with the established settlers occurred. Some eventually found their way inland into the Shenandoahs and the Carolinas.
German farmers from the Palatinate region followed the Ulster Scots. They first found a home in New York but were soon enticed by the tolerant communities of Philadelphia. They moved into Pennsylvania (particularly Lancaster County), and soon established farms in this fertile land. The majority of the German immigrants were Lutherans, but they were also accompanied by a few Mennonites, Moravians, and other Protestant denominations.
Tobacco plantations still existed in Maryland and Virginia, but they were past their prime. Many of the English plantation owners were deeply in debt and found the land that they had long cultivated had lost its fertility. Some of them pushed further into the Appalachians and converted the lands they cleared into farms. Others shifted to rice and indigo farming which they soon found to be very profitable.
The area that is now Georgia, however, was still free from English settlements, and this made the English authorities uneasy. Spanish colonists were firmly lodged in Florida and the West Indies, while the French were catching up in Louisiana. Worried that their rivals would slowly make their way into this “unoccupied” area, the authorities in England then allowed settlers into the area with the help of James Oglethorpe.
James Oglethorpe and the Settlement of Georgia
James Oglethorpe was born on December 22, 1696. He was born in London, but the family soon relocated to Westbrook Place in Surrey. His father, a member of the House of Commons, sent his son to Corpus Christi College in Oxford. The younger Oglethorpe soon dropped out and studied in a French military academy so he could fight against the Turks. He rose through the ranks, and eventually served as an aide to Prince Eugene of Savoy. He then continued his studies in Oxford after earning his stripes in the war against the Turks. Oglethorpe was not able to finish his degree but was still awarded a special Master of Arts by the university.
James Oglethorpe was elected as a member of the House of Commons in 1722. In 1729, the authorities arrested and imprisoned his friend Robert Castell for failing to pay his debts. At that time, prisoners needed to pay wardens so they would be given “better accommodations.” Castell, naturally, was unable to pay, so he was thrown into a prison with a man who was suffering from smallpox. He contracted the disease and died after some time in prison. His friend’s death deeply affected Oglethorpe, and it inspired him to start a campaign to reform prisons in England.
He headed a commission that investigated prison conditions and was horrified at what he saw. He and his colleagues tried to improve prison conditions, but he knew that they needed to address poverty and indebtedness. He and a group of trustees then petitioned King George II to allow a number of poor and debt-ridden English people to leave their homeland. These refugees would then make a new life in one of England’s colonies in North America.
This petition essentially killed two birds with one stone for King George. England’s poor now had a chance to have a better life, while their settlements would then create a buffer against the French and Spanish colonists. He approved Oglethorpe’s plan and granted him a royal charter to occupy Georgia in 1732. Oglethorpe would serve as its governor and work with the 21 trustees to administer the colony.
However, the original plan was defeated at the onset when impoverished and indebted people themselves were left out of the newly formed population. The trustees knew that the colony needed people with the right skills, so they prioritized merchants, tailors, carpenters, and farmers as immigrants.
The English immigrants sailed from England to North America in the same year. They stayed briefly at Charleston and proceeded to Port Royal. Oglethorpe left the new settlers at Port Royal and took local rangers with him to explore the area further south. They soon entered the Savannah River and explored several miles inland until they arrived at the Yamacraw Bluff.
Oglethorpe encountered the Creek chieftain Tomochichi and the Native Americans who lived in the area. He became friends with the chief and negotiated (with the help of an interpreter named Mary Musgrove) to acquire the land which later became Savannah. Tomochichi agreed, so Oglethorpe and his men hurried back to Port Royal to tell the settlers of their good news.
He and the new settlers arrived at the Yamacraw Bluff on February 12, 1733. They cleared the land while Oglethorpe was busy preparing the plans for the town of Savannah. From the start, Oglethorpe wanted Savannah to have an egalitarian society. The trustees gave away equal-sized plots of land which could not be sold by its owners to other parties. The land would then be transformed to vineyards and mulberry trees would be cultivated for the silk industry. Settlers were prohibited from bringing in African slaves, while Catholics were not allowed to settle in the area for fear that they would side with the Spaniards and the French. The trustees strictly regulated the fur trade and forbade the settlers from bringing in rum, which was a common incentive for Native Americans who traded pelts.
Coleman, Kenneth. A History of Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991.
Jackson, Edwin L. “James Oglethorpe (1696-1785).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. Accessed August 22, 2017. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/james-oglethorpe-1696-1785.
Lindsay, J. O., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 7. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521045452.
Ross, Mary. “Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.” ISTG Vol 2 – Ann. Accessed August 22, 2017. https://www.immigrantships.net/v2/1700v2/ann17330201.html.
Smith, George Gilman. The Story of Georgia and the Georgia People, 1732 to 1860. Georgia: G.G. Smith, 1900.
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