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Georgia

The last, as well as the first, of the English colonies planted in North America belongs to the southern group. Seventy-five years had elapsed between the founding of Virginia and Pennsylvania, and twelve English colonies were now flourishing on the soil of North America. Then came a lapse of fifty years at the end of which Georgia, the last of the famous thirteen, came into existence.

The founder of Georgia was James Oglethorpe, who alone of all the colony planters lived till after the Revolution and saw the thirteen colonies become an independent nation. Oglethorpe is remembered in history chiefly as the founder of Georgia, but aside from this he was a man of much prominence. While still a youth he served in the European wars under Marlborough and Prince Eugene and witnessed the battle of Blenheim and the siege of Belgrade. Returning to England, he became a member of Parliament and took a high stand among his fellows, as he had done in the army. While in Parliament his attention was drawn to the miserable conditions of the debtor's prisons, lately replenished by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, and he devised the plan to transplant the unfortunate inmates to the wilderness of America.

A charter was granted for twenty-one years to a board of trustees for the land between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers and westward to the "South Sea". The new country was named Georgia, from George II who had granted the charter. The liberties of Englishmen were guaranteed to the colonies, and freedom in religion to all except Catholics. The object in founding the colony was threefold: to afford an opportunity to the unfortunate poor to begin life over again, to offer a refuge to persecuted Protestants of Europe, and to erect a military barrier between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida. Oglethorpe was chosen governor and with thirty-five families he sailed from England, reaching the mouth of the Savannah in the spring of 1733, and here on a bluff overlooking the river and the sea he founded a city and called it by the name of the river.

The character of Oglethorpe's company was better than that of the men who had founded Jamestown a hundred and twenty-five years before, but inferior to the character of the first settlers of Maryland or of South Carolina. The year after the founding of Savannah a shipload of Salzburgers, Protestant refugees, a deeply religious people, sailed into the mouth of the Savannah and, led by Oglethorpe, they founded the town of Ebenezer. This same year the governor sailed for England and soon returned with more immigrants, among whom were John Wesley, the great founder of Methodism, who came as a missionary, and his brother Charles, who came as secretary to Oglethorpe. Scotch Highlanders soon came in considerable numbers and settled nearest the Spanish border. George Whitfield, the most eloquent preacher of his times, also came to Georgia and founded an orphan school in Savannah.

Georgia was the only colony of the thirteen that received financial aid by a vote of Parliament -- the only one in the planting of which the British government, as such, took a part. The colony differed from all others also in prohibiting slavery and the importation of intoxicating liquors. The settlers were to have their land free of rent for ten years, but they could take no part in the government. The trustees made all the laws; but this arrangment was not intended to be permanent; at the close of the proprietary period the colony was to pass to the control of the Crown.

Oglethorpe's military wisdom was soon apparent. In the war between England and Spain, beginning in 1739, the Spaniards became troublesome and the governor, this same year, made an expedition against St. Augustine with an army of over two thousand men, half of whom were Indians. The city was well fortified and he failed to capture it; but three years later when the Spaniards made an attack on the colony Oglethorpe, by the most skillful strategy, repulsed the enemy and drove him away.

Oglethorpe was governor of Georgia for twelve years when he returned to England. In four respects the settlers were greatly dissatisfied. They wanted rum, they wanted slaves, they greatly desired to take a hand in their own government, and they were not content with the land system, which gave each settler but a small farm that must descend in the male line. In all these points the people won. On account of these restrictions the colony grew but slowly and at the end of eighteen years scarcely a thousand families had settled in Georgia. The people claimed that the prohibition of liquors drove the West India trade away from them and at length the prohibition was withdrawn. As to slavery, it still had its opponents -- the Salzburgers, the Scotch Highlanders, the Wesley brothers. But the great majority favored its introduction on the plea that slave labor was necessary to the development of the colony. On this side we find the great preacher, Whitfield, who went so far as to purchase a plantation in South Carolina, stock it with slaves, and use the proceeds for his orphan house in Savannah. His claim was that the negroes were better off in slavery than in their native heathenism. Parliament finally relented and in 1749 Georgia became a slave colony; but only under strict laws for the humane treatment of slaves.

In the matter of governing without a voice from the people, the trustees found it as impracticable as the promoters of the Grand Model had done in the Carolinas. Before their twenty-one years had expired they threw the matter up in discouragement, and in 1752 Georgia became a royal colony. The people now elected an assembly and the king appointed the governor. The right to vote was extended to Protestant freemen, with certain property restrictions. But the colony in one respect showed itself still benighted, as were all its twelve sisters, by denying the franchise to Roman Catholics.

After this change of government Georgia grew very rapidly, and by the time of the Revolution numbered some fifty thousand souls, about half of whom were slaves. Georgia in its later career presents no striking features differing from those of the other southern colonies. The English church was made the state church, but religious freedom was extended to all Protestants. The chief products were rice, indigo, and lumber, and there was a very lucrative fur trade carried on with the Indians. It was believed at first that the production of silk would become the leading industry, as the mulberry tree, which furnishes the natural food of the silkworm, grew wild in Georgia; but after a trial of several years the business was abandoned.

The social condition of Georgia resembled that of North Carolina. There were no schools, and the mails seldom or never reached the inland settlements. The people were mostly small farmers, with here and there a rich planter. There was little town life. Savannah was the only town of importance, and it was still a wooden village at the time of the Revolution. The roads were mere Indian trails, and the settlers saw little of one another. To the end of the colonial era Georgia was essentially the southern frontier of South Carolina, as North Carolina was of Virginia.1


Note

The Pirates. -- In our own age of international order it is difficult to realize what sway was held on the seas by the pirates two hundred years ago. These pirates, called also buccaneers and filibusters, infested the American coast and the West Indies especially between 1650 and 1720 and they often numbered thousands. Many of these men were utterly without a redemming feature of character. One of these fiends named Olonnois, having captured a Spanish crew of ninety men, beheaded them to the last man with his own hand. (Fiske, "Old Virginia," II, p. 349.) The most notorious, and one of the most desperate of the pirates was Henry Morgan who was at the height of his career about 1670. He captured whole towns on the Spanish-American coast and put the inhabitants to the sword. Many towns, however, purchased immunity from the buccaneers by paying them from time to time. Others welcomed them because they brought much gold and spent it lavishly. There was scarcely an American colony whose officials were not at one time or another in connivance with the pirates. But at the beginning of the eighteenth century there was a crusade against them. South Carolina took the lead and sometimes half a score were hanged in a day at Charleston. One of the most famous of the pirates was Captain William Kidd. The Earl of Bellomont, governor of Massachusetts, sent Kidd, hitherto an honest merchant, against the pirates in 1696. Reports soon came in that Kidd had turned pirate, and when he returned to Boston he was arrested and sent to London for trial. Kidd claimed that his crew had overpowered him and become pirates against his consent. It is believed, however, that he was guilty; but his trial was a very unfair one, his conviction resting on the testimony of two of his pals, who had turned king's evidence. The charge of the judge was strongly against him. He was hanged in London in 1701. Cyclopedia of American Biography.


Footnotes

1Fiske, Vol. II, p. 336.[return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV pp. 93-97. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.




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